Caesars of the Wilderness

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9780140086300: Caesars of the Wilderness

This is the second volume in the history of the Hudson Bay Company, whose empire covered most of modern Canada and the Northwest United States. The proprietors were soldiers of fortune, mainly dispossessed Scots and Englishmen in the service of the Company of Adventurers of England, who became owners of one of history's most valuable and longest enduring land monopolies. "Ceasars of the Wilderness" continues the saga historian Peter Newman began in "Company of Adventurers".

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From Kirkus Reviews:

The final volume in Newman's three-part engrossing and epic record (1985, 1987) of how the Hudson's Bay Co. helped shape Canadian history as a royally chartered (in 1670) instrument of British empire. Here, Newman covers the 120-odd years through mid- 1991, during which HBC devolved into the Dominion's largest department-store chain. As before, the author again focuses on larger-than-life personalities who played major roles in the corporate drama. Among them are the rascally, self-serving Donald Alexander Smith, a longtime governor of HBC, as well as Kenneth (Lord) Thomson, the miserly heir to a newspaper/petroleum fortune who gained control of ``The Bay'' (as it's known up north) in 1979. Between the polar- opposite regimes of these two, Newman tracks HBC's expansion into the Arctic, the subsequent decline of the mainstay fur trade, and the boardroom battles that resulted in the shift of HBC's legal domicile from London to Winnipeg on the 300th anniversary of its founding. Along the way, he offers a wealth of anecdotal detail on The Bay's abortive involvements in filmmaking (37 features), wartime shipping (110 vessels sunk by German subs), bootlegging, and allied ventures that yielded few returns for investors. But despite its proving less than a financial success for backers over the years, HBC, Newman insists, has contributed immeasurably to the making of Canada's character--for instance, in the way the company's hinterland outposts established enduring commercial ties with the aboriginal inhabitants, stressing collective survival. By contrast, the author argues, fiercely independent individuals with little sense of community conquered America's frontier with shot and shell, slaughtering Indians for their furs or just to ``watch 'em spin.'' Newman concludes that the HBC has suffered irretrievable loss from the Faustian survival bargain that obliged it to exchange a many-splendored heritage for a mess of merchandising pottage. Absorbing and praiseworthy. The elegantly written text is profusely illustrated. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

In the third and concluding volume of his history of the Hudson's Bay Company, Canadian journalist Newman ( Empire of the Bay ) traces the growth of the 300-year-old firm from its Arctic colonizing efforts to its 1980s status as a mercantile, transportation and urban real estate empire extending over one-twelfth of the globe. A splendid storyteller and indefatigable researcher, the author never allows the sweep of world and national events or the boardroom politics and internal struggles between London and Winnipeg to obscure the importance of individual adventurers and developers. Notable among the memorable portraits here is that of legendary Donald "Labrador" Smith (1820-1914), who not only served HBC for 75 years but was prominent in Canadian politics, economic and rail expansion and is credited with transforming his country from colony to nation. Smith would have rejoiced at HBC's Canadianization of the company completed in 1979 with its acquisition for $641 million (cash) by a radically different leader, Canadian billionaire Ken Thomson. Photos.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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