The Hudson's Bay Company Point Blanket and the Canadian Fur Trade
Chartered in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company is one of the world's oldest incorporated companies. Based in England, it was a Canadian company that also established a de facto government to manage their trading posts and, later on, land grants and settlement. Nothing else is so emblematic of Canadian trade and Indigenous relations as the Hudson's Bay Company point blanket. While a stylish piece of "cabincore" that's found in nearly every Canadian home today, it also has a sordid and complicated history. The blanket became an integral part of the fur trade and, in turn, Indigenous culture.
A cultural and historic icon, the look and feel of the blankets have not changed in hundreds of years; they are of white wool with stripes of green, red, yellow and blue. The black stripes on the side of the blankets were used to indicate size, with one stripe being a small blanket and four stripes being the largest. By 1700, blankets made up over half of the items exchanged in the Fur Trade but it was not until 1779 that the Hudson Bay Company created its own blanket for the purpose.
With the introduction and abundance of point blankets, traditional Indigenous weaving declined. Furthermore, the Indigenous became reliant on the fur trade economy, abandoning many other traditional practices. Point blankets were used for everything from special ceremonies to everyday apparel. There is no consensus on whether or not these particular blankets carried smallpox; while it would not have been likely that the Hudson's Bay Company would infect the populations that were trading with them as a matter of practice, it is reflected in Indigenous oral histories and is certainly not unheard of historically.
Today, the blanket is a symbol of colonization to many, but a collector's item to others. In 1922, the Hudson's Bay Company created outerwear with the same iconic stripes; these coats were used by Canadians at a number of winter Olympic games and further strengthened the nationalism surrounding the pattern. Whether or not the point blanket was intentionally used to spread smallpox to Indigenous populations, the Hudson's Bay Company undoubtedly was a force of Canadian colonization and dismantling of Indigenous culture. Iain Nairn, President and CEO of Hudson's Bay acknowledged their "colonial history and as a company today we have a responsibility to lead reconciliation". As of September 30, 2022, the company has vowed 100% of net proceeds from point blankets to The Blanket Fund, an organization to support Indigenous initiatives.
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