Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies


Coevolving a nation and a business

Posted on February 26, 2006 by daviding

This blog is centred on the idea of coevolving technologies with business, but there’s also other types of coevolving. The takeover of the Hudson’s Bay Company by an American draws attention to the linked heritage between the company, and the opening up of Canada.

In the Toronto Globe & Mail, Val Ross cites The Empire of the Bay by Peter C. Newman, which appears to have first been published by Viking Press in 1989, made into a PBS series in 2000, and then republished in 2002 by Penguin Canada / Madison Press as The Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The article drew attention to the artifacts produced by explorers in the 19th century.

“It’s the only company that became a country,” notes Peter C. Newman, author of Empire of the Bay. And with the transfer of the company could go artifacts and art that are part of this country’s DNA.

Founded in 1670 by a stroke of Charles II’s royal pen, HBC was first known as the Company of Adventurers — greedy and daring men given a charter to be “true Lordes and Proprietors” of all the lands whose rivers drained into Hudson Bay. At its early 19th-century peak, that definition encompassed 1.5-million square miles. An area of woods, barrens, prairies and tundra vaster than the Holy Roman Empire, it was traversed by trappers and mappers bringing furs and reports in to company men, who, half-mad with cold and isolation, kept and sent meticulous records back to London.

“Talk to any natural scientist or historian,” says Newman. “These people in their little outposts across the North are one of the only records of early Canada — geography, geology, social history, of illnesses, weather, mosquitoes, everything.”

Archival material still with HBC is being prepared right now for a second round of donations to the Manitoba Museum and the Manitoba Archives, according to Hillary Stauth, HBC corporate spokeswoman. She cannot give details of what material, or when it will be transferred — but at the Manitoba Archives, the third floor and its 6,954 linear feet (2,120 metres) of shelf space awaits.

But HBC will retain the grand portraits of past governors of the company, and the company charter. Discoloured with age, adorned with a haughty portrait of King Charles, the document that gave away part of this continent now hangs in HBC’s Toronto headquarters, the Royal Seal gleaming behind protective glass: “We doe [sic] grant unto the said Governor and Company. . . . ” The charter that launched Europeans into Western Canada belongs to whoever owns the company.

Although the explorers kept records, their motivation was not academic. They were charting a world that had not yet been charted, and maps and observations could help others would would face the same intimidating unknowns.

In an era where information technologies is a large contributor to the breakdown of nations into a global economy, there’s many byproducts which could end up serving society at large, in ways that are not obvious now. We could be making history every day.

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