During the fur trade, HBC and Aboriginal Peoples developed a unique relationship that benefitted both parties.
Some of the benefits that the HBC traders realized were the skills and knowledge of the land possessed by Aboriginal Peoples, which supported them in expanding their trading network.
Initially, HBC traders exchanged goods valued by Aboriginal Peoples for beaver pelts. Over time, HBC played a role in opening markets for Aboriginal handiworks such as beaded items and art that remain viable today.
The artifacts showcased in this Gallery are part of the HBC Museum Collection held by The Manitoba Museum and are reproduced with permission.
For more examples of specific types of artifacts, search the Museum’s Collections database. Click on HBC and select from the list of available objects.
Viewed by Aboriginal Peoples as a way to establish and maintain relationships, pipe smoking was an integral part of the ceremony that began a trading session with HBC. Tobacco from Virginia and Brazil became a popular fur trading item because it was superior in quality and taste to the local product.
Aboriginal Peoples used natural items such as stones, seeds, bones, teeth, shells and porcupine quills for decoration and jewellery. Glass beads from Europe became a popular trade item as they were colourful, durable and easy to work with. The beads were often traded among Aboriginal groups.
Aboriginal Peoples used glass beads acquired during the fur trade to decorate many different items such as knife sheaths, bags, wall pockets, gloves and tobacco pouches. In the 19th century a market for these items developed among the non-native population. Today, beadwork is still an important aspect of Aboriginal culture and a source of economic benefit.
Prior to acquiring metal items during trade with HBC, Aboriginal Peoples made tools, such as shovels, fishing hooks, knives and hammers from stone, bone, skin and wood. Creating tools like these required much time, effort and skill.
Metal tools such as axe heads and knives quickly became sought after trade items by Aboriginal Peoples since they were durable, relatively lightweight and kept a sharp edge longer.
Household goods like strike-a-lights, spoons, needles, thimbles, and kettles were in demand. Durability was the primary advantage of metal items, in addition to heat conductivity which made kettles and cookware much more efficient. Metal was of such value that when copper and brass kettles were no longer functional, they were reused as arrow and spear heads.
Bows were used by Aboriginal Peoples for hunting and protection. They were lightweight, quiet and could withstand severe winters and rainy conditions. Although Aboriginal Peoples continued to use bows, firearms became a highly valued trade item.
Known as “Hudson’s Bay Fukes,” muskets were made in England for HBC by J.E. Barnett and Sons. The distinctive serpent or dragon side plate ornament on this musket guaranteed Aboriginal Peoples its quality.
For centuries Inuit art has been crafted from stone, ivory and wood. These art forms often illustrated the Inuit way of life. In the mid 20th century HBC post manager Norman Ross and sculptor James Houston became involved in developing this tradition into a new art market. HBC’s posts and transportation network allowed the Company to become a major retailer of Inuit art. The Inuit acquired new opportunities for employment as craftspeople while maintaining and developing a traditional cultural pastime.