The Governors of the Hudson’s Bay Company, part 3: 1869 to 1970

The Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, Bt., GCB PC (1818-87), 1869-74. Sir Stafford Northcote was born in London, went to Eton and Oxford, and became a lawyer. He became involved in public service and co-wrote the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854, which reformed the civil service appointment system and eliminated a lot of patronage. Sir Stafford was then elected a Conservative MP for thirty years, representing Dudley from 1855 to 1857, Stamford from 1858 to 1866, and Devonshire North from 1866 to 1885. He served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury during the second Derby ministry in 1859, then during the third Derby ministry (1866-68) he served as President of the Board of Trade, then as Secretary of State for India. Sir Stafford was elected Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company early in 1869 and in April of that year signed the documents by which the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered its claims over Rupert’s Land to the government of the Dominion of Canada, in exchange for a cash settlement and land grants totaling seven million acres.

Sir Stafford resigned as Governor in 1874 when the Conservatives were returned to power, in order to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Disraeli. Sir Stafford was made the 1st Earl of Iddesleigh in 1885; he was later First Lord of the Treasury in the first Salisbury ministry (one of only three people to hold that office without being Prime Minister) and Foreign Secretary during the second Salisbury ministry, until his death in 1887.

The Rt. Hon. George Joachim Goschen PC (1831-1907), 1874-80. George Goschen was born in London, the son of a German merchant. He was educated at Rugby and Oxford and went to work for his father until becoming a director of the Bank of England in 1856. Goschen then sat as a Liberal MP for the City of London from 1863 to 1880, serving as Paymaster-General and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the second Russell ministry and joining the first Gladstone ministry, first as President of the Poor Law Board, then as First Lord of the Admiralty. Upon the election of a Conservative government in 1874, Goschen, now out of government, was elected to replace Sir Stafford Northcote as Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was under Goschen in 1875 that the HBC’s North American centre of operations was moved inland from York Factory on the Hudson Bay coast to Fort Garry in Winnipeg. For a good part of his governorship, Goschen was concerned with other matters: he was sent to Cairo in 1876 to negotiate with the Khedive of Egypt for relieving his debts to Britain in exchange for Egypt’s shares in the Suez Canal.

Goschen quit his post at HBC when Gladstone was returned to power in 1880; Goschen was the Liberal MP for Ripon from 1880 to 1885, and Edinburgh East from 1885 to 1886. However, Goschen disagreed with Gladstone over voting reform and foreign policy, and did not join his new cabinet; he also refused appointments as Viceroy of India and Speaker of the House of Commons. Goschen finally split with Gladstone over the First Irish Home Rule Bill of 1886, joining the Liberal Unionist Party under the Marquess of Hartington; later that year, Goschen lost his seat in Parliament. In 1887, the Marquess of Salisbury invited Goschen to join his cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the resignation of Lord Randolph Churchill; Goschen won a by-election as a Conservative MP in St. George Hanover Square, and held the seat until he was ennobled as the 1st Viscount Goschen in 1900; he would also serve again as First Lord of the Admiralty in the third Salisbury ministry. After his appointment to the House of Lords, Lord Goschen became the Chancellor of Oxford University in 1903, serving until his death in 1907.

