Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Last Gentleman Adventurer

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The Last Gentleman Adventurer

by Edward Beauclerk Maurice

The Last Gentleman Adventurer by Edward Beauclerk Maurice
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2005, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2006, 416 pages

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A Short History of The Hudson Bay Company
Edward Beauclerk Maurice left the Hudson's Bay Company in 1939 to serve in the New Zealand navy during World War II; after which he became a bookseller in an English village and rarely traveled again. He died in 2003, as his book was being readied for publication.

The Hudson's Bay Company is still very much in existence, but with 500 retail outlets spread across Canada this department store retailer has come a long way from its beginnings in 1670 when King Charles II of Britain granted the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed to "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay".

During its first century of operation the Hudson's Bay Company established outposts around the shores of James and Hudson Bays, where natives brought furs to barter for manufactured goods such as knives, kettles, beads, needles and blankets. However, by the late 1700s competition was hotting up and they were forced to expand into the interior with a string of outposts along the great river networks, foreshadowing the modern cities that would succeed them: Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. Mergers and expansions followed, and by the 1820s the Hudson's Bay Company's reach spanned the continent.

By the end of the 19th century things were changing; fashion tastes caused the fur trade to lose some of its importance, and the California Gold Rush introduced a new clientele - one that shopped with cash, instead of skins. In 1869 the company yielded sovereignty of its lands to the newly formed country of Canada (which became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while retaining ties to the British crown), and focused on converting its trading posts into stores. However, intrepid souls such as Maurice were still needed for the hard to reach outposts for many decades to come!

Today, (according to their website) the Hbc Family of Stores (The Bay, Zellers, Home Outfitters and DealsOutlet.ca) provide more than two-thirds of the retail needs of Canadians.

This article was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the November 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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