Constructing corporate images of the fur trade : the Hudson's Bay Company, public relations and The Beaver magazine, 1920-1945
Geller, Peter G.
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The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) has long held a fascination for those interested in the history of Canada, and has formed a subject of both popular and academic discourse. Less readily recognized, however, is the HBC's own contribution to the public perception of its image. In a variety of forums, the Hudson's Bay Company itself carried on a campaign to influence the interpretation of the company and its role in Canadian (and British) history and contemporary society. The commencement in 1920 of the publication of the company's magazine, The Beaver, offers an opportunity to explore the various images that the Hudson's Bay Company developed of itself, of its history, and of its relationship with native peoples. The "fur trade" was embraced as a convenient and salient symbol, in both words and pictures, becoming a focus for building up a glorious "official" history, as well as exemplifying the company's "progress" in the present. Although there was an ongoing fascination with forms of visual representation among company management, evident in the photographic documentation of the company's two hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1920, the written text was the dominant mode of expression during the magazine's early years. Beginning in 1933, however, The Beaver began to exploit the possibilities of the visual record. These attempts to compose and maintain a company identity were related to expectations of the mass media in an increasingly visual culture, and reflected popular attitudes to the role of photography in the construction of meaning. Originally created as a staff journal, The Beaver's format and content were altered to appeal to non-company readers, forming part of a larger project of public relations. In the making of the company's magazine, the interaction between managenent, company policy and the editors and contributors allows for an examination of the ways in which corporate images were constructed, manipulated and transmitted, both to employees and to the public.