Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume I


Mere lists of items carried in stock at Company sale shops convey to present-day readers only a vague impression of the shape, feel, and general appearance of many of the articles. While a few items, such as needles, thimbles, and earthenware, have changed very little over the years, probably most have been considerably altered or are no longer being manufactured at all. A number were produced according to Hudson's Bay Company specifications to meet the needs of the Indian trade.

The determination of the exact descriptions of goods to be placed on display in a reconstructed and refurnished Fort Vancouver sale shop is a matter for curatorial experts and cannot be treated in this report. However, during the course of research certain scraps of information which might be useful in preparing such descriptions have been encountered, and they are given here for what they may be worth.

The best source of information, of course, is found in the actual surviving artifacts of the northern fur trade. Perhaps the best collections of such items are in the museum and the restored trading store at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Park, Manitoba Another fine assemblage of trade goods, though of a slightly later era than our 1845-1846 period, is in the refurnished sale shop at Fort Langley, near Vancouver, British Columbia. Other items are held in the study collections, and sometimes in the public exhibits, at a number of provincial museums in Canada, particularly those of British Columbia and Alberta.

The Hudson's Bay Company no longer maintains its former fine historical museum, but the Company's library and photographic collections will prove helpful. Guidance can be obtained from Mrs. Shirlee A. Smith, Librarian, Hudson's Bay Company, Hudson's Bay House, 79-93 Main Street, Winnipeg 1, Manitoba, Canada. The National Historic Sites Service, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Ottawa, Canada, has also done considerable research concerning Hudson's Bay trade goods in connection with the development and interpretation of several former Company posts now under its jurisdiction.

Another source of information consists of the fairly considerable body of pictorial material available. A close study of a complete file of The Beaver, the periodical issued by the Hudson's Bay Company, should prove rewarding. Goods listed in the Fort Vancouver sale shop inventory are illustrated by the following plates in the present report, several of which are from The Beaver: CIV, CV, CVI, CVII, and CVIII).

The documentary sources, particularly the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, yet remain to be completely explored for information relating to trade goods. If the stray items incidentally encountered are any indication, a systematic search should be rewarding. Some of these items are as follows:

a. In a list of goods imported to the Columbia Department from England in the barque Vancouver in March, 1845, were the following patterns of tartan cloth:

328yds ArgyleTartan
1119-1/2yds ClanranaldDo
1438-1/2yds McDuffDo
298-1/2yds Rob RoyDo
339-1/2yds Royal StuartDo[1]

b. After complaining to the London office about some shawls received in March, 1845, James Douglas, at Fort Vancouver, said that for Outfit 1847 he had ordered:

"6 doz.8/4 fancy check and striped woolen Shawls at about 8/ ea.
12 doz.8/4 Tartan Shawls as pr. pattern in England."

By the former, said Douglas, he meant ladies fine wool shawls, "to be half scarlet and half assorted grounds, 8/4 square, with fringes on the four sides."

The second lot, he continued should be after a pattern sent to England several years earlier and should be fine wool shawls, 8/4 square, with fringes on four sides. [2]

c. Hudson's Bay strouds was a "strong cloth" much favored by the Indians. One native, for instance, bought dark blue strouds for gowns and red for leggings. [3] A sample of this type of cloth, made to Company specifications, may be seen at Lower Fort Garry.

d. Russian sheeting was a "singularly light but strong flaxen material" often used for tarpaulens on boats. [4]

e. During March, 1847, the chief factors in charge of the Columbia Department complained about the gentlemen's trousers supplied by the firm of Favel & Bousfields: "They fit no one, being too wide and too long in the body, while the legs are disproportionately short and wide. There being no corpulent people in this country, a few inches of cloth can therefore be spared from the body, to add to the legs." [5]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003