New Book on the HBC

14 05 2010

The records of the Hudson’s Bay Company formed the basis of a new book by Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis. I haven’t read the book yet, but it looks very promising.


“Commerce by a Frozen Sea is a cross-cultural study of a century of contact between North American native peoples and Europeans. During the eighteenth century, the natives of the Hudson Bay lowlands and their European trading partners were brought together by an increasingly popular trade in furs, destined for the hat and fur markets of Europe. Native Americans were the sole trappers of furs, which they traded to English and French merchants. The trade gave Native Americans access to new European technologies that were integrated into Indian lifeways. What emerges from this detailed exploration is a story of two equal partners involved in a mutually beneficial trade.

Drawing on more than seventy years of trade records from the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company, economic historians Ann M. Carlos and Frank D. Lewis critique and confront many of the myths commonly held about the nature and impact of commercial trade. Extensively documented are the ways in which natives transformed the trading environment and determined the range of goods offered to them. Natives were effective bargainers who demanded practical items such as firearms, kettles, and blankets as well as luxuries like cloth, jewelry, and tobacco—goods similar to those purchased by Europeans. Surprisingly little alcohol was traded. Indeed, Commerce by a Frozen Sea shows that natives were industrious people who achieved a standard of living above that of most workers in Europe. Although they later fell behind, the eighteenth century was, for Native Americans, a golden age.”

Ann M. Carlos
is Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and University College, Dublin. She is originally from Canada and did her PhD at Western. Frank D. Lewis is Professor of Economics at Queen’s University, Ontario.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this book.

To order, go here.

My Teaching This Week

12 11 2009

In my first-year course, the focus was on the 1840s and 1850s. On Monday, I spoke about the achievement of Responsible Government. I showed part of this clip:

On Wednesday, I talked about the advent of the railway in British North America. I stressed the revolutionary impact of the technology on society, the economy, and, above all, politics.I showed the following clip at the end of my lecture:

In my honours seminar on British North America in the period of Confederation, we focused on the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. We discussed the following readings: Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: a History of British Columbia (Toronto, Ont. : University of Toronto Press, 1991), 52-98; Chris Clarkson, “Property law and family regulation in Pacific British North America, 1862-1873” Histoire Sociale / Social History 30 (1997): 386-416. Charles C. Irby, “The Black Settlers on Saltspring Island in the Nineteenth Century” Phylon 35  (1974): 368-374

One student gave an excellent presentation on the life of Sir James Douglas. I am including a video about Douglas here:

I’m also including this video about Black settlers in British Columbia.

I also met my graduate student to discuss two readings related to her research project. Edward S. Roger, “Northern Algonquians and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1821-1890” in Aboriginal Ontario : Historical Perspectives on the First Nations edited by Edward S. Rogers and Donald B. Smith (Toronto : Dundurn Press, 1994), 307-344; J.R. Millers, Skyscrapers Hide The Heavens (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1989).

My Teaching This Week

5 11 2009

In my first-year Canadian history survey course, I spoke about the Rebellions of 1837-8 in Upper and Lower Canada. I showed this clip from the Canada: A People’s History documentary.

I spoke about Lord Durham’s Report in my lecture, mentioning Durham’s desire to anglicize the French Canadians and quoting his famous remark that the French Canadian were a people ” a people with no history, and no literature “. I also pointed out that the French-language bookstore in Sudbury is located on rue Durham. Many students appreciated the irony of this. I also told my students about an interesting article in one of the free newspapers distributed on campus. The current issue of the paper contains an article on the decline of the French language in Canada titled “le spectre de Lord Durham”. I used this newspaper, which appeared on campus the day before my lecture, to show the students that Lord Durham is still remembered by some non-historians in French Canada.

