Introductory Remarks on Observing ‘This Part of the World’*: Past Perceptions and Present Viewpoints

I am in the process of posting (and editing) a series of linked web-pages that furnish a description of what Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] seafarers saw, based on what they recorded, as they voyaged to and from the Northern Seaboard along a particular portion of the ocean sea from 1670 to 1920.[1] Though broken into sections that concentrate on different portions of the route, the description that is supplied across the links is continuous, reflecting the continuity of voyaging in transoceanic space – a geographical area with socio-political significance.

The information on this page introduces basic premise points that are returned to over the course of the linked descriptions — I am not simply describing, I am also supplying evidence to support an argument: that sailors to and from Hudson Bay were “essential or indispensable” to Western Canadian development. In other words, they were ‘fundamental’ to historical process in the Canadian context.[2] The argument may seem simplistic, but, as it is one that has not previously figured in maritime historiography, in historiography about the North, or historiography that refers to Hudson Bay, it is nonetheless necessary to lay it out and supply evidence to support it. Describing what past seafarers saw functions as one means of remembering their endeavors, achievements, and — not incidentally — getting ready to remember a Northern environment that is in the process of vanishing. In other pages, not yet posted, I will supply other descriptions that take a closer look at seafarers’ ships and the seafarers themselves — all by way of furnishing additional evidence in support of my argument.

Making a Sailors’ Place in the Space of the North Atlantic

While at work, the geographical place of most importance to HBC sailors was the watery space that they traversed in the course of a voyage to and from Hudson Bay, from and to the London River. This space can be thought of as akin to a region: it was a distinctive ‘becoming place,’ one that was progressively in the making as seafarers demarked and remembered its features. The space was very large and sparsely populated by transient human beings who traversed it over an extended period of time. The nature of their work made it knowable and their transmission of observations to succeeding generations of seafarers made, out of the space, a place that was known to mariners as only they could know it.

Sighting land — first from atop the mast, later confirmed by a sailor on deck. Source: Robert Krulwich, What Columbus Already Knew [with reference to Sacrobosco, On the Sphere, 1478].

But ‘region’ is a term for describing land. To shift perspective seaward in the linked descriptions that follow, the phrase ‘ocean arc’ is used instead, signifying a continuous, travelled, watery plain over which sailors repeatedly sailed their ships. The phrase delimits the area of sea space that ships traversed when  routed specifically to access Hudson Bay. Collectively, the stretches of sea over which the ships were sailed are considered “not as physical units but rather as spaces of human activity … [that] can elucidate patterns [otherwise] obscured.”[2]

The HBC Ocean Arc. Map indicating the extent of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s northern North Atlantic Ocean Arc, showing the portion of the ocean sea worked by Company sailors in their ships.

Placing Past Sea-Space in Present Perspectives

In the course of repeatedly following the HBC route(s) to and from Hudson Bay within the northernmost reaches of North Atlantic space, seafarers defined a particular historical place. Sailors were the primary producers of knowledge about that place for the HBC. Together, over time, through successive traverses of the ocean arc, sailors delimited its features as though it were in fact a ‘region’ in its own right. Because the making of the HBC ocean arc had importance to the process of ‘becoming place’ in a terrestrial region immediately adjacent – Western Canada, there is reason to make a place for the historiographical consideration of HBC routes.


Appreciating Passages

My intention, with this section of remarks, is to underscore the point that in the past, understandings of intercontinental travel were not the same as they are in the present. To analyze seafaring as a past activity, the place in which that seafaring occurred – the “location defined by the lived experiences of people” and valued by them accordingly – needs to be appreciated more deeply than people of the present are accustomed to doing (except, perhaps, those few who still sail in tall ships).[3] As novelist Leslie P. Hartley originally observed, and geographer David Lowenthal later reaffirmed, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”[4] The past ‘country’ along the HBC ocean arc  was a peculiar one, having been established and inhabited by sailors engaged in demanding rounds of work in floating, primarily wind-driven, workplaces.

Seventeenth-century ship.

Continuity, Change, and Managing Risk on the Ocean Arc to Hudson’s Bay

The HBC ocean arc was vast with distinctive natural features that meant crossing its extent was time and energy consuming. Organizing and accomplishing a voyage and return were demanding undertakings for the HBC, and demanding exercises for its seafarers. Both the organization and prosecution of voyages were based on a perception of continuity that persisted from the 1500s through to the 1900s – though significant discontinuities bracket the period.

Sixteenth-century ship.

The introduction of non-Aboriginal adventuring to the Northern Seaboard in the sixteenth century is the first discontinuity. This foreign adventuring was sustained by the perception that a Northern constancy existed, to be learned about through observation and competently known through experience.[5]

The second discontinuity is climate change, an eventuality that points to the ephemeral quality of such knowledge, but one that was not widely contemplated until the mid-twentieth century.[6] People of the past who were involved in ocean-borne adventuring to the North had a different appreciation of risk factors posed by the physical environment than people of the present, because the idea of change differed substantively.

Past sailors experienced change. It was a constant occasioned by their vessel’s movement. Nevertheless, as a geographical setting, the world through which mariners moved appeared timeless and the organizers of voyages therefore perceived the risks the environment posed to be manageable.[7]

There were shifts in technology that related to that management — though much that was ‘tried and true’ was steadfastly retained. Initially, the introduction of European maritime technology was counterposed against forms indigenous to the area. Later, there was the introduction of steam, iron, and steel, still later, petroleum derived fuels. In these instances, however, although new technology altered the organization of some mariners’ immediate worlds of work, older technological forms persisted.

