Friday, 1 November 2013

HIStory & HERitage: Hudson's Bay Company

                               HIStory & HERitage

As discussed in the last edition of HIStory & HERitage, Henry John Moberly established the first HBC post in Fort McMurray in 1870, along the banks of the Athabasca River. What wasn’t mentioned was that this trading post was essentially a failure.

It wasn’t Moberly’s fault, though. It was just bad timing. He established the post in 1870 and within 10 short years the fur trade was already in decline. The severe winters and frequent forest fires in the area were the main culprits as they deterred trappers from staying in the area. 

Since it was no longer profitable for the HBC to retain a trading post in Fort McMurray, it was shut down. The building itself, however, continued to house the local post office and served as a steamboat transfer point for those wanting to travel further north.  

By the 1920s, the population of Fort McMurray began to increase. As a result, so did the number of businesses and shops downtown.  Realizing it could now make a profit in the area the HBC built a store on Franklin Ave, west of current day Morrison Street. Its new focus was providing the needs for the growing population, such as food, clothing, firearms, trapping supplies and building materials. 

The Hudson's Bay Store on Franklin Ave., circa 1925.

The HBC also realized the economic potential of another community in the area: Waterways.

The HBC also set up shop across the street from the railroad station in 1926. Both stores fared extremely well. The Waterways store was supported by the rail and the growing community of Waterways, while the Fort McMurray store made a profit by supplying dry goods to local trappers and residents.

When Waterways and Fort McMurray amalgamated in 1947, it was the only northern community to boast two HBC stores.  Following more than a century of service, the HBC permanently closed its doors in Fort McMurray in 1958 and in Waterways in 1972.  

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