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Hudson’s Bay Company Blankets

Curated Submission
Early to mid-20th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
250 x 148
Materials & techniques
Wool; Twill woven
Gift of Madeleine Boucher Harvie
Textile Museum of Canada T2007.38.3
These blankets come from a summer house in Nicholson, an abandoned lumber town in northern Ontario described in Ghost Towns of Ontario by Ron Brown. The town was the headquarters of the Austin Lumber Company owned by the donor’s brother-in-law, J.W. Austin. In the 1950s the company was sold and Nicholson was abandoned, except for a few little houses that have been maintained as summer cottages.
Because of the bitterly cold winters in Nicholson, many woollen textiles were used within the home to protect the family from severe winds and chilly temperatures. The blankets became an important part of life there as well as in other towns and cottages throughout Canada, providing warmth and comfort during cool northern nights. Familiar to any Canadian in the 20th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company blankets were used by people from all levels of society, in houses and tents, within the country and internationally, made into clothing and as popular souvenirs for tourists.
The importance of Hudson’s Bay Company blankets for Canadians lies not only in their practical utility; this iconic blanket is associated with the history of exploration and the development of the nation. Since the 1780s, when the Hudson’s Bay Company commissioned them in England and marketed them in North America, the blankets served as the principal European goods offered in trade for fur to the Native North Americans. Hudson’s Bay Company blankets have been implicated in the spread of smallpox to Native communities in the western plains during the late 18th century. Woven into every aspect of Canadian life for about 250 years, these blankets are associated with the turbulent history of the country.
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