The SS Discovery under sail. This wooden ship with auxiliary engines was originally built for the 1901 Scott expedition to Antarctica and purchased in 1904 by the HBC for voyaging to Hudson Bay. Source: “Discovery – Ships of the Polar Explorers,” Cool Antarctica History/antarctic_ships/discovery.htm (accessed 23 September 2008).

Sail was not vanquished during the period described, nor was the need for sailors capable of handling it.[8] As late as 1903 the “handsome” barque Lady Head, newly built on her first Company voyage in 1865, still sailed to Hudson Bay.[9] The Stork, the last HBC sailing barque to make the journey, only ceased voyaging in 1908 because it grounded on a reef in James Bay.[10]

Although reliant on steam, vessels such as the SS Pelican, SS Thetis, and CGS Arctic carried sail to 1920, making the most of wind to conserve coal.[11] HBC ships that incorporated steam did not prove any faster than sailing ships. The record for the fastest round trip set in 1900, by Captain John G. Ford in the Lady Head, stood until 1920. Many HBC vessels outfitted with engines did not serve on ocean crossings. Like the SS Erik, they were simply too small, and instead followed a coastal route, from Montreal, via St. John’s Newfoundland, to bayside posts.[12]

Canoes, kayaks, and umiaks, though gradually reduced in number, also continued to ply the Northern Seaboard into the twentieth century. Any absolute discontinuity regarding technological extinction of  indigenous sea craft thus falls outside the temporal bounds of this description.[13]

Umiak frame with mast set and Evinrude motor adjusted. J.R. Cox and J.R. Crawford, Bernard Harbour, N.W.T. [Nunavut], 6 June 1915.” Source: Rudolph Martin Anderson / Library and Archives Canada / C-086052.

Knowing the Northern Reaches

Collecting and codifying information communicated by seafarers into maps, instructions, and laws marked another approach to managing risk: that of acting to control space over time. In working towards realizing that aspiration, coalitions – including but not limited to the HBC – variously formed to institute and protect such intersecting programs as commerce, territorialism, imperialism, capitalism, and survival. Much of the work done in support of realization took place in the realm of ‘imagining’; that is, constructing knowledge about Northern waters from a great remove.[14] Journal notations and seafarers’ charts served as proofs, to bolster ‘truths,’ rendered into expressions of law concerning the ocean sea – specifically rights of access for resource extraction in artificially delineated parts of the whole.[15] The laws were formulated, sanctioned, and codified at the scale of the state. During the period from 1508 to 1920, states were at first dynastic and finally national institutions. In analyzing acts of abstracting the ocean into a collection of owned spaces, and of naming those spaces, it is possible to find in the history of seafaring to the Northern Seaboard of North America the play of empire, space, time, and communication in combination with hegemony, power, and knowledge.

For all of that, legal arguments for ownership along the seaboard were first made by men of business to protect the possibility of their profit. They could not have prosecuted that business without sailors. Underlying it all, throughout it all, HBC seafarers voyaged to the North and back again. They dealt directly and simultaneously with a real, in their eyes a constant, world and with shifting representations of what sort of domain that world might be.[16]

During the period examined, transport technology changed and individual sailors came and went. As occasional inclusion in the following pages of multiple names for geographical features highlights, the appellations sailors gave to locations, phenomena, and entities might also change. Yet, because Northern seas appeared constant, descriptions of the physical world through which vessels journeyed, whether penned by sailors in 1690 or 1920, remained essentially the same: physical features described in one account can be matched to features in another.

What is furnished in the linked pages is therefore a composite, drawn from written records composed by a variety of seafarers and penned at different times. Some writers sought to inform and so reduce uncertainty and mitigate contingency to forestall future casualty. Some sought to entertain, others to reassure. Arguably, all owed their presence aboard ship, in one way or another, to the perception held by the directors of the Hudson’s Bay Company that it was possible to command space and time to financial advantage.

Protecting Profit

From its inception, the HBC was a commercial venture dedicated to profit. As a seaborne enterprise operating under a royal charter, the Company needed avenues of trade that promised steady, predictable expansion both to secure ongoing protection of its monopoly status and to generate investment revenue. Securing profit depended not only on taking advantage of a financial surplus generated by value added through transoceanic transport, but also on manipulating the value and number of corporate shares.[17] As a speculative venture predicated on future returns, confidence in the Company was critical to its continued operation. There had to be confidence that the routes sailed led to a fur trade, and more particularly, that furs would return to market safely. Only after the sale of a cargo of furs would the London Committee be in a position to cover debts incurred outfitting the voyage, including monies owed to owners of chartered vessels and wages advanced to masters and sailors. Only after such debts were addressed would the financial balance, and the best way to handle it, be determined.[18] As early as 1682, Company correspondence records the negative consequences of heightened perceptions of risk within shipping circles. That year the London Committee alerted Governor John Nixon, who was stationed bayside, that the loss of the chartered vessel Prudent Mary,

hath Soe affrighted and discouraged all Owners and Masters of Shipps here, that wee can hardly get any to Serve us, unless at extraordinary rates, and the Seamen Use the Same Argument (to witt) the Difficulty of the Voyage, to advance there wages Soe that it must bee … good success … must recover good Opinion, and take of[f] the direfull apprehensions, they at present entertaine concerneing the Danger of our Navigation this in Short is a great moment as to our future Contracts [sic].[19]

