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Collections, convergence, and coincidence

I started my position as the Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection in January, and am familiarizing myself with this fascinating collection, comprised of objects which reflect more than three centuries of HBC operations.  There is not a single organizing principle, other than objects having some association with the HBC or its employees.   The vast majority of the collection was donated by the Hudson’s Bay Company to The Manitoba Museum in 1994.  Of the roughly 25,000 objects in this collection, about 1/3 are of indigenous origin – “curiosities of the country” collected by HBC employees – while about 2/3 are of Euro-North American origin.  The collection contains some remarkable and iconic objects, but an equally important aspect is the ways in which the collection symbolizes and evokes larger themes in corporate, Canadian, and world history. 

An example of this is the Halkett boat – a mid-19th century inflatable or collapsible boat intended for the use of travelers and explorers – in the HBC Collection. 

A period image of a two-man Halkett boat in use, from "Footnotes on the Franklin Search," The Beaver, Outfit 285 (Spring 1955), 48.

A recent request came from Jeremy Ward, Curator of The Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough, ON. www.canoemuseum.ca   He was interested in obtaining an image and information on this object for an upcoming exhibit on collapsible and folding watercraft.  The information he provided, and my search into the records at The Manitoba Museum, produced some interesting results.  First, it is one of two known Halkett Boats surviving worldwide.  The other, in the Stromness Museum, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, was associated with the Arctic explorer and surveyor Dr. John Rae – who was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  www.orkneycommunities.co.uk/STROMNESSMUSEUM/

Rae considered the boats very useful on his Arctic voyages in the 1840s, which included a search for the lost expedition of the famous Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. 

The Halkett boat in the Hudson's Bay Company Museum Collection in its shipping box, labelled "Sir George Simpson," prior to conservation. TMM, HBC 40-95.

Ironically, the Halkett Boat in the HBC Museum Collection was intended for Franklin, who in turn gave it to Sir George Simpson, the governor of North American operations for the HBC.  It is possible that this boat has never been used, but has remained in its box in the corporate collection of the HBC until the HBC Museum Collection was donated to The Manitoba Museum.

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Amelia Fay

Curator of HBC Collection

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Amelia Fay joined The Manitoba Museum in September 2013. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), and is currently finishing her Doctoral degree from MUN. Amelia’s research has focused on Inuit-European contact along the Labrador coast, and her interests are continually expanding to explore Aboriginal-European contact throughout Canada during the fur trade era.

Amelia’s job as Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection involves building the collection, responding to public inquiries, preparing exhibits, and conducting her own research. Her research interests centre on the interactions between Europeans (including HBC employees) and Aboriginal peoples as they negotiated space, material culture, and their daily activities. Amelia’s goal is to showcase this amazing collection, and highlight the important role that Aboriginal people played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company.