Tag Archives: Hudson’s Bay Company

Filmmaker Christine Welsh on Tracing Her Heritage in Women In the Shadows

My Canadian studies class recently watched Women in the Shadows, a documentary by feminist filmmaker and professor, Christine Welsh. Not long after we had watched her film Welsh agreed to visit our class for a question and answer period. Below I’ve included a little of what I learned from her film and her visit.

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Norbert Welsh’s oral history was recorded by Mary Weekes.

In an article detailing her documentary experience, Welsh explains that her interest had been sparked when her mother recovered a copy of The Last Buffalo Hunter, an oral history by her great grandfather, Norbert Welsh. In the film, however, Welsh attempts to recover more information about her great grandmothers, figures who were much harder to trace.

Along her search, Welsh discovers the name of her great grandmother, Margaret Taylor, and Margaret’s mother, Jane. Welsh surmises that Jane was most likely Cree. Jane’s union with George Taylor meant that Margaret was one of the first generations of Metis women. While documentation about women was lacking during early colonization, Welsh was able to uncover some details about her foremothers because of Margaret Taylor’s connection to Hudson’s Bay Company Governor George Simpson.

In the early period of Canadian colonization, Hudson’s Bay employees often took “country wives”. These women, of First Nations or Metis heritage, would create family ties between the explorers and the local community and were often the reason their husbands survived their first few Canadian winters. In Women in the Shadows, Welsh discovers that Taylor had been Simpson’s “country wife” for many years, only to be cast aside by Simpson when he returned from a trip to England with a new white wife.

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An American Invasion

Attending college in the States means that I’ve missed a lot of goings-on in Canada. Apparently Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is a terrible mayor. I did not know this. On May 1st came to another realization, but one that filled me with far more trepidation than a mayor who has given up on his diet.

Driving through an old neighbourhood, my family and I saw that Canadian superstore Zellers was having a 50-80% off liquidation sale. A well-known chain in the country, the chain is a subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). After trying on a few jeans my brother asked the woman in charge of the change room what was happening, and she told us that this branch was becoming a Target.

Fastforward to me doing research on Wikipedia, and it turns out that in January of last year the Target Corporation purchased lease agreements for 220 Zellers stores for almost 2 billion dollars. The end result was 189 stores for the company, and of these 39 were resold to Walmart Canada. I was shocked by the idea of a prominent Canadian chain being bought out by an American company, but it doesn’t stop there.

The HBC is currently owned ( as of 2008) by New York-based company NRDC Equity Partners. This is a company that has its roots in the Canadian fur trade, the foundation of this country. Grade school children all over Canada learn from a very early age in history classes that it was the fur trade that brought people to this country, and that The Bay is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world.

What bothers me is the knowledge that this country faces a sort of invasion coming from south of the 49th parallel. It’s no mystery that American companies have more money and sway than those in Canada, but it’s terrifying that they’re establishing themselves so firmly here. Just walking around in the heart of downtown yesterday and I saw a Panera Bread, yet another company that has spread into the north within the past five years.

Canada isn’t a world power in terms of military, but our impact on popular culture has been steadily increasing. I may be blowing this whole thing out of proportion, but I just don’t see a world that takes us seriously when all of our businesses are run by America.