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A little piece of Canada in the City

Strolling down Bishopsgate a few weeks ago, I happened to look up, and in doing so I noticed something unusual. One of the buildings was topped by a weather vane; nothing unusual there, but what was unusual was that the animal depicted on said weather vane was a beaver.

The beaver is the national animal of Canada (and is as such depicted on the five-cent coin), and that set me wondering about whether the building in question had a Canadian connection. Naturally I went over to have a look.

The gateway on the ground floor of the building under which the beaver weather vane stood led into a courtyard, but before I got that far I looked up again and saw yet more evidence of a Canadian link; a coat-of-arms depicting a Cross of St George with a beaver in each corner. This I knew to be the cost-of-arms of the Hudson's Bay Company, set up in 1670 to capitalise on the fur trade in North America. 

At its height, it more or less controlled the fur trade in English (and later British)-controlled North America and was actually the world's largest landowner, having been granted control over the Hudson Bay watershed. Today it is one of Canada's largest department store chains which also owns stores in Germany and the USA.

But what is its coat-of-arms doing on a building in the City of London? Turns out that the building in question used to be the HBC's London headquarters; it was in fact a London-based company until 1970, although it moved out of this particular building in 1948.

Through the gateway is St Helen's Place, which is owned by the Leathersellers' Company, one of the City's Livery Companies which was founded in 1444 to regulate the leather trade. The link between these two historic companies can be seen in the HBC's motto, pro pelle cutem ('skin for leather').

1 comment:

Silverheels III said...

Thanks Nick for this bit of Canadiana in London. The HBC was indeed one of the greatest institutions in Canada in terms of exploration and then opening up new territories.