In my honours seminar on Canada in the Confederation period, we began the class by talking about the various collections of digitized primary sources for the study of 19th century Canada. Many of my students enjoyed being introduced to Early Canadiana Online. We then discussed two articles on Blacks and the Underground Railroad in Canada: Kristin McLaren, “ ‘We had no desire to be set apart’: Forced Segregation of Black Students in Canada West Public Schools and Myths of British Egalitarianism” Histoire Sociale/Social History 38 (2005): 27-50 and Howard Law,  “ ‘Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence’: Ideology and the Ex-Slaves in Buxton and Chatham”  Ontario History 74 (1985): 107-2.

I also met my excellent graduate student to discuss some secondary sources related to her research on the fur trade. We discussed the following readings: Carolyn Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World : Travellers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade (Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2006); John S. Galbraith, The Little Emperor : Governor Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976); Toby Morantz, “ ‘So Evil a Practice’ : A Look at the Debt System in the James Bay Fur Trade” in R. Omer, ed., Merchant Credit and Labour Strategies in Historical Perspectives (Acadiensis Press, 1990), 203-222; John Lutz,  “After the Fur Trade: The Aboriginal Labouring Class of British Columbia, 1864-1890” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 3 (1992): 69-93.

A fair number of students were missing from my classes. This may have have been due to the H1N1 swine flu or its closely-related variant, whine flu.

My Teaching This Week

15 10 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

Normally, I deliver two lectures each week to my first-year course on Canadian history. However, there was only one class this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday. My lecture on Wednesday was about the War of 1812. As it happens, the popular CBC comedy program Rick Mercer Reports broadcast on Tuesday evening contained a segment in which host Rick Mercer playfully interviewed some War of 1812 re-enactors in London, Ontario. Mercer is a well-known Canadian nationalist and appears to have relished participating in a War of 1812 re-enactment. About ten students in my class of 94 said that they had seen this segment the night before. During the lecture, I spoke about the place of the War of 1812 in Canadian popular culture, using Rick Mercer’s segment as an example of the use and abuse of history. I also spoke about anti-Americanism as a force in Canadian political culture. Rick Mercer’s show was a teachable moment as they say in the edutainment education business. You can view the segment here:

During our discussion of the War of 1812, one student mentioned a song about the conflict by the Canadian music group the Arrogant Worms. A video of this song has been placed online.

I am also pleased to note that a symposium on the military history of the Niagara region will be taking place on 6 and 7 November 2009 at the Lake Street Armouries, 81 Lake Street, St. Catharines, Ontario. The sponsors of the conference include the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Brock University, and the University of Waterloo History Department.There is a very extensive programme of speakers laid out, including: James E. Elliott, “Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813”; Heather Moran, “200 Years of Peace: Celebrating the 1812 Bi-Centennial through Public History” and David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, “Robert Rogers: The Original Ranger”.For further information, contact Professor Geoffrey Hayes, at or by phone at (519) 888-4567 ext. 35138. (Hat tip to The Cannon’s Mouth / Par la Bouche de nos Canons, the Canadian military history blog).

Graduate Teaching:

This week I met with my excellent MA student to discuss three readings connected to her thesis, which deals with a fur trading post in north-eastern Ontario. The theme of today’s discussion was First Nations in the Fur Trade: Free Agents or Victims? The secondary sources we discussed were: Arthur J. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, “Give us Good Measure” : an Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company before 1763 (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1978); Sylvia Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870 (Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1983); Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis, “Marketing in the Land of Hudson Bay: Indian Consumers and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1770” Enterprise and Society 3:2 (2002): 285-317.

HBC Records as a Source for Studying the History of Climate Change

26 09 2009

In this video of a presentation he gave in October 2008, historian George Colpitts of the University of Calgary discusses how the records kept in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives can be used to study the history of climate in Canada.  The records kept by the trading posts and ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company have been used by many different types of Canadian historians (economic historians, gender historians, Native Land Claims researchers). Now they are being used by environmental historians working on the very important topic of historical climate change.

HBC Ships in Hudson Strait, Summer 1819

HBC Ships in Hudson Strait, Summer 1819

Colpitts gave this presentation at the Canadian Climate History workshop at the University of Western Ontario. You can watch the other presentations here.

Image Source: Library and Archives Canada.