The Company took sailors’ concerns seriously because their confidence was essential to success. Their labour was fundamental to enterprise. As Eric W. Sager has pointed out, “in shipping, labour is applied to transportation and communication, and the product of labour is not a material commodity but a service.”[20] He is in agreement with J.M. Blaut, who argues, “spatial movement is part of production,” [italics in source] and that therefore sailors’ labour is critical to generating value added (by bringing a product out of setting in which it has exceptionally low monetary value and putting it into a setting where high demand nets money in exchange for the product) and the creation of surplus value (profit).[21]

As the HBC apprehended safety concerns and financial success as indivisibly linked, it is understandable that the Company’s record of oceanic voyaging into the unknown, purely for the sake of expanding geographic knowledge, might be “none too impressive.”[22] Although occasionally over the course of Company history planners would mount exploratory voyages, their principal objective was to find, secure, and expand trade. ‘Adventures’ were not weighted to discovery for discovery’s sake, but to monetary gain.[23]

Prevalent Patterns and Persistence

The HBC’s prosaic approach to seafaring and the consequent routine character of its voyages might lead to the expectation that information on the routes sailed is readily available and that the details of the voyages have been thoroughly described. In 1852, John Barrow, editor of The Geography of Hudson’s Bay: being the remarks of Captain W. Coats, in many voyages to that locality, between the years 1727 and 1751, implied as much.[24] Introducing the text, Barrow commented that although only the last journal from Coats’ years of voyaging for the HBC had survived, as editor he had not consider the document worth perusing once he learned it contained “nothing beyond the usual occurrences of such voyages.”[25]

It is no longer possible to grasp immediately what exactly ‘the usual’ implied. Captain Christopher Middleton’s closing remarks in his Observations compiled from 1741 to 1742, about a Northern voyage, suggest that much of what was considered conventional about sailing in the higher latitudes was regarded as preordained and perpetual. There was an assumption that the Northern Seaboard would remain cold. Ice would figure as a predominant element that would continue to require the utmost exertions of sailors as it took on its various forms in an ongoing cycle of movement and renewal. There was, after all “a perpetual supply from the northern parts, which will so continue as long as it pleases the Author of all Beings to keep things in their present state.”[26]

Some two hundred and sixty-five years have passed. Ice is no longer projected to be a necessarily prevalent feature of Northern voyaging. The United States National Snow and Ice Data Center has observed that some forecasting models predict the disappearance of summer sea ice in the North by 2070.[27] Shipping lanes may finally bypass the Americas via a Northern route, but the predicted rise in water levels will see the alteration, even disappearance, of features historically used by sailors to determine their whereabouts.[28] A ‘new normal’ seems destined to fuel a search for new knowledge. Although various agencies are assessing the present state of knowledge on an ongoing basis, as of February 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change advised, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”[29] The same month, Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, reported in a United Nations document that rises in sea level “will not be reversible for centuries to millennia.”[30] With respect to mariners’ understandings of what working through Northern waters involves, the resort to precedence, in order to manage a present, seems destined to become ‘a thing of the past.’[31]

“Portion of 1599 map of Arctic exploration by Willem Barentsz. Spitsbergen, here mapped for the first time, is indicated as “Het Nieuwe Land” (Dutch for “the New Land”), center-left.” Source: Wikimedia Commons,


In the past, HBC planners reduced the risk inherent in maritime voyaging by taking advantage of precedence in selecting their Northern routes. By 1668, the year of the first ‘proto-HBC’ speculative voyage, the requisite discovering had already been done.[32] Even the idea to head out from England to Hudson Bay in search of gain originally had been “A French Idea Adopted by Prince Rupert,” and Médart Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson, effectually the idea’s originators, had already actively assessed the potential for success.[33] Previous generations of whalers had tried and tested the necessary transport technology. As well, whalers and fishers, who had ridden Atlantic and Northern ocean currents for centuries and dealt with the regional weather systems these generated in concert with prevailing winds, had already determined which directions natural forces were likely carry a vessel, what to expect at different times of the year, and where shelter or supplies might be found.[34] Their practical expertise had been supplemented from time to time by seafaring – and disappointed – explorers bent on realizing profit from the mark-up on a hold’s worth of ‘necessary luxuries’ secured from the apparently surfeit reserves of the ‘Orient.’[35]

Seventeenth-century Dutch whaling technology. Abraham Stock, oil painting, c. 1659-1708. Source: Wikimedia Commons,

Along with Groseilliers and Radisson’s reconnoitring in 1657 and 1668, early surveys had been conducted by seafarers such as Martin Frobisher in 1576, 1577, and 1578; John Davis in 1585, 1586, and 1587; George Weymouth in 1602; Henry Hudson in 1610; Thomas Button in 1612; Robert Bylot in 1610, 1612, and 1615; Jens Eriksen Munck in 1619; Luke Foxe and Thomas James in 1631; and Zachary Gillam circa 1663.[36] By 1670 this information, together with anecdotes officially gathered from, and unofficially disseminated by, various crew members had dispelled much uncertainty about how to get to Hudson Bay.[37]

Mercator, World Map, 1569. Source Wikimedia Commons,

Joan Blaeu, Regiones sub Polo Artico, 1665.

