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Hudson's Bay Company

After the decline of the bowhead whale fishery in the Beaufort Sea many ex-whalers were engaging in fur trading in the western Arctic. Perhaps it was this activity, including the successful operation of C.T. Pederson on behalf of Liebes and Company, that pushed the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) to ensure its role in the western Arctic trade. The HBC expanded across the arctic coast in 1912 with the establishment of a post at Kittigazuit. Soon they moved both west and east establishing the Herschel Island post in 1915 and the Baillie Island and Bernard Harbour posts in 1916. The later posts were put in by the HBC schooner Fort McPherson. While the Baillie Island post was being established, the Inuk Nuligak, observed Captain Pedersen coming in to trade on behalf of the H. Liebes Company.

We were still there when the H.B.C. (Hudsons Bay Company) ship, the McPherson, arrived. They were coming in to build a store. Still another boat, Captain Pedersen’s Herman, came in to buy furs and sell merchandise for Liebes Company (Metayer 1972: 107).

The Fort McPherson distributed freight between 1915 and 1930. It sank in October of 1930 off Richardson Island in the Coronation Gulf .

photo of Fort MacPherson and Ptarmigan
Fort MacPherson and Ptarmigan, Gjoa Haven, King William Island, N.W.T., 1930.
(National Archives of Canada/PA 100648)

As independent traders such as Klengenberg and Northern Traders Ltd. began operating in the Coronation Gulf region, at Cape (1916) and Tree River (1917) respectively, the HBC moved quickly to establish competing posts at Bernard Harbour (1916) and Agiaq (1917). The HBC bought out Northern Traders operation at Tree River and closed the Agiaq post in favour of the Tree river location. The Tree River post was moved to Kugaryuak in 1928 where it remained until closing in 1939. The Tree River post was visited by Danish ethnographer Knud Rasmussen in 1924:

The two [whitemen] we met a Tree River were not of the type that is common in these regions. The young representative of the R.C.M.P., William Gibson, was an Irishman who had done his “bit” in the Great War...R.C. MacGregor, the manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company there, was a Scotsman who had also passed through the hard school of the War, both in France and in Salonica...Tree River is the most easterly port of call of the Company’s large cargo steamer “Lady Kindersley” (Rasmussen 1932: 62).

The young R.C.M.P. officer William Gibson who came north in 1920 later joined the HBC at Herschel Island in 1925. He was immediately sent to manage the HBC post at Simpson Strait and moved with the post to Gjoa Haven in 1927. Gibson was the first white man seen by Elders Emily Haloktalik and Mabel Angulalik:

The first white man I encountered was a man by the name of Gibson. I was terrified of him. (Emily Haloktalik, Kuukyuak 3)

White man must have been here way back before I was born. Over in the Gjoa Haven area I saw a white man. I believe his name was Gibson. (Mabel Ervana Angulalik in “Kuukyuak Interviews”).

HBC operations pushed further east with the establishment of the Kent Peninsula post in 1920. Hugh Clarke and Rudolph Johnson opened up this post. They began trading from the schooner El Sueno, until they were able to erect several buildings on the site later that year. Danish ethnographer Knud Rasmussen visited the post in November 1923 and gave this description:

...I drew up before the little trading post, which was built in a sheltered cove almost at the mouth of the great fjord Ilu. I was given a most cordial welcome. The post is managed by Mr. H. Clarke, an intelligent and likeable young man, who had been sent by the H.B.C. up into these remote regions to organize all the new posts that had been established east of Baillie Island. Mr. Clark’s assistant was a Danish marine engineer, Rudolf Jensen, who for about twenty years had lived up around the delta of the Mackenzie as an independent trapper and was now in the Company’s service (Rasmussen 1932: 11).

photo of Hudson Bay Company Post on the Kent Peninsula with warehouse in the foreground, 1925.
Hudson Bay Company Post on the Kent Peninsula with warehouse in the foreground, 1925.
(L.T. Burwash/National Archives of Canada/PA 176434)

The HBC expanded to Simpson Strait on King William Island in 1923 – a post established by former whaler Peter Norberg. They also expanded into Bathurst inlet in 1925, establishing a post at Western River. The next year however, the newly formed Canalaska Trading Company of C.T. Pederson established posts at Banks Peninsula in Bathurst Inlet; Whitebear Point; and Perry River. The HBC responded by moving the Bathurst Inlet post to Banks Peninsula and establishing points at Ellice River to rival the Whitebear Point post, and at Perry River to rival the Canalaska post there. In 1928, the Government of Canada ordered both the HBC and Canalaska out of Perry river due to their perception that the area was being over hunted – both posts were on major migration routes.

The first HBC post at Perry River was run by J. Livingstone. Livingstone was remembered by Ahiarmiut Elders who lived at Perry River. He was referred to as Levensen but also had another name:

...a man they called "Putuguituk". I don't remember him but he used to call me, "His little sister", because he was the friend of Angutjuk's - my adoptive parents.

Kaosoni remembering that Inuit had called Mr. Levenson “Putuguituk”. Older Inuit had given him that name. The story was told that Levenson would help Mabel's adoptive parents. He was with the Hudson's Bay Company, over at Flagstaff Island. Mackie recalled seeing him [Levenson] in a boat. My mother had heard they called him Putuguituk (Mabel Ervana Angulalik, Kuukyuak 5).

Presumably Livingstone was missing a big toe on one or both of his feet.

Canalaska started a trading post at Gjoa Haven in 1927. The Canadian government ordered the HBC to remove the post at Kent Peninsula as they believed it interfered with caribou migrations and so they moved to Gjoa Haven too. The Kent Peninsula post was closed in 1927 in favour of making Cambridge Bay the depot and administrative headquarters for the eastern section of the western Arctic district. The stock and buildings were loaded on to the Baymaud and moved to Cambridge Bay. The Baymaud, formerly captained by Roald Amundsen, bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1926. They operated it as a supply vessel for the western Arctic between 1926 and 1927.   It was moored at Cambridge Bay in 1928 and used a warehouse and wireless
photo of Hudson’s Bay Co. ship “Baymaud”
Hudson’s Bay Co. ship Baymaud, Cambridge
Bay, south of Victoria Island, April 30, 1929.
(L.T. Burwash/National Archives of Canada/PA 99698)
station until it sank between 1930 and 1932. Her master between 1926 and 1927 was Gus Fellmer.

Cambridge Bay began as a depot and outpost of the Kent Peninsula post in 1920. It was built into a permanent post in the fall of 1923, but was closed between 1925 and 1927 due to lack of fuel after the wreck of the supply ship Lady Kindersley. The Lady Kindersley was built in 1920, only four year before it was wrecked in the ice off the Alaskan coast in 1924. The headquarters of the eastern portion of the western Arctic district of the HBC was moved to Cambridge Bay from Kent Peninsula in 1927.

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