Servants of the Honourable Company
Work, Discipline, and Conflict in the Hudson's Bay Company, 1770-1879
Historians have tended to view the Hudson's Bay Company `as an organization of crafty fur traders, bold explorers, lively voyageurs, and dour Scots' who opened up the Canadian west and protected it from American control. More recently, social historians have examined the roles of women andNative peoples to show that the HBC `was more than a business.' But, as Professor Edith Burley demonstrates, `the HBC was a business...the purpose of which was to provide shareholders with a return on their investments.' Low paid, subservient workers were required to fulful this purpose.In Servants of the Honourable Company, Professor Burley focuses on the work and workers of the HBC. About 15% of HBC workers were skilled tradesmen, while 70% were common labourers. Until now, however, these `servants' have been largely forgotten. The book looks at these workers from the pointsof view both of the HBC officers and the London committee and governor who oversaw the operations and of the men themselves, who came from the Orkney Islands, Norway, Scotland, Lower Canada, and the Red River Colony, the settlement created by the HBC in present-day Manitoba to become the nursery offuture `halfbreed' workers for the company.The HBC sought workers from pre-industrial societies who would accept the traditional master-servant relationship. To a large extent they did. In fact, they never questioned this central tenet of the HBC hierarchy. They did, however, bargain for higher wages, refuse to work under intolerable anddangerous conditions, object to unfair treatment by authoritarian officers, cause work stoppages in protest for sufficient food and more grog, mutiny against tyrannical ships' captains, and even kill a particularly brutal officer. Servants of the Honourable Company details this important aspect ofCanadian working-class experience.
Toronto : Oxford University Press, 1997.
Branch Call Number:
971. 201 BUR
v, 319 p. ; 21 cm.