This past summer I'd spent a day wandering the streets of Banff with my dear friend, LestertheInvestor, and our lovely wives. Sylvia and I stopped by the Hudson Bay Co (HBC) store and spotted this clever display of blankets drapped over a canoe. It had been decades since I seen them in any number, much less so beautifully displayed. But there they were, the iconic Hudson Bay blankets (aka "HBC point blanket"), with traditional green, red and yellow stripes.
Not well known anymore is how these colorful woolen blankets helped tame the Canadian west. The Canadian frontier was first explored by Europeans in search of fur -- the area was rich in game and the demand for furs in Europe was great. This was hundreds of years before the railroad was built, and the interior of the country was only accessible by water and most easily approached by canoe from Hudson Bay.
In May 1670, King Charles II granted the lands in the Hudson Bay watershed to "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay." The company soon became known as the "Hudson's Bay Company" and it is the longest existing company in North America. HBC trading posts sprang up throughout the watershed (including at sites that would become Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton) and natives brought furs to these locations in exchange for goods such as knives, metalic pots, beads, needles, and these very popular blankets (which were lightweight and very warm).
Originally weavers from Witney, Oxfordshire were the principal suppliers of HBC blankets. The wool was (and still is) a blend of varieties from Britain and New Zealand. HBC Point blankets are also used to make coats, a tradition started by the Plains Indians who liked to wear the blankets instead of buffalo robes.
To make a long story short, the store continued to thrive even as the fur trade declined because the country grew more populous and wanted goods. You'll still find department store-size HBC outlets in all larger Canadian cities -- and even some smaller ones, like this one in Banff. They're kind of lilke Canada's Macys, but Macys' doesn't have an iconic blanket, and doesn't trade in furs.
(North America's oldest company, est. in 1670)
(Hudson Bay Blanket coats -- very warm)
(As they did almost 350 years ago, the company still trades in furs)