It’s not inaccurate to characterize Winnipeg as the First City of HBC. Though no longer the Company’s headquarters Winnipeg was seat of the HBC’s North American operations for many, many years. As a result there are a lot of Company-related sights to see.
The Upper Fort Garry Gate
Fort Garry Gate Park, between Fort Street and Main Street, just south of Broadway
Old Fort Garry Gate,1875
This stone gate is all the remains of Upper Fort Garry. The original Fort Garry was built on this site near The Forks – the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red – in 1821. It was the latest of a series of forts built in the area: Fort Rouge (built circa 1736 by de la Vérendrye), Fort Gibraltar, a North West Company post (1806), and Fort Douglas (HBC, 1815). Then, as now, the area was prone to spring floods and after the flood of 1826 Fort Garry was ordered demolished.A new fort – Lower Fort Garry – opened downstream in 1831. But the lower fort was a good day’s travel from The Forks, which had been the hub of economic activity for a long time. So in 1835 HBC returned to the location and opened a new fort which it named Upper Fort Garry. It had four large bastions and formidable 15 foot high stone walls. Following the Deed of Surrender in 1870, the lands retained by HBC as compensation around the fort became more valuable than the fort itself. As the city grew the fort became an anachronism. Eventually market forces prevailed: by 1882 the fort had been demolished and the lands it stood on sold. The North Gate, the only piece to survive, along with the land surrounding it, was donated to the City of Winnipeg as a park in 1900. (For more information see A Short Pictorial History of Upper Fort Garry and The Governor's Gate.)
Lower Fort Garry
5925 Highway 9, St. Andrews, Manitoba
Fort Garry, 1869 by Lionel McDonald Stephenson, ca. 1885
While the original site of Fort Garry (later, the upper fort) at the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers was a prime transportation hub, the St. Andrew's Rapids and yearly threat of flooding created the need for a site that was on higher ground and avoided the rapids. Following the flood of 1826 George (later Sir George) Simpson initiated work on a new fort some 20 miles downstream. Completed in 1831 and named Lower Fort Garry, The “Stone Fort”, as it became known, was primarily a transshipment depot where goods were gathered and repacked for onward shipment to York Factory. Donated by HBC to the federal government in 1951, today Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site is operated by Parks Canada. The fort buildings comprise the largest group of original 19th century fur trade buildings in Canada. Lower Fort Garry is also commemorated as the place where Treaty #1 was signed between the Ojibwa and Swampy Cree of Manitoba and the Crown in 1871. Both forts are named after Nicholas Garry, a director of Hbc who played a significant role in the amalgamation of the HBC and the North West Company.
Hudson's Bay, Winnipeg Downtown
450 Portage Avenue (at Memorial Boulevard)
Postcard of Winnipeg store, ca. 1936
Hudson's Bay’s downtown store on Portage Avenue was the last of the “original six” western department stores to be built. Conceived as part of the Retail Department’s modernization strategy as early as 1910, the store’s construction was delayed until 1925, first by World War I, and then by post-war development of the Legislature. When it finally opened in November 1926, its technology and amenities were state of the art. Vestiges of the store’s original features are still visible today. One of those interesting features is the mezzanine floor, which once housed a liquor store!
Hudson’s Bay Company Archives
200 Vaughan Street
Storage vault, Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Winnipeg
Situated one block south of Hudson's Bay, immediately adjacent to the Hudson's Bay Parkade, is the Manitoba Archives, home to the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA). The building, which is also houses the Legislative Library, was constructed in 1932 as the Winnipeg Auditorium. In 1974, the Provincial Archives of Manitoba (as it was then called) was relocated here from its premises in the LegislativeBuilding. Founded by Royal Charter in 1670, HBC is the oldest chartered trading company in the world. Meticulous records were kept, leaving a legacy of information of tremendous significance documenting the growth and expansion of the Hudson's Bay Company in the vast territories of Rupert's Land, the fur trade, exploration and the later development of a retail empire. In 1994 HBC donated the bulk of these records to the Province of Manitoba. HBCA also has a significant collection of private records which includes the records of related and/or subsidiary companies (including the North West Company) and individuals. While HBCA is primarily a research facility, tours are possible, although visitors are asked to book at least a month in advance. Please contact HBCA directly for more information.
The Manitoba Museum
190 Rupert Avenue
Ornamental centerpiece featuring aboriginal figures and beavers. Image courtesy of The Manitoba Museum.
The Manitoba Museum is the province’s largest heritage centre renowned for its combined human and natural heritage themes. The Museum’s collections reflect the heritage of Manitoba and other regions of the world. Of particular interest are the Nonsuch Gallery, home to the full-size replica ship Nonsuch, whose voyage in 1668 led to the HBC’s founding in 1670. The replica, built to commemorate the Company’s 300th anniversary, was donated to the Museum in 1974. The Museum is also home to the HBC Museum Collection, donated by HBC in 1994 and displayed in the Hudson’s Bay Company Gallery, which opened to the public May 2, 2000. The Collection spans three centuries of the Company's colourful history and contains more than 10,000 artifacts. One half of the Collection originated in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities: artifacts acquired by the Company through purchase, trade, ceremonial gift exchange and donations from fur traders and their families. Together with the Nonsuch, the HBC Museum Collection establishes the Manitoba Museum as an international centre for northwestern North American fur trade research, and a major cultural tourism destination.
Hudson’s Bay House (now Gibraltar House)
77 Main Street
Immediately south of Union Station, just across Main Street from the Fort Garry Gate Park, lies Hudson’s Bay House, headquarters of the Company’s Canadian operations until 1987. Originally built in 1911, Hudson’s Bay House was the home of the Canadian Committee, which was established in 1912 to advise the Company’s London Board of Directors on matters of business in Canada. Over time the Canadian Committee’s importance grew as it assumed more and more control of HBC’s day-to-day business. Other functions located at Hudson’s Bay House included the Fur Trade Department (later the Northern Stores Department), the Wholesale Department and the offices of The Beaver magazine. In 1987, as part of HBC’s re-emphasis on its core retail business, all non-retail divisions were sold off. The Northern Stores business was sold to a group of investors which included many of the staff. Continuing to operate the Company’s traditional business of retail and grocery sales in northern communities out of the Hudson’s Bay House premises, the firm acquired the right to the name The North West Company in 1990. Rechristened Gibraltar House, after the original NWC fort at The Forks, the building still serves as the headquarters of the new NWC today.
HBC Warehouse (now The Keg restaurant)
115 Garry Street
Built in 1903 by HBC this building this was one of a series of HBC buildings that developed around the Company’s first retail store at the corner of Main St. and York. St. It was owned by HBC until 1949. Today, it houses a location of the popular Keg restaurant chain. Notice the stylish HBC letters in the round window above the current Keg sign.