Eden Colvile (1819-93), 1880-89. Eden Colvile, whose first name was his mother’s maiden name, was the son of former HBC Governor Alexander Wedderburn Colvile. Eden was educated at Eton and Cambridge, then moved to Quebec in 1842 to manage lands being leased out to Irish settlers by the North American Colonial Association of Ireland, serving one term as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1844. In 1848 he left the NACAI and accompanied Sir George Simpson to the Red River Settlement, beginning his professional association with the HBC; Colvile thereafter resided at Fort Garry as the HBC’s governor of the Red River Settlement from 1849 to 1852. Colvile joined the board of directors in 1854, and was one of only two directors kept on after the takeover by the International Finance Society in 1863; he became Deputy Governor in 1870 and Governor in 1880. Under his directorship, the HBC opened its first Canadian retail outlet, in Winnipeg in 1881. Colvile retired from business life in 1889 and died at his home in Devonshire on Easter Sunday of 1893.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, GCMG GCVO PC (1820-1914), 1889-1914. Born in Moray, Scotland, Smith moved to Montreal at 18 to clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was made Chief Factor of the District of Labrador in 1862, Commissioner of the Montreal Department in 1868, and President of the Council of the Northern Department in 1870. Smith was sent by the Canadian government to negotiate with Louis Riel in ending the Red River Rebellion of 1869, beginning his political career: Smith was elected to the assembly of Manitoba in 1870, the Canadian House of Commons in 1871, and the Council of the Northwest Territories in 1872, holding all three simultaneously (while retaining his employment with HBC) until resigning from the Manitoba legislature in 1874. Smith was defeated in re-election to Parliament in 1880 and became one of the founding directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and personally drove in the last spike of the transcontinental line at Craigellachie, BC, in 1885. He was elected Governor of the HBC in 1889, serving until his death in 1914; Smith oversaw the transition of the business interests of the HBC from fur-trading to retail, shipping, and real estate. Smith’s governorship also saw HBC’s expansion into the High Arctic, opening its first post on Baffin Island in 1911. Smith was re-elected to the Canadian Parliament from 1887 to 1896; he was offered the post of Prime Minister on the resignation of Sir Mackenzie Bowell in 1896, but refused it. The new prime minister, Sir Charles Tupper, appointed Smith as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, which he held until his death. Smith, whom King Edward VII called “Uncle Donald”, was ennobled as the Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal in 1897. He then bought the isle of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides, and is still owned by the Smith family. During the Second Boer War, Strathcona paid to raise a Canadian cavalry regiment and send it to South Africa; the regiment, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, is still a regiment of the Canadian Army. Strathcona worked closely with the Burmah Oil Company of Glasgow to develop petroleum exploration in Iran, and in 1909 became chairman of a subsidiary company, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which is now British Petroleum (BP). Strathcona paid to build the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, and gave large endowments to Birmingham University, McGill University and the cadet program of the Canadian Army, in whose honour the Lord Strathcona Medal for exemplary performance in military training is named. Strathcona died in London in 1914, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery after a funeral held in Westminster Abbey.

Lord Strathcona was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s longest-serving employee, as his career there lasted 75 years. The town of Fort Smith, NWT, and the settlement of Smith’s Landing, Alberta (later renamed Fort Fitzgerald), were named for him, as was Strathcona Provincial Park in British Columbia, Mount Sir Donald in Glacier National Park in British Columbia, Strathcona County in Alberta, Strathcona Regional Municipality in Manitoba, the Strathcona Park neighbourhood of Calgary, the Strathcona neighbourhoods of Vancouver, Edmonton, and Hamilton, Strathcona Park in Ottawa, Strathcona Park in Kelowna, Strathcona Island Park in Medicine Hat, Strathcona Park and Lord Strathcona Public School in Kingston, Strathcona Senior Public School in Owen Sound, the Strathcona Hotel in Victoria, the Strathcona Music Building and the Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry Building at McGill University in Montreal, Strathcona Street and the Strathcona Desjardins Credit Union in Montreal, Strathcona Street in Port Alberni, Strathcona Road in Chilliwack, Strathcona Avenue in Scarborough, Strathcona Avenue in Thunder Bay, Strathcona Drive in Burlington, Strathcona Drive in North Bay, and Donald Street, Smith Street and Strathcona Street in Winnipeg; additionally, the town of Transcona, Manitoba, which was founded to service the cross-country railways, is a portmanteau of “Strathcona” and “transcontinental”.

Sir Thomas Skinner, Bt. (1840-1926), 1914-15. Thomas Skinner was born in Bristol and came to London in his twenties to work as a financial journalist. In 1875 he founded the Stock Exchange Yearbook, which became an invaluable reference material on the state of the companies trading in the City of London. Skinner was approached by George Stephen (later Lord Mount Stephen) to help secure financing for the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and his success in this endeavour led to Skinner being appointed as a director of the CPR in 1889, a post he held for the rest of his life. Skinner joined the HBC board of directors in 1890 and became Deputy Governor in 1910, earning a baronetcy in 1912 and succeeding Lord Strathcona as Governor on his death in 1914, serving until his retirement the next year. He grew very ill in his old age and died at his home in Sussex in 1926.

Sir Robert Molesworth Kindersley GBE (1871-1954), 1915-25. Robert Kindersley was born in Essex and went to Repton before clerking in some London firms, eventually joining the London Stock Exchange and becoming a rich merchant banker. Kindersley was Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1915 to 1925; he was concurrently a director of the Bank of England from 1914 to 1946, and head of Britain’s National Savings Committee from 1916 to 1946. Under Kindersley, the HBC started a new magazine for employees dedicated to HBC news special interests, The Beaver, in 1920. The Beaver gained a wide readership outside the Company and was taken over by Canada’s National History Society in 1994; it was renamed Canada’s History magazine in 2010. Kindersley was made the 1st Baron Kindersley in 1941. Lord Kindersley retired from public life in 1946 and died in 1954; the town of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, was named for him.

