Collection PR-2206 - Hudson's Bay Company and James Douglas correspondence collection

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Hudson's Bay Company and James Douglas correspondence collection

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  • textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the collection.

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  • 1841-1858 (Creation)
    Douglas, James, Sir, 1803-1877

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Physical description

1 cm of textual records (20 p.)

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Sir James Douglas (1803-1877) was an HBC Officer and the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island and of the Colony of British Columbia.

James Douglas was born in British Guyana in 1803 to a woman of mixed European and African ancestry and a Scottish merchant named John Douglas. Along with the birth of James, John Douglas and James’ mother would have two other children, Alexander and Cecilia. John Douglas started a second family with Jessie Hamilton whom he married in Glasgow in 1809.

At a young age, James Douglas attended a preparatory school in Scotland. When he was 16, Douglas and his brother were hired by the North West Company and eventually found themselves at Fort William in 1819. When the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company merged in 1821, Douglas managed to enter the HBC’s employ as a second clerk. In 1825, Douglas took charge of Fort Vermilion in Peace River for the summer, and crossed the Rockies in 1826 to bring supplies to New Caledonia from Fort Vancouver. Douglas worked around the area until he was asked to establish Fort Connolly on Bear Lake for the HBC.

In 1828 Douglas married Amelia Connolly, the daughter of William Connolly and a Cree woman. In 1830, he became an accountant under John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver and for nine years Douglas steadily worked and gained the trust of his colleagues. After several smaller job advancements, Douglas was promoted by the HBC to Chief Factor in 1839. In 1842 he received instructions to establish a fort at the south of Vancouver Island and in 1843 he started the construction of Fort Victoria.

When the Oregon Treaty was signed in 1846, and the 49th parallel border was further extended from the Rocky Mountains to reach the west coast, Douglas knew that Britain needed to make a bigger claim on the land north of the 49th parallel. To do this, Douglas started a new brigade trail on British territory along the lower Fraser River to further establish control over the area and Britain set finances for the Colony of Vancouver Island to be established.

Douglas was expected to be Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island but he was overlooked for Richard Blanshard. As it turned out, Blanshard only lasted as governor from 1849 – 1851; Douglas took over when Blanshard stepped down and held the position until 1864. As governor, Douglas oversaw and directed a lot of the growth of the west coast. Towns, roads, business, and communities were being built to establish a larger British colony. Douglas advised people to embrace the end of fur trading and encouraged farming, fishing, and coal mining instead.

The Colony of British Columba was created in 1858 and James Douglas was made Governor. Douglas remained Governor until 1864, and was knighted with 2nd level of the Order of the Bath around the same time as when he stepped down. After leaving his position Douglas spent the remainder of his life traveling around England and living in Victoria to connect with his family. James Douglas passed away 1877.

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Administrative history

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.

Custodial history

Harold E.B. McLorg (1914-1978), the husband of the donor, acquired the letters and documents at an unknown date from his father, Edward M.C. McLorg, a Vancouver lawyer, who was married to Margaret Maude McLorg, born Graveley and the daughter of Vancouver pioneer and real estate developer Walter E. Graveley. The letters and documents were found inside books that had survived a fire that destroyed E.M.C. McLorg's home ca. 1965-1966 at 1575 West 49th Avenue Vancouver. Mrs. H.E.B. (Joanna) McLorg inherited the collection and donated it to the Royal BC Museum.

Scope and content

The collection consists of six letters by James Douglas to James Yale or Donald Manson, three agreements between the Hudson 's Bay Company and four employees, and a bill of lading for the Hudson's Bay Company ship Cadboro.

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Researchers are asked to use the preservation photocopies instead of the originals.

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No further accruals are expected.

General note

The H.B.C. ship Cadboro or Cadborough Was an oceangoing supply and trading vessel that served along the Northwest Coast between 1827, when it arrived at Fort Vancouver from England, and 1862 when it sank during a storm after having been sold by the H.B.C. in 1860.

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Accession number(s): 95-3536

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  • Box: 953536-0002