Like a magician's rabbit, Canada was plucked from a hat. In 1670, a self-styled Company of Adventurers was given a royal charter by King Charles II of England to trade, settle and explore the Hudson Bay region of Canada. Those adventurers became the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) and the 'gold' they were seeking was fur. In particular, beaver fur to make the top hats worn by fashionable European gentlemen. The owners of HBC built a massive fortune and laid the foundations of modern Canada on the fur-for-hats trade. Over the years, the company established a vast network of forts and trading posts across the country. Those posts became stores and by the early 1900s, HBC had evolved into the largest department store chain in Canada. Now, after 336 years of conducting business in Canada, HBC has been sold to an American, financier Jerry Zucker. A slice of authentic Canadian history has fallen into foreign hands, which has set off a great deal of hand-wringing and breast-beating by sentimental nationalists, concerned historians and outraged editorial writers. Mr Zucker says he has no intention of stripping the company of its property assets, which include almost 500 stores, many in prime downtown locations. But he's got work to do. The company has been rocked by competition. If the company's retail operations do eventually fail, it won't be a great loss for consumers. There are plenty of other stores that sell everything the bay does. As for its priceless collection of historical records and artefacts, those are no longer in the company's hands. In 1994, HBC transferred the materials to the Manitoba Museum of Man. And what an astonishing collection it is. Many of the bay's early traders were men of uncommon skills. They were botanists and naturalists who gathered specimens and kept records that are an invaluable chronicle of Canada's flora, fauna and climate from the 1600s to the 1800s. Others were amateur anthropologists who traded for aboriginal art, clothing and weapons. Perhaps the most intrepid traders were the explorers who, in their never-ending quest for new sources of furs, mapped river systems, mountain passes, aboriginal territories, grasslands suitable for ranching and fertile soils for farming. The knowledge they acquired and passed on helped the British and then Canadian governments to claim sovereignty over all of the territory that lies above what became the US-Canadian border. The border helped define Canada and thwarted American expansionism but it certainly hasn't stopped Mr Zucker, who, we hope, knows the story of the hat that built a company and a country.