Zellers is not a Canadian victory

Hudson’s Bay has a complicated history, and a very American ownership

Hudson's Bay bringing Zellers back is no Canadian victory. (WikiCommons)

Hudson’s Bay bringing Zellers back is no Canadian victory. (WikiCommons)

Canadians are celebrating the return of the once iconic Canadian brand Zellers, which recently announced 25 new stores are opening inside existing Hudson’s Bay stores. They are also launching an e-commerce website. The Instagram announcement alone has garnered almost 6,000 likes and many commenters are celebrating the return of a Canadian brand.

But, NRDC Equity Partners, an American investment firm, owns Zellers and Hudson’s Bay.  Zellers isn’t the only Canadian brand owned by a multinational company. All our iconic brands from Tim Hortons to Canada Dry and Roots are owned by American companies. It’s clear that Canadians have forgotten who won the War of 1812.

The problem isn’t multinationals in and of themselves. According to Statistics Canada, multinationals create one third of our gross domestic product (GPD) and one fourth of employed Canadians. Both are critical to our economy, but the problem is balance. Eighty-six per cent of Canadians say supporting Canadian businesses is important to them, yet only four out of 10 of the top clothing retailers in Canada are Canadian owned. This shows a discrepancy in Canadian values and Canadian actions.

We know small Canadian businesses are important as they contribute to 38 per cent of our GDP, yet small businesses are still struggling given they are less likely to have a positive future outlook than multinationals. With small businesses suffering, multinationals are often taking their place. For example, multinationals are only one per cent of Canadian companies yet they own 67 per cent of all Canadian assets.

So, if Canadians know small businesses are important and want to support them, why don’t we? One of the reasons is that most of us don’t actually know which brands are Canadian or not. Many Canadians support Hudson’s Bay and Zellers because of their cultural history. Wikipedia actually lists the Hudson’s Bay company as a “Canadian retail business group.” Why do we pay Americans to celebrate our culture?

Hudson’s Bay made about $5.47 billion in retail sales in 2019, albeit a large dip from $14.46 billion in 2016. This is all money that could be spent at local businesses. It’s not like small businesses are too expensive. One consumer paid double at The Bay what a local kiosk charged for the same brand of batteries. The reasoning was convenience.

While convenience is understandable, it has consequences. Hudson’s Bay sells products made overseas, such as their infamous 2010 Olympic outfits made in China. This creates a feudal capitalism where the only way Canadians can profit is by selling their labour. 

Additionally, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was bought in 2008 by NRDC Equity Partners, the parent of upscale United States chain Lord & Taylor. The profits Hudson’s Bay makes goes to Purchase, a town in New York state, where NRDC is based. In Purchase, the average household income is $350,000 USD a year. If you Google “Purchase New York” the first result is a corvette with an American flag paint job. This is where our money goes instead of supporting local Canadians. 

That’s the problem, we as Canadians are too focused on what is convenient and not what is Canadian. We need to take the time to learn who owns a company or make the extra trip to a local small, often family-run, business. We need to make an effort to remain the true north strong and free or we will end up the true north blind as can be.