Cumulative knowledge had been progressively codified, refined, and expanded, as is illustrated by a comparison of Gerardus Mercator’s world chart of 1569, the chart of the North Pole printed in Johannes Janssonius’ sea atlas of 1650, and that of the “Regiones sub Polo Artico,” published by Joan Blaeu in 1665.[38] The latter’s representation, in its day considered “the most up-to-date map of the North Pole region available,” was quickly complimented, and its geographical information further circulated, by competing cartographers such as Pieter Goos in The Sea Atlas of the Water World, of 1666.[39] The Dutch works inundated the London market, spurring a “borrowing practice” among English hydrographers such as John Thorton, who was employed by the East India Company as well as the HBC, and who produced anglicized copies. By today’s standards, early charts may appear crude, but their existence is evidence that HBC servants such as those captained by Gillam aboard the Nonsuch and William Stannard aboard the Eaglet where not entirely ignorant as to where they might find appropriate landfall, people, and product for prosecuting a profitable bayside trade.[40]

Pietre Goos, World Chart, c. 1669, with inset on lower left detailing the North Polar region.

Although on the first HBC voyage of 1670 Stannard turned back after encountering heavy seas, the passage of time confirmed that shipping routes chosen by the London Committee were indeed viable and the trade sufficient to generate shareholders’ dividends. In reviewing information compiled in its records, the Company was able to find more pattern than anomaly in its shipping experience, further reducing the perception of material risk.[41] Likewise, the majority of seafarers on Company ships knew why they were aboard and got where they expected to go, very much as they expected they would, although depending on temperament, education, and experience what they encountered may have come as a surprise.

Emanuel Bowen, 1747

Custom and Convention

As other pages on this website make clear, voyagers on Company ships were a varied lot. What was familiar to one might be foreign to another. Custom and convention were marked attributes of the European seafaring world, however, and to a considerable degree both experience, and how experience was recorded, followed standardized formats.[42] HBC logbooks supply a good example. Notations in the logs indicate that navigators measured their ship’s progress throughout their entire voyage, ‘by account,’ which meant arithmetically computing distance travelled; ‘by observation’ which meant taking and mapping actual latitudinal and longitudinal readings; and by sighting a series of specific landmarks. The locations of landmarks were recorded in terms of latitude and longitude, but also in terms of distance – leagues, fathoms, and miles – relative to other locations and the ship. Notations made of actual sightings included the name of each landmark and the dates on which it was expected, sighted, and abreast. These entries were not made solely for the captain’s edification. From 1719 through to the early twentieth century, once submitted to the London Office, the dates were entered in “The Book of Ships’ Movements” in which the landmarks figured as column headings. Compiling this knowledge base allowed ‘at home’ HBC Committee members to compare voyages and develop expectations regarding the management of future forays.[43] The reduction of journeys to a series of dates implied a reliable pattern and measurable progress to HBC shipping over time. The pattern appears verifiable insofar as it is possible to compile a general description of Hudson Bay voyaging. There was, however, variation.

Nicolas Bellin, ‘Carte Réduite des Mers du Nord,’ Paris, 1758.

Not only was each voyage different, each witness determined and recorded their position in terms that changed over time. The tools, methods, and knowledge applied to distance, place, and naming were mutable. The texts surveyed for this description, for instance, show considerable variation in recording geographical location by latitude and longitude. The location of Hoy Head in the Orkney Islands, from which HBC vessels typically took their final departure, serves as an example. In 1751, according to Jonathan Fowler, the latitudinal location of Hoy Head was “58d:55m No,” while in 1768, William Wales recorded it as “59o 2′ N.” Incidentally and ironically, although the former was a ships’ captain, while the latter was trained in using the latest science available, Fowler’s figure comes closest to that supplied by today’s information standardizing, satellite imaging program, ‘Google Earth’: “58o 54′ 54.33.”[44] In the pages that follow, the exercise of translating leagues, nautical miles, and statute miles to kilometres demonstrates that when inspected from the present, the contours of the reconstructed past are decidedly wobbly. If the occasional inclusion of multiple measures somewhat compromises communicating for quick comprehension, it also underscores the point that perfect understanding of the past is elusive.

Hudson Bay House, 1 Lime Street. See also photograph, “Passing of No. 1 Lime Street,” The Beaver 5, no. 2 (Mar., 1925): 66,

For a view of Fenchurch street see London Lives, 1690 to 1800

And for a tiny glimpse of Hudson’s Bay house at Fenchurch see

The designation ‘home’ also illustrates past convention applied to description in a manner that is no longer necessarily customary. At an abstract level, the initial point of departure for HBC voyages was London, the seat of the London Committee whose members determined whether a voyage was to take place. Initially, meetings of the Committee were held in a variety of locations ranging from private quarters such as Prince Rupert’s house in Spring Gardens, Whitehall, to “business rendezvous” such as Mr. Garway’s coffee house at 3 Change-alley, Cornhill; an address frequented by “traders and captains.”[45] Later headquarters were established in leased premises and a series of buildings successively known as ‘Hudson’s Bay House’ on Fenchurch and Lime Streets.[46] From 1670 to 1920, it was customary in official parlance to refer to the port of London as home for HBC voyages – regardless of where the seafarers or ships actually originated. Thus, a ‘return’ voyage heading out of Hudson Bay was in actuality an ‘outward’ voyage for individuals who were native to North America, just as it might be for vessels constructed or stationed on shores other than England’s. Likewise, the outward voyage for European ‘adventurers’ and ‘discoverers’ might be a home voyage for any of their companions who were returning towards the known and expected. Post-colonial arguments show the decentring of perspective to be a means of avoiding the perpetuation of cultural/intellectual imperialism in historiography.[47] Nevertheless, to reduce the likelihood of readership confusion and to reflect the rhetorical tenor of an officialdom that plainly contributed to shaping the world aboard ships in the past, in keeping with precedence established by custom and adopted in HBC historiography, this description segments the sea and begins and ends with the ‘London docks.’

