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The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded by charter on 2 May 1670 and is the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world. It was originally headquartered in London, England before eventually relocating its head offices to Toronto, Ontario. The Company evolved as a joint-stock company with a centralized bureaucracy. Governors were appointed to act on behalf of the Company, and each factory or trading post was headed by a chief factor and his council.
The Company was founded after Frenchmen Radisson and des Groseilliers approached the English king for support in founding a fur trading company. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Company traded widely with Aboriginal peoples, who trapped and brought pelts to Company forts in exchange for goods and foodstuffs.
In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company merged with its rival, the North West Company, a move which resulted in administrative changes. British North America was divided into trading departments which were further subdivided into districts. District managers routinely attended annual council meetings whereby each member had an equal vote, although decisions could still be overruled by the London governor and head office. In 1849, the Company was granted the colony of Vancouver Island, and the trading post of Fort Victoria was established in 1843. In 1863 the International Financial Society bought controlling interest in the Company, with the result that the Company’s general outlook shifted from fur trading to real-estate speculation. During the twentieth century, the Company expanded into retail interests and natural resource development. In 1913 new retail stores were constructed and in 1926 it founded Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas. The Company’s retail ventures were originally confined to Western Canada, although retail stores were opened in Eastern Canada in the 1960s.
In the late 1970s, Kenneth Thomson purchased a 75% stake in the company, but by 1997 the family sold most of its remaining shares.