Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 317
Given the remarkable character of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, it is a little hard to believe that this is the first comprehensive study of their history. It was worth the wait, though, as Simmons deftly weaves more than three centuries of people and paper into a narrative as captivating as the records themselves. As Simmons observes in her introduction, this book is much more than just the history of the HBCA as an institution: it is both a history of the HBC's record-keeping (and record-keepers) from its earliest days and a case study in British and Canadian archival history.
Although Simmons occasionally struggles with the task of placing the company and its operations in their broader historical contexts, her grasp of its internal workings is strong. She illustrates her examination of early recordkeeping with discussions of the motives and people behind the paperwork: her detailed look at clerk Samuel Hopkins (fl. 1715-31) is particularly informative. The reforms and reorganisations of the nineteenth century are given a new perspective as part of a more "modern" company's accounting and reporting systems. New light is also shed on the company's transition from fur trade to settlement, and the several bureaucratic changes that entailed.