John Thomson, Chart of North Atlantic Ocean with tracks of the shipping to West Indies, North America, &cc., England, 1818

The textual passages describing ocean passages out and back might seem long to people of the present who are used to crossing the Atlantic in a matter of hours. Readers accustomed to histories that employ an economic measure of distance – reducing voyages to abstract statements showing ‘x’ value was added to cargo over ‘y’ length of time for example – might also wonder at the number of pages devoted to routes. The history described here is about the significance of past seafaring. What matters is cumulative experience gained while travelling distance – distance that varied as courses changed according to conditions encountered. It takes time and space to describe past voyaging because, according to the records they kept, it took time for sailors of the past to traverse space.

Next: “HBC Sailing ‘North About’ from ‘London River’, 1670-1920

*William Wales, “Journal of a Voyage, made by Order of the Royal Society, to Churchill River, on the North-west Coast of Hudson’s Bay; of Thirteen Months Residence in that Country; and of the Voyage back to England; in the Years 1768 and 1769,” Philosophical Transactions (16631775) vol. 60 (1770): 132.


[1] See Martin W. Lewis, “Dividing the Ocean Sea,” The Geographical Review 89, no. 2 (April 1999), 188-214, esp. 199, 203-204, for comments regarding European conceptions of the North Atlantic. Following the observations of geographer Lewis, I use the phrase ocean sea to underscore the coextensive actuality of maritime space, acknowledging the circumfluent aspect of the planet’s hydrosphere. Both ocean sea and ocean arc are phrases that are archaic in origin, but they are not entirely anachronistic. They are compatible with highlighting maritime activity and continuity across ocean space and avoiding the implication that political boundaries are natural.

[2] See “fundamental,” Oxford English Dictionary Online [OED] <; (accessed 2004–2009), as in “3. a. Serving as the foundation or base on which something is built. [especially as the term is applied] Chiefly and now exclusively in immaterial applications. Hence, forming an essential or indispensable part of a system, institution, etc.” – in this case a process.  See also Allan Pred, “Social Reproduction and the Time-Geography of Everyday Life,” Geografiska Annaler, ser. B, Human Geography 63, no. 1 (1981): 5, 6, 20.
[2] Lewis, “Dividing the Ocean Sea,” 204.

[3] David Atkinson, ed., Cultural Geography: A Critical Dictionary of Key Ideas (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005), 41–42; William Norton, Human Geography (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992), 49; and Allan Pred, “Social Reproduction and the Time-Geography of Everyday Life,” Geografiska Annaler, ser. B, Human Geography 63, no. 1 (1981): 5, describes place “not as something that stands on its own, but as a phenomenon that is part of the becoming of individual consciousness” and argues for “describing behavior and biography in time and space” through analysis of place. Areal study, therefore, serves as a means of understanding the conditions, conjunctions, and consequences that gave rise to historical process. See Harold A. Innis,The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History (1930; rev. ed. 1956; reprint, with a revised foreword, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970), 393, in which he states, “the present Dominion emerged not in spite of geography but because of it.”

[4] L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953); David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

[5] Harold A. Innis, “The Hudson Bay Railway,” Geographical Review 20, no. 1 (January 1930): 1.

[6] Spencer R. Weart, “Introduction: A Hyperlinked History of Climate Change Science,” The Discovery of Global Warming (American Institute of Physics June 2007) (accessed 18 March 2008).

[7] See, for example, John A. Cormie, “The Hudson Bay Route,” Geographical Review 4, no. 1 (July 1917): 29, who finds natural and attitudinal obstacles to developing the Hudson Bay route to be “not insuperable.”

[8] See Lance Edwin Davis, Robert E. Gallman, and Karin Gleiter, In Pursuit Of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 260–296; David Learmonth, “To Labrador by Sail,” The Beaver 78, no. 2 (April/May 1998): 36; Frederick Schwatka, “An Arctic Vessel and Her Equipment,” Science 3, no. 64 (April 1884): 505–511; also Graeme J. Milne, Trade and Traders in Mid-Victorian Liverpool: Mercantile Business and the Making of a World Port (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), 21–26, 37, 41–42.

[9] H.M.S. Cotter, “Some Famous Hudson’s Bay Captains and Ships,” part I, The Beaver 1, no. 7 (April 1921): 4; H.M.S. Cotter, “Company Sailing Ships,” The Beaver 14, no. 2 (September 1934), 32.

[10] J. Williams, “The Last Voyage of the Stork,” The Beaver 19, no. 2 (September 1939): 47.

[11] See “Discovery – Ships of the Polar Explorers,” Cool Antarctica (accessed 23 September 2008), for the SS Discovery under sail. This wooden ship with auxiliary engines was originally built for the 1901 Scott expedition to Antarctica and purchased in 1904 by the HBC for voyaging to Hudson Bay.

