Traces the history of the Hudson's Bay Company from the second half of the nineteenth century and the reign of Donald Alexander Smith to the company's contemporary machinations
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The final volume in Newman's three-part engrossing and epic record (1985, 1987) of how the Hudson's Bay Co. helped shape Canadian history as a royally chartered (in 1670) instrument of British empire. Here, Newman covers the 120-odd years through mid- 1991, during which HBC devolved into the Dominion's largest department-store chain. As before, the author again focuses on larger-than-life personalities who played major roles in the corporate drama. Among them are the rascally, self-serving Donald Alexander Smith, a longtime governor of HBC, as well as Kenneth (Lord) Thomson, the miserly heir to a newspaper/petroleum fortune who gained control of ``The Bay'' (as it's known up north) in 1979. Between the polar- opposite regimes of these two, Newman tracks HBC's expansion into the Arctic, the subsequent decline of the mainstay fur trade, and the boardroom battles that resulted in the shift of HBC's legal domicile from London to Winnipeg on the 300th anniversary of its founding. Along the way, he offers a wealth of anecdotal detail on The Bay's abortive involvements in filmmaking (37 features), wartime shipping (110 vessels sunk by German subs), bootlegging, and allied ventures that yielded few returns for investors. But despite its proving less than a financial success for backers over the years, HBC, Newman insists, has contributed immeasurably to the making of Canada's character--for instance, in the way the company's hinterland outposts established enduring commercial ties with the aboriginal inhabitants, stressing collective survival. By contrast, the author argues, fiercely independent individuals with little sense of community conquered America's frontier with shot and shell, slaughtering Indians for their furs or just to ``watch 'em spin.'' Newman concludes that the HBC has suffered irretrievable loss from the Faustian survival bargain that obliged it to exchange a many-splendored heritage for a mess of merchandising pottage. Absorbing and praiseworthy. The elegantly written text is profusely illustrated. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
The third century of Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was marked by an expansion into the Arctic followed by a slow transition from a fur trading company into Canada's leading retailer. Newman details these changes and the personalities behind them in his final volume on the history of the HBC, which brings the story up to 1991 and includes a discussion of the sale of the northern stores and fur trade divisions in 1987. As with the previous volumes ( LJ 12/85, 12/87), Newman presents a solid analysis based on extensive research and, in this case, interviews with some of the principals involved, and he delivers it with his usual straightforward, readable style. Merchant Princes forms a magnificent conclusion to the three-volume saga and will be of interest to business historians as well as readers interested in the fur trade and Canada. Taken together, the whole of the three volumes is greater than the sum of the parts--they should stand as the standard account of the HBC for decades to come. The set is essential for academic libraries and strongly recommended for public libraries.
- Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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