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“Relics of Interest”

Since my last blog entry, I have continued to learn more about the HBC Museum Collection.  Two conference papers – one for the 2012 Rupert’s Land Colloquium in May 2012, and the other for the 18th Inuit Studies Conference in October 2012 – helped to focus my research in specific directions, and opened up many new questions about the collection.  Most of the summer, and part of the fall, was occupied in writing and preparing an illustrated book which highlights and places in context a sample of the objects in the HBC Museum Collection.  Relics of Interest: Selections from the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection, arrived back from the printers in late October, and went on sale on December 3.  Copies are available at the Museum Shop at The Manitoba Museum; please contact the Museum Shop for more information.

Book Cover 001

As mentioned in April’s blog entry (below), the HBC Historical Exhibition, later the Museum Collection, was initiated in 1920, when the London Committee of the HBC authorized the collection and purchase of “relics of interest,” to create

Ch.1: A Chukchi [Siberia] ivory model of the SS Baychimo, TMM HBC 73-298.

Ch.1: A Chukchi [Siberia] ivory model of the SS Baychimo, TMM HBC 73-298.

and present a collection symbolizing the Company’s contribution to the evolution of Canada.  Since then, objects and collections that relate to the HBC and its role in Canadian development have been added, by donation and by purchase, to form today’s HBC Museum Collection of approximately 26,000 objects.  The book follows loosely the four-part mandate followed at the initiation of the Collection – to present “the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, life in the fur trade, the story of the pioneer settlers and the customs, dress and industries of the aboriginal tribes.”  The book is organized around a selection of the objects that have been collected to symbolize these four themes.

One of the challenges was choosing a small but appropriate sample – there are so many

Ch.2: Plains hide dress, attributed to the collection of Sir George Simpson, TMM HBC 2265.

Ch.2: Plains hide dress, attributed to the collection of Sir George Simpson, TMM HBC 2265.

things that could be used to represent each of the four themes identified at the establishment of the HBC Historical Exhibition.  It was important to reflect the diversity of the collection, evoking the wide geographic and temporal range of the Company’s operations, and its economic and cultural impact.  The featured objects come from across Canada, Great Britain, the United States, and even Siberia.  They date from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, produced in factories, fur trade posts, and indigenous communities, by a wide range of women and men.  Often the stories of how objects arrived in the HBC Museum Collection – their provenance – are as important as the objects themselves, and the book offers some of these stories.

Ch.3: HBC copper kettles, TMM HBC 1314-1318.

Ch.3: HBC copper kettles, TMM HBC 1314-1318.

One of the more distinctive features of this collection is the way in which it was consciously assembled by the HBC, to symbolize the themes that Company employees considered important.  It is enlightening to consider how the symbolic values attached to certain objects and groups of objects have changed over the ninety-three years the HBC Museum Collection has existed.  Aesthetic considerations have remained strong throughout – the desire to assemble symbolic

Ch.4: HBC country-made chair, TMM HBC 2427.

Ch.4: HBC country-made chair, TMM HBC 2427.

“treasures.”  More recently these have been challenged by the interpretive power of objects – how effectively they represent larger themes in the economic and social history of the HBC, Manitoba, and Canada.  The opportunity, and the challenge, presented by this fine collection, selected to symbolize an early twentieth century corporation, is how best to utilize it in support of defining provincial and national identity into the twenty-first century.

 

 

 

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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.