[12] See Ship List, and Sources for Ship List, nos. 897, 901, 904; A.R. Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’ 1911,” part I, The Beaver 62, no. 4 (spring 1983): 15; Learmonth, “To Labrador by Sail,” 36; Richard Finnie, “Farewell Voyages: Bernier and the ‘Arctic’,” The Beaver 54, no. 1 (summer 1974): 49, 51; also “Hudson’s Bay Company’s S.S. ‘Pelican’ Leaving for Hudson Bay, Montreal, QC, 1920, copied in 1970–1980,” photograph, Musée McCord Museum (accessed 9 November 2007); and “S.S. Thetis and Other Vessels Tied Up at Job Brothers & Co. Ltd. South Side Premises, St. John’s, N.L.,” photograph, Job Photograph Collection, Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Digital Archives Initiative (accessed 9 November 2007). H.M.S. Cotter, “Famous H.B.C. Captains and Ships,” part I, 4; H.M.S. Cotter, “Famous H.B.C. Captains and Ships,” part II, The Beaver 1, no 9 (June 1921): 32–33; G.A. Cuthbertson, “The ‘Erik’s’ Saga,” The Beaver 16, no. 1 (June 1936): 53; and “S.S. Pelican,” The Beaver 9, no. 1 (June 1929): 215.

[13] Peter Pitseolak and Dorothy Eber, with Ann Hanson, trans., People from Our Side: A Life Story with Photographs (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1975; reprint with new preface, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993), 20, 75–76, 98, challenge assertions that umiaks disappeared with the introduction of new technology. See also photo, “J.J. O’Neill, well bundled up, on deck of schooner CGS Alaska, sled and Umiak in background,” photograph, GHW 51294, Canadian Museum of Civilization Online Exhibitions: The Story of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913–1918 – People of the CAE (accessed 9 November 2007); and Eugene Y. Arima, Report on an Eskimo Umiak Built at Ivuyivik, Quebec in the Summer of 1960, Anthropological Series no. 59, National Museum of Canada, Bulletin no. 189 (Ottawa: Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, 1963), whose work illustrates the difficulty of arguing for technological discontinuity when older forms are subsequently revived.

[14] See Richard I. Ruggles, “The West of Canada in 1763: Imagination and Reality,” Canadian Geographer 15, no. 4 (1971): 235–36, who notes, “Imaginary details written in treatises and drawn upon maps for various reasons have played a large part in influencing the deliberations of statesmen, and of traders, and in attracting the movement of explorers and settlers. How important for the discovery and exploration of the coastline and of the interior of North America has been the search for the migratory locations of the Western Passage to Asia, the Straits of Anian, Juan de Fuca, and Martin d’Aigular, the Sea of the West, the Great River of the West, the Western Sea of Baron de Lahont, the Sea and Lands of Admiral de Fonte, the Large Land and Yesoland in the Pacific! Truly, these deserve the title of cartographic ‘will-o’-the-wisps.’ Thus, cartographic and geographic licence in attracting voyagers has exposed its own fallaciousness and applied its own corrective. As the explorer Nansen has said, ‘Great illusions have always played an important part in the history of mankind’.”

[15] See Thomas Willing Balch, “The Hudsonian Sea is a Great Open Sea,” American Journal of International Law 7, no. 3 (July 1913): 546, 548–49, who describes recourse made to law by contending parties. He argues that on the one hand, law was used to “modify the legal status of the waters” to a mare clausum and impose “exclusive pretensions,” which were transferred from Prince Rupert and the HBC to England and eventually Canada. Yet, he points out, countries such as France and the United States argued that the Bay, according to precedence, ought to be  “brought within the regime of the liberty [of the sea]”; and Monica E. Mulrennan and Colin H. Scott, “Mare Nullius: Indigenous Rights in Saltwater Environments,” Development and Change 31, no. 3 (June 2000): 681–82, who focus on Hudson and James Bays in a discussion of “the subjugation of indigenous peoples’ marine territories to a ‘double jeopardy’ of exclusion – jurisdictional and proprietary – through the legal and administrative practices of European ‘settler’ states in Australia and Canada.”

[16] See Benedict Anderson, “Census, Map, Museum,” in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso Press, 1991), 163–64; David Turnbull, “Cartography and Science in Early Modern Europe: Mapping the Construction of Knowledge Spaces,” Imago Mundi 48 (1996): 5–7, 19–20; and Lewis, “Dividing the Ocean Sea,” 188–89, 199, 211.

[17] See “value added,” Oxford English Dictionary Online [OED] (accessed 26 November 2008), the term refers to the additional value of a commodity over the cost of commodities used to produce it from the previous stage of production.

[18] See Innis, Fur Trade in Canada, 48, 50, 129, for observations on the importance of sea routes to French traders in 1683, and M. de Denonville in 1685. Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870–71, Being a History of Rupert’s Land (The Hudson’s Bay Company Territory) and of the North-West Territory (Including the Pacific Slope) (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1939), 61, describes HBC methods of financing voyages; E.E. Rich, “The Financing of the Trade, 1685–1686,” and “Prosperity without Dividends,” in The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company 16701870, vol. I (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1958), 186–91, and 307–26, discusses early HBC financing, dependence on chartered vessels, and resort to somewhat suspect practices in weathering ‘uneasy’ markets; see also Michael F. Dove, “Voyages to Rupert’s Land: The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Maritime Component, 1670–1770,” in Selected Papers of Rupert’s Land Colloquium 2002, compiled by David G. Malaher (Winnipeg: Centre for Rupert’s Land Studies, 2002), 22–23.

