THE SEAL OF THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY
by Daniel Cogné
Associate Member of the Académie internationale d'héraldique
You will recognize here the seal of the Hudson's bay Company affixed to a letter of the Board to the Earl of Middleton, Secretary of State (National Archives of Canada, MG 18, D 2, p.3. 23-24 mm. Photo N101675). This document written at Hudson's Bay House, Noble Street, London, on 13 May 1687, concerns the relations with the French in Canada.
The arms displayed on the seal were assumed by the Company as early as 1678. Unfortunately, no hatching marks are found on the shield. We read '... a cross ... between four beavers ...'. From the 17th century to the early 20th century, many variants of the colours were used. The cross is red or gold, and sometimes green. On 26 September 1921, definitive armorial bearings were granted by the English Kings of Arms: Argent a cross Gules between four beavers Sable; Crest, upon a cap of maintenance Gules turned up Ermine a fox sejant Proper. The cap of maintenance is a symbol of authority which is very suitable for a company with vice-regal powers.
On either side of the shield we find an elk proper. In am escroll under the shield is the famous motto 'Pro Pelle Cutem'. The translation, suggested by Prof. Ramsay Traquair of that verse taken from the Book of Job, seems to be most adequate: For the pelts which we collect, we risk our skins.
We know from the archives of the Company that 'a little Seale of the Armes of the Company for the sealing of our letters' was ordered on 27 May 1680, and another one on 25 July 1683. It is impossible to conclude that the wax impression shown here was made with one of these dies.
(Reference: Heraldry in Canada/L'héraldique au Canada, Vol. XXIII, December 1989)