First Nations members are shown posed with stacks of Hudson’s Bay Company point blankets at a potlatch in this undated photo.

HBC ‘point blankets’ on the North Island

Brenda McCorquodale discusses the iconic Hudson’s Bay Company point blankets.

When the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established Fort Rupert in the mid-1800s, its immediate interest was in mining coal for use on the new steamships serving the California gold rush.

It soon became apparent that a reliable supply of coal was going to be difficult to obtain in the area, and the HBC tried to break even on Fort Rupert through trade with First Nations.

There were only about four coastal HBC trading posts at that time, and First Nations from coastal and interior areas travelled great distances to bring furs, fish, and other items to barter.

Fort Rupert faced stiff competition from trading vessels, which would anchor in Quatsino Sound, Shushartie or Nahwitti and intercept First Nations who would barter until they had obtained the best trade for their furs.

Fort Rupert did not trade liquor, and employees lamented to their superiors at Fort Victoria that the best furs often passed them by because First Nations would bypass Fort Rupert and trade at Fort Victoria or in the United States, where it was not uncommon for half the value of a trade to be redeemed in rum.

One of the most popular trading items from the HBC were their iconic ‘point’ blankets. Point blankets originated in the late 1700s, when the HBC purchased large quantities of blankets from mills in England in various widths, ranging from two-feet, eight-inches wide to eight feet wide. In order that the size of the blankets could be ascertained when the blanket was folded up, a series of lines were standardized which were woven into the blanket denoting its size. A 1 point blanket was the smallest, and a 3 point blanket was the largest.

HBC blankets were made of felted wool, which was water resistant, did not unravel, and could be cut to use for various purposes. The blankets were available in a number of colours. White and blue were the most popular on the North Island, and the smaller blankets (1 to 2 ½ point) were preferred.

Blankets served as a form of currency, and the value of other items was often measured in terms of the number of blankets for which an item could be traded.

One of the iconic images of the potlatch were heaps of trade goods amassed prior to a potlatch for distribution. When bartering for a bride or making an important announcement, it was not unusual for hundreds or even thousands of HBC blankets to be piled in front of the First Nations village at ‘Tsakis to be given away by local chiefs as a show of wealth and generosity.

One of the more controversial issues related to HBC blankets had to do with the smallpox outbreak on the Coast in the mid 1800s, when there were reports that unscrupulous traders removed disease-ridden blankets from villages and re-sold them, in effect transmitting the disease to new populations.

Correspondence from Fort Rupert to Victoria at one point noted that the daughter of a South Island HBC employee had been accidentally kidnapped at San Juan (probably as a part of ongoing raids between various First Nations). Her captor paddled her all the way to Fort Rupert, but felt that he should probably give her back, and returned her scared but in good condition. The clerk at the Fort gave him six HBC point blankets to thank him for her safe return.

Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at storeysbeach@gmail.com. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.

 

Just Posted

OPINION: Urgent care room will cost lives

“Seniors, of any demographic, are the most vulnerable to the loss of emergency care.”

James Hayward coroner’s inquest rescheduled hours away from where RCMP shooting occured

The family is “a bit disappointed that it’s going to be held in Campbell River”

Deadline looming for North Island College scholarship applications

Students have until April 24 to apply for a record number of… Continue reading

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select routes

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries to be sold on Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

Gil’s Girls win Harvey Walkus Memorial Ball Hockey Tournament in shootout

This year the tournament was held at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena on April 12-14.

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Chaos at the ferry terminal for people heading from Vancouver to the Island

Easter crowds create backlog at Tsawwassen ferry terminal

B.C. RCMP receive application for Police Cat Services

RCMP announced the launch of the Police Cat Services unit as an April fools joke

Kirkland Signature veggie burgers recalled due to possible metal fragments

Recalled products came in 1.7 kg packages with a best before date of Apr. 23, 2019

Parents of 13 who tortured children get life after hearing victims

One of their daughters fled their home and pleaded for help to a 911 operator

Flooding, climate change force Quebecers to rethink relationship with water

Compensation for victims of recurring floods limit to 50% of a home’s value, or a maximum of $100,000

Storms blast South, where tornadoes threaten several states

9.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia at a moderate risk of severe weather

Private cargo ship brings Easter feast to the space station

There are three Americans two Russians and one Canadian living on the space station

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

The fire burned through the lattice of oak beams supporting the monument’s vaulted stone ceiling

Most Read