One of the interesting aspects of my Métis lineage is the connection my family shares with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) during the fur trade era. The HBC is one of the oldest and most significant fur trading companies in North America. The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA), based in Winnipeg, MB, is a renowned collection that includes a wide range of historical records related to the HBC and its activities.
For individuals with familial connections to the HBC, the archives offer an opportunity to discover and explore their heritage. Distance researchers can also access over a thousand digitized documents online and purchase or borrow microfilm reels through their Microfilm Loan Program.
Accessing these records virtually has helped me learn more about my family’s involvement with the company—their experiences and contributions. While digital records undoubtedly provide accessibility and convenience, there is a certain irreplaceable charm to holding a historical document in hand.
Hundreds of primary and secondary source materials on the fur trade are also available at the Gale Family Library (GFL)—even a curated research guide on the Fur Trade in Minnesota. After searching through the library’s online catalog, I was excited to learn that they have some HBC records and miscellaneous items in their possession.
During one of my visits to the GFL, I requested to view these HBC materials. Although the library’s finding aid provided a list and brief description of the records, I wasn’t quite sure what I would uncover or if the materials would be useful to my research.
Amongst the reports, photographs, and correspondence was a worn and deliciate HBC account book dating back to 1857. Opening the historic book revealed a world long gone. With each page turned, I encountered the details of transactions, fur prices and quantities, lists and descriptions of goods, and names of HBC voyageurs and traders.
Back cover of HBC account book.
I couldn’t help but marvel at the book’s age and the journey it has taken to get here, in this library, in my hands. The soft texture of the cover, the faded color of ink, the nature of its pages—how they yellowed and tinged with hints of sepia—transported me back in time.
Within the book were hidden surprises and discoveries that may have been missed in a digital counterpart. The annotations, marginalia, and the three-leaf clover and tiny flower pressed between the pages added depth and character to the artifact, providing me a glimpse into the lives and personalities of those who encountered the book.
Interior of HBC account book with clover leaf and flower pressed between the pages.
When I turned to page thirty, a profound sense of connection, reverence, and awe washed over me. At the top of the page was the name of my fourth great-grandfather, Antoine Morriseau. Below his name listed items that he purchased at the “sale shop” in 1857, including tea, cotton, flour, one knife and fork, and a hat. Although the ink was faint and the penmanship difficult to decipher, the bottom half of the page detailed additional transactions he made at the HBC “trading shop.”
Page 30 of HBC account book, listing Antoine Morriseau’s purchases and trades.
Antoine Morriseau, ca. 1808 – 1872. Biographical Sheet. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, 1998.
Uncovering and flipping through the pages of the centuries-old HBC account book was truly remarkable and rewarding. The physicality and authenticity of the artifact served as a tangible link to the past and provided a connection to my ancestor on a personal level—it made me feel as though I was holding a piece of his life in my hands. I could envision his day-to-day activities and imagine the challenges he faced in the fur trade.
In a world where so much information is available at our fingertips, there’s something incredibly special about connecting with the past through a physical object. It brings history to life in a way that digital reproductions simply can’t replicate. Whether it be a book, photograph, school record, or personal letter, the physical presence of these pieces has elevated my research experience, invoking a deeper appreciation for the history they encapsulate.
- Front cover of HBC account book.
- Back cover of HBC account book.
- Interior of HBC account book with clover leaf and flower pressed between the pages.
- Page 30 of HBC account book, listing Antoine Morriseau’s purchases and trades.
- Antoine Morriseau, ca. 1808 – 1872. Biographical Sheet. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, 1998.