Charles Vincent Sale (1868-1943), 1925-31. Charles Vincent Sale was a member of the family controlling F.G. Sale & Sons, a major coal-shipping concern, eventually becoming its president. He was brought in to the HBC by Lord Kindersley in 1915 to improve the HBC merchant fleet, and replaced him as Governor in 1925. Sale founded the Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas Company as a subsidiary in 1929, which had a major role in the first oil boom in Alberta in the 1940s. Under Sale a new Hudson’s Bay House was built in 1926 at 60, 62 and 64 Bishopsgate in London (between Liverpool Street Station and the current location of the Gherkin). Sale was forced out by HBC shareholders dissatisfied with his management in 1931.

Sir Patrick Ashley Cooper, Kt. (1887-1961), 1931-52. Born in Aberdeen, Cooper attended Fettes (the Eton of Scotland) and Cambridge, was wounded in the back in World War I, and became an accountant. He married a rich and beautiful Welsh heiress and became invaluable to the Bank of England for his work in turning around ailing companies, becoming a director of the Bank in 1932. Bank of England Governor Montagu Norman chose Cooper personally to replace Sale as Governor of the HBC, and he worked hard to keep the Company going through the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1940s he sold Hudson’s Bay House and moved HBC headquarters to its fur warehouses at Beaver House on Great Trinity Lane, next to the Lord Mayor of London’s office at Mansion House; Beaver House would be the HBC’s final London home. Cooper’s tenure saw the escalation of a struggle for control of the company between its British corporate rulers, led by Cooper, and its Canadian heads of operations, led by HBC General Manager Philip Chester.

Sir William Johnstone Keswick, Kt. (1903-90), 1952-65. “Tony” Keswick was born in Yokohama, Japan, to the wealthy Keswick family that controls Jardine Matheson, the largest commercial conglomerate in the Far East. (Although it moved its headquarters to Bermuda after the loss of Hong Kong in 1997, Jardines is still a major player in the area, doing $60 billion of business per year, and is still in the hands of the Keswick family.) He returned to England as a boy to attend Winchester and Cambridge, then was the head of Jardines’s Shanghai office from 1935 to 1941, during which time he was shot by an angry union leader. He joined the British Army after Japan invaded Shanghai, saw action in the Middle East and at the Normandy Invasion, and retired with the rank of Brigadier. After the war Keswick became managing director of Matheson & Co., Jardine Matheson’s London office; he also became a director of the Bank of England and Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1952 to 1965, a job he regarded with such sentimental fondness that on his passport he listed as his occupation as “Merchant Adventurer”. In 1956, the Company conferred upon Sir Winston Churchill the honorary title of “Grand Seigneur of the Company of Adventurers”. HBC began marketing its urban department stores as “The Bay” in 1965, shortly before Sir Tony left the Company. He lived quietly on his country estate until his death in 1990; Keswick, a sentimental eccentric, named his second son John Chippendale Lindley Keswick because he was conceived in a bed designed by Thomas Chippendale. Sir Chips Keswick is currently the chairman of Arsenal FC.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Derick Heathcoat-Amory, Bt., 1st Viscount Amory, KG GCMG TD PC (1899-1981), 1965-70. Derick Heathcoat-Amory was born in London; his mother was the niece of the Marquess of Hertford. Derick went to Eton and Oxford and joined the Territorial Army as an officer in 1920. He served in the Army in World War II, and was wounded in Operation Market-Garden (a failed attempt to invade the Rhineland in 1944); he retired in 1948 as a Lieutenant-Colonel. Heathcoat Amory then entered politics, serving as Conservative MP for Tiverton from 1945 to 1960. He served various minor posts in the ministries of Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden before becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer under Harold Macmillan from 1958 to 1960. He was ennobled as the Viscount Amory in 1960 and retired from political life. He became Governor of the HBC in 1965 and presided over the transfer of the headquarters of HBC from London to Winnipeg in 1970, the Company’s 300th anniversary, whereupon he resigned. Lord Amory spent the rest of his retirement as Chancellor of Exeter University and indulging his love of sailing, donating a trophy to the Civil Service Sailing Association to be given out annually for sailing prowess. Lord Amory died in 1981; his nephew is David Heathcoat-Amory, Conservative MP for Wells from 1983 to 2010 and Paymaster-General under John Major.


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