The September 1935 issue of
The Beaver gave readers a tour of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur-grading and
cold-storage operations in London, England.
In the late 1800s, the Hudson’s Bay Company began to transition away from
the fur trade and into retail sales. HBC outposts across the Northwest were
turned into general stores that offered a host of supplies and items
required by settlers as they flooded by the thousands into the region.
Meanwhile, in larger towns and cities, a new shopping mecca arose — the
Beginning in 1913, the HBC opened six flagship department stores in Western
Canada: in Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg.
As the twentieth century continued, increasing numbers of shoppers began to
think of the HBC as only a retailer; the fur trade, for centuries the
heartbeat of the company, became a fading memory.
However, the HBC continued to sell furs for decades after the rise of
retail. In the September 1935 issue of The Beaver
the magazine’s editors published a two-part photo essay that detailed the
process of grading and then storing furs (along with other perishable items)
for future sale.
The first part of the article, “The Experts,” explained the great care and
expertise that went into properly inspecting furs and ranking their quality.
The second part, “Cold Storage,” offered readers a behind-the-scenes look at
the cold storage facility at Beaver House in London, England, where raw
furs, along with frozen fish and other perishable items, were processed and
The article, by an unnamed author, explained the extensive training process
that went into developing skilled fur graders: “Fur graders are not made in
a day, and each of the men grading in these photographs has worked his way
up through four or five years of training to grading lowly muskrat, and, by
slow stages according to his proficiency, he may advance from that to
grading the mink and silver foxes that will find their way to the shops of
Bond Street and Fifth Avenue.”
The author wrote with pride about the then-state-of-the-art refrigeration
units housed within the cold-storage facility.
“In these storage rooms the temperature is kept so low that the men working
there must wear blanket coats,” the article said, adding that the
refrigeration units create “Arctic conditions in the heart of London.”
See pictures from this article here