[19] London Committee, quoted in Dove, “Voyages to Rupert’s Land,” 23, also 7. Dove calculates that “Of the 20 Company ships lost in the Bay during this first century [to 1770], 12 fell victim to the particular hazards of the Bay or Strait,” but that by promoting “a variety of measures over the early decades” to realize “a safer and more reliable shipping operation” the HBC curbed the loss of ships. See also John Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse: Hudson’s Bay Company Transport, 1670–1821,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1978), 47; and Rich, History, vol. I, 95–96.

[20] Eric W. Sager, Seafaring Labour: The Merchant Marine of Atlantic Canada, 18201914 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989), 9.

[21] J.M. Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (New York: Guilford Press, 1993), 169; see also Sager, Seafaring Labour, 10.

[22] Glyndwr Williams, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Its Critics in the Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 20 (1970): 161.

[23] See R.H.G. Leveson-Gower, “Voyages for Discovery of the Northwest Passage,” The Beaver 15, no. 1 (June 1936): 45–49. The case of the Hudson’s Bay Company (S.I.: s.n, 1748?); “The Fur-Trade and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Chambers’ Repository (S.I.: s.n., 1859?), 1–2; George E. Ellis, “Hudson Bay Company, 1670–1870,” Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York 18 (1886): 127–29, 131; K.G. Davies, ed, with A.M. Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 170340 (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1965), x; Williams, “Hudson’s Bay Company and Its Critics,” 151, 161; and Richard I. Ruggles, A Country So Interesting: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping 16701870 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 3, also 28–29, 31, 34–35, 41.

[24] William Coats, The Geography of Hudson’s Bay: being the remarks of Captain W. Coats, in many voyages to that locality, between the years 1727 and 1751, ed. John Barrow (London: Hakluyt Society, 1852).

[25] John Barrow, ed., “Introductory remarks,” in Coats, Geography, x.

[26] Christopher Middleton, “Observations. The effects of cold; together with observations of the longitude, latitude, refraction of the atmosphere, and declination of the magnetic needle, at Prince of Wales’ Fort, Churchill River, in Hudson’s Bay, North America. By Christopher Middleton, commander of his majesty’s ship ‘Furnace’, 1741–42,” in Coats, Geography, 139.

[27] Mark Serreze, quoted in press release, “Arctic Sea Ice Decline Again in 2004, According to CU-Boulder Researchers,” National Snow and Ice Data Center, 4 October 2004 (accessed 23 September 2007). Mark Serreze, quoted in Michael D. Lemonick, “As Effects of Warming Grow, U.N. Report is Quickly Dated,” Yale Environment 360 (12 February 2009) (accessed 4 April 2009), notes projections have been revised so that “the move to ice-free will come a lot earlier, say, around 2030. Some people are even saying it could happen as early as a decade from now.” See also Bruce Lieberman, “Arctic Sea Ice: A Single Season Does Not a Significant Trend Make,” The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media –International, Yale University, 15 July 2008 arctic-sea-ice-a-single-season-does-not-a-significant-trend-make/ (accessed 30 January 2009).

[28] See Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “The Arctic Grail,” CBC News In Depth, 8 August 2006 (accessed 24 September 2007).

[29] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Summary for Policymakers,” in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), Cambridge University Press, “Catalogue” isbn=9780521705967 (accessed 1 September 2007), 5.

[30] Rosina Bierbaum, et al, “Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable,” United Nations-Sigma Xi Scientific Expert Group Report on Climate Change, Executive Summary prepared for the 15th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, February 2007 (accessed 1 September 2007), 6.

[31] William M. Gray, “Global Warming and Hurricanes,” Meeting Paper, 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, 2006 (accessed 6 November 2007); Pat Michaels, “Conspiracy, Consensus or Correlation? What Scientists Think about the ‘Popular Vision’ of Global Warming,” World Climate Review 1 (1993): 11; also Kenneth Green, Tim Ball, and Steven Schroeder, “The Science Isn’t Settled – The Limitations of Global Climate Models,” Public Policy Sources 80 (Jun. 2004) ScienceIsntSettled.pdf (accessed 9 November 2007), supply dissenting views. Fred Pearce, “Meet the Global Warming Sceptics,” New Scientist 2486 (12 February 2005): 40, notes that “There are a few authoritative climate scientists in the sceptic camp,” adding, “Most others are either retired, outside mainstream academia or tied to the fossil fuel industry.”

[32] K.G. Davies, ed., with A.M. Johnson, Northern Quebec and Labrador Journals and Correspondence, 1819–35 (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1963), xvii; Morton, History of the Canadian West, 49, also makes the point that trade, not geographical discovery was the goal, explaining that “goods were packed ‘in ordr to trade with the Indyans there’,” [sic] although on page 48, he is of the opinion that “the Englishmen, allured by the representations of the two Frenchmen, not only envisaged a fur trade, but thought they were in sight of the discovery of a passage to the Western Sea, or as it was also called, the Southern Sea.”

[33] Isaac Cowie, The Company of Adventurers: A Narrative of Seven Years in the Service of the Hudson’s Bay Company during 1867–1874, On the Great Buffalo Plains with Historical and Biographical notes and comment (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913), 35.

[34] A.R. Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’ 1911,” part I, The Beaver 62, no. 4 (spring 1983): 14; Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 7879; Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse,” 1516.

