HBC Montage.

Post Inventory

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Following Company regulations, each post manager had to take inventory twice a year - a semi-annual inventory in November or December, and the year-end inventory at each post at least once a year. This meant that I took at least thirteen inventories per year and I usually spread them apart so that on each trip, I would do one at larger posts like La Ronge, Buffalo Narrows or Ile-a-la-Crosse, which might take five days, and two at other smaller posts. The inventoried posts were scheduled at the beginning of a trip in case difficulties were encountered with gross profit percentage. If problems arose, I scrapped my itinerary and the post manager and I worked until the problem was solved. Hugh Ross at Brochet. I had little trouble in this regard during my nine years in Saskatchewan and usually, it boiled down to the misfiling of invoices. This sometimes happened with younger post managers who had been promoted from apprentice clerks after only two or three year's experience in post work and consequently had received little training in the making up of trading accounts. I made it a point of pulling my accounting manual from my 'district office bag' and step by step followed the instructions. Of course, I knew the routine backwards but I did this to impress on the post manager the absolute necessity of following each step carefully to eliminate errors in calculation. There is nothing more harrowing than taking a post inventory at the end of a trip and finding errors. Not only are you tired after having been out for two or three weeks and relishing the thought of returning home, but your supply of fresh shirts and socks has usually run out and you have to buy new ones. Bea tried relentlessly to sneak a cake of soap into the suitcase as a subtle hint, but I always found it and left it at home.

Saskatchewan District was laid out in such a way that it was easy to drop in to three or four posts after you had finished inventory at one particular post and spend a day or two at each place doing a few of the other necessary inspection checks or simply talking with the post manager and his staff to ensure that the Company's affairs were running smoothly. In addition to inventory taking, cash books had to be checked and balanced and the actual cash on hand had to be counted. In season, I checked the amounts of individual advances to trappers or commercial fishermen against the authorized amount to ensure that they had not been exceeded. Fire safety precautions were checked regularly. A ladder was required at each building to reach from the ground to the eaves and from there, another ladder to the crown of the roof. Stovepipes were cleaned monthly and marked off on a chart on the office wall. Fire extinguishers were placed at specific locations in each heated building and each one was examined twice a year to be sure it was in proper working order. An adequate supply of refills for the extinguishers had to be on hand at all times. Fire axes, painted red, hung on the walls of each building in strategic positions.

Once a year, a list of post dwelling equipment was reviewed with the manager's wife and duly entered into her copy of the household equipment book and mine. It covered everything from forks and knives to carpets, bed and window coverings. A minimum quantity was noted against each item and a furnishings requisition was made out to bring the list up to standard.

In the spring, an operating budget covering next year's operation was prepared for each post, which I made up in conjunction with the post manager. As the Fur Trade Department derived its income from the posts, each post had to carry its share of operating expenses of both Head Office and District Office. When the figures were provided by the controller, they were allocated to each post on a ratio to sales basis.

An estimate of the quantities of the various furs that would be purchased at each post was supplied by C.G. Wilson, the Company's fur expert. This was based on a record of past performance over the years by each post, taking into account cyclical variations for each variety of fur. Mr Wilson also supplied his projected average price for each type of fur. When extended out, the result was the total cash value of furs to be purchased at each post. It never ceased to amaze me how accurately the projections turned out.

For posts engaged in commercial fishing, I obtained an estimate of the price Waite Fisheries would be paying for each variety of fish. Armed with this figure plus information supplied by each manager on his anticipated volume of sales from Family Allowance and Old Age Pension cheques, and an estimate for cash sales, it was easy to arrive at an estimated total sales volume for the year. Then I went over the rest of the proposed budget with the manager, which mainly included the amounts to be spent on wages, repairs, fuel and light, plus district office administration charges. By deducting the total from anticipated sales, the resulting figure for net profit for the year emerged.

Budgets were discussed in great detail with each post manager before our final anticipated result was arrived at, then were consolidated into a proposed budget for the whole district and forwarded to the General Manager's office. Occasionally, certain unforeseeable circumstances would make the figures vary greatly, such as sudden fluctuations in the fur market, changes in the price of fish, or, as happened one year at La Ronge, an unexpected invasion of prospectors seeking uranium. But usually, the budget figures turned out to be very accurate.

The post manager submitted a proposed list of trapping advances to be issued by him in the coming trapping season every summer, and I usually made it a point to discuss the lists personally with each manager before giving them my final approval. The lists were not prepared haphazardly. Posts kept up complete files on individual trappers giving the usual data of marital status and if married, the number of family members, and the total amount of each type of fur he had sold to the Company for the previous ten years, and whether he had paid his annual advance in full each year. Any mitigating circumstances known to the post manager were always considered. Perhaps the trapper had been sick for some time, or there had been a death in the family, or perhaps the weather had been bad, making trips out to the trapline difficult. All these things were taken into consideration. Then there was always young fellows starting out on their own. Here again, the post manager's knowledge of the man's character had been the deciding factor on whether or not he would be given an advance and how much he should get.

