The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) (French: Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson), commonly referred to as "The Bay" ("La Baie" in French) is the oldest commercial corporation in North America (in continuous operation for over 340 years) and one of the oldest in the world. A fur trading business for much of its existence, today Hudson's Bay Company owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada and the United States, including Hudson's Bay, Home Outfitters, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and three Zellers liquidation stores.
The company was incorporated by English royal charter in 1670 as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay and functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America before European states and later the United States laid claim to some of those territories. It was at one time the largest landowner in the world, with the area of the Hudson Bay watershed, known as Rupert's Land, having 15% of North American acreage. From its long-time headquarters at York Factory on Hudson Bay, the company controlled the fur trade throughout much of the English and later British controlled North America for several centuries. Undertaking early exploration, its traders and trappers forged early relationships with many groups of aboriginal peoples. Its network of trading posts formed the nucleus for later official authority in many areas of Western Canada and the United States. In the late 19th century, with the signing of the Deed of Surrender, its vast territory became the largest component in the newly formed Dominion of Canada, in which the company was the largest private landowner.
With the decline of the fur trade, the company evolved into a mercantile business selling vital goods to settlers and prospectors in the Canadian West who "quickly introduced a new type of client to the HBC - one that shopped with cash and not with skins"; the retail era had begun as the HBC began establishing retail stores across cities in the prairies. With the sale of its Northern Stores and Fur Sales Departments in 1987, the HBC completely removed itself from the fur trade.
- Adapted from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson%27s_Bay_Company