The Hudson’s Bay Company, chartered by King Charles II of Great Britain in 1670, was the most significant commercial enterprise to affect the exploration and development of the Columbia River Basin. The company’s all-encompassing charter granted it “the sole Trade and Commerce” in all commodities, including fish, of all land and water that was adjacent to or flowed into Hudson’s Bay.

In the Columbia River Basin, the fur trade, particularly for beavers, was the company’s primary interest although the company also operated lumber mills, cattle and dairy ranches and farms. The company established a series of trading posts throughout the interior Northwest in the early 1800s, including Fort Colville and Fort Vancouver. The chief factor, or trader, at Fort Vancouver, Dr. John McLoughlin, became one of the most important political and economic leaders in the region.

Today Fort Vancouver, in the present-day city of Vancouver, Washington, has been mostly restored and is open to visitors. The Hudson’s Bay Company, meanwhile, is Canada’s largest department store retailer, with sales in excess of $7.3 billion in 2003, and also the country’s oldest corporation. The Toronto-based company and its affiliated businesses, which operate in every province in the country, employ 70,000.