[35] On disappointment see Thomas James, The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of Captaine Thomas James, in his intended Discovery of the Northwest Passage into the South Sea (London: John Legatt, for John Partridge, 1633), 34. On ‘necessary luxuries,’ see, for example, W. Hooper, “The Tudor Sumptuary Laws,” English Historical Review 30, no. 119 (July 1915): 43349; and Herman Freudenberger, “Fashion, Sumptuary Laws, and Business,” Business History Review 37, no. 1/2 (spring/summer 1963): 3748, who takes the discussion beyond law, and into the nineteenth century, to include convention and social status.

[36] E.G.R. Taylor, “Hudson Strait and the Oblique Meridian,” Imago Mundi 3 (1939): 49, posits the existence of additional, unacknowledged early voyages to Hudson Strait. Based on a close examination of, and the application of more recent mapping methods to, early mariner charts, and thereby illustrating the congruence of contours with current geographical conceptions of dimension, he deduces from that by 1580 “the Portuguese had not only entered Hudson Strait but had examined and charted Ungava Bay.”

[37] See E.E. Rich, ed., with A.M. Johnson, Copy-book of letters outward &c: begins 29th May, 1680 ends 5 July, 1687 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1948), xvi.

[38] See Gerard Mercator, “Plate 47: Sea Chart of the North Atlantic,” and Johannes Janssonius, “Plate 50: Chart of the North Pole,” in Early Sea Charts, ed. Robert Putman (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983), 87, 95; and Joan Blaeu, “Regiones sub Polo Artico,” in Atlas Major: ‘The Greatest and Finest Atlas ever Published,’ ed. Peter Van Der Krogt (Los Angeles: Taschen, 2006), 32–33.

[39] Van Der Krogt, Atlas Major, 37; Pieter Goos, “Plate 39: Chart of the World,” and Pieter Goos, “Plate 53: Sea Chart of the Seas around Greenland and Iceland,” in Putman, Early Sea Charts, 73, 99.

[40] A.R.T. Jonkers, “Parallel Meridians: Diffusion and Change in Early-Modern Oceanic Reckoning,” in Noord-Zuid in Oostindisch perspectief, ed. J. Parmentier (The Hague: Waburg, 2005), 17–42 (accessed 4 March 2007), 8–11, supplies a discussion of the competition between Dutch cartographers, the quality, accuracy, and popularity of their representations, and their effect on French and English oceanic navigation. See also “Chartmaking,” in The Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea, ed. Peter Kemp (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 157–59.

[41] Ruggles, Country So Interesting, xiii; Dove, “Voyages to Rupert’s Land,” 7; Alwin, “Mode Pattern and Pulse,” 37.

[42] See, John W. Rathbun, “Billy Budd and the Limits of Perception,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 20, no. 1. (June 1965): 19–34, on the prevalence of a perceived existence of customary ‘usage’ at sea.

[43] See HBCA, C.4/1, Book of Ships’ Movements, 1719–1929.

[44] HBCA C.1/1021 Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1751, 5; William Wales, “Journal of a Voyage, made by order of the Royal Society, to Churchill River, on the North-west Coast, of Hudson’s Bay; of Thirteen Months Residence in that Country; and of the Voyage Back to England; in the Years 1768 and 1769,” Philosophical Transactions (1683–1775) 60 (1770): 101. “Hoy Head,” Google Earth 4.2, Direct X8, 13 November 2007 (accessed 7 January 2008).

[45] See Deidre Simmons, Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 5, 39–41; Richard Glover, “Introduction,” in Letters from Hudson Bay, xiii n.1. The first premises leased by the HBC, 1682–1696, was Scriveners’ Hall (renamed Hudson’s Bay House), in Noble Street. Company papers were stored in a trunk. Morton, History of the Canadian West, 60, quoting a document from 1672, uses the spelling “Garway”; John Timbs, Curiosities of London, Exhibiting the Most Rare and Remarkable Objects of Interest in this Metropolis (London: John Camden Hotten, 1867), 183, uses ‘Garraway’ and notes the coffee house “was established by Thomas Garway, tobacconist and coffee-man, who first sold and retailed tea, in 1657 … for people of quality who have business in the City, and for wealthy citizens … The consumption of sandwiches, pale ale, stout and sherry at Garraway’s is immense. The Sale-room is an antiquated first-floor apartment, with a small rostrum for the seller, and a few commonly grained settles for the buyers”; see K.E. Pincott, illustration and article, “Garraway’s Coffee House,” The Beaver 11, no. 1 (June 1931): 217–218. Edward Walford, “The Mall and Spring Gardens,” Old and New London: Volume 4 (1878), 74–85, British History Online (accessed 12 November 2007).

[46] Hudson’s Bay Company, “HBC in London,” Our History – Places, Heritage Home hbcheritage/history/places/buildings/article.asp?article=20 (accessed 12 November 2007), notes that Scriveners’ Hall at the corner of Noble Street and Oat Lane was leased. Hudson’s Bay House was actually located in a series of different buildings over several hundred years, including numbers 3 and 4 Fenchurch Street and number 1 Lime Street, London. Glover, “Introduction,” Letters from Hudson Bay, xiii n.1, describes the leased premises at the north-east end of Fenchurch Street as “a handsome hall.” James McCook, “Sir George Simpson in the Hawaiian Islands,” The Beaver 56, no. 3 (winter 1976): 50, supplies an illustration of the Fenchurch Street exterior. See “Passing of No. 1 Lime Street,” The Beaver 5, no. 2 (March 1925): 66.

[47] See Norma Hall, “A ‘Perfect Freedom’: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810–1870,” M.A.. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2003), 21–24.


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