Occasionally, there were special subjects that we were asked to discuss. On one occasion, we were instructed to bring up the question of retirement and how well the post manager was prepared for it. I usually pointed out that after working for the Company all their lives with house, furnishings and mess provided, it was quite a traumatic experience to find on retirement that you not only had to find a new home but also had to furnish it from scratch. The Company provided a pension sufficient to live decently, but we urged the post managers to set up some form of savings to meet immediate expenses. A staff savings account service was available whereby post managers could allot a portion of their monthly salaries and receive a higher rate than a commercial bank returned. The message from Headquarters was if you hadn't already done so, start to set up a reserve immediately to take care of your expenses on retirement.

I was quite satisfied with the response. Most of my managers were canny and were already putting savings by regularly, but a few of the younger ones were inclined to spend all their savings when they went on furlough every two years. To my surprise, in the whole district, Jock Mathieson at Beauval was the best prepared. He had purchased a small property near Rocky Mountain House in northern Alberta which he was renting out until he retired. I suppose this small farm came as near as anything to Jock's idea of a croft in his native Highlands of Scotland.

Another discussion involved the Company's bonus system. For as long as I knew personally, the Company had always had a bonus system which was paid to post managers and higher ranks. Apprentice clerks and local staff didn't participate; they were paid overtime. The bonus was rather hit or miss in the days when fur was shipped annually to England. Any profits made on the sale of furs couldn't be pinned down to an individual post but were credited in a lump sum to each district. Excess profits were then distributed to each post manager in the district without taking into consideration whether he had a profitable operation for the preceding year. With the initiation of selling furs in Montreal and New York, as well as England, and making fur shipments to Montreal weekly rather than once or twice a year, it was now possible to determine accurately just how much money each post made or lost on its fur.

The prime consideration in paying bonuses was making a satisfactory profit. This was what the post manager was paid for. Most of the net profit was returned to the Company's shareholders in the form of a dividend, the exact amount being decided upon by the London Committee. We always referred to this as the 'widows and orphans' portion because, at one time, most shares of the Company were held in England in trust for women and children. Once the profit of each district was established, the dividend was paid and the district manager, and each post manager was paid a percentage according to the amount of excess profits they produced. The general rule was that the maximum bonus a man could receive was 25 per cent of his salary and the minimum was ten per cent. The latter was usually given to managers whose results were not up to par through no fault of their own, but rather through unforeseen circumstances.

The men welcomed this new policy as a tangible reward for their hard work and encouraged them to increase their sales wherever possible and keep their expenses low. Besides, interest on capital had to be kept down. 'Don't hold on to any remittances to District Office by every mail. Send your furs purchased every week, if you can, and keep your stocks your stocks as low as consistent with the needs of the trade. Every unnecessary dollar that you have on hand means that the Company has to borrow to cover it and has to pay the high-interest charges.'

There were only two negative reactions. Len Coates, now at La Ronge, protested in his usual good-natured fashion. 'But the manager in charge of Portage La Loche or Brochet can make a bigger bonus than I can. He buys a lot more fur and has no opposition to contend with. Here at La Ronge, I have two opposition stores and there are less furs available.'

Len had just brought himself a brand new automobile and would occasionally drive down to Waskesiu on a Sunday for a game of golf. 'Well Len, you have a very good point. If you want to give up your car, your golf and your curling in the winter and go back inland, I can quite easily arrange it. But I don't think you'd be happy inland again and I'm quite sure your wife wouldn't enjoy it.' Len laughed at the thought of his wife's reaction to such a move. In the end, he did a terrific job at La Ronge and earned himself quite a few good-sized bonuses.

It was a different case with another post manager who shall be nameless. I was at his post for a few days taking inventory and he kept nagging me all the time, not only about the new bonus system but about practically every regulation the Company had - wages, promotion, retirement plans. None of them pleased him. And he went on complaining - during working hours, in the evenings, even during mealtimes. I did my best to explain the Company's policies but nothing satisfied him. I stood it for a couple of days but his constant barrage tried my patience and when he started ranting on again at dinner that evening, I had enough. ' If you aren't happy working for the Bay, there is only one solution. You've spent the last several days bitching about everything and quite frankly, it looks to me as if your in the wrong job. I am quite prepared to accept your resignation from the Hudson's Bay Company right this minute.' And I meant it. He looked at me, stunned.

Both of us were startled when his wife began to laugh. 'You should see your face,' she said to her husband. 'I've listened to you rant and rave every time a district manager was coming...and then again after he left but Mr.Ross has called your bluff. I never thought you would meet a district manager who could best you but he has. What are you going to do about your job now?' He sheepishly agreed that perhaps he had been overdoing it. He stayed on but I was happy when he transferred out of the district to Western Division.

On June 1, 1949, I was confirmed as Manager of Saskatchewan District at an annual salary of $4,200. The following year, I received a raise of $300; the next three years, an increase of $500 per year and on January 1, 1953, a final raise to $6,600 per annum, which was the maximum salary range for the Saskatchewan District.

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"Date Modified: June 30, 2024."

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