Just a couple of hundred years ago, many adventurers from all over the world came to Canada from the late 17th Century onwards to work for the Hudson Bay Company, almost all as traders and trappers. Conditions were harsh, and being able to light a simple fire quickly in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet was literally a matter of life and death.
A little brass kit called a tobacco or fire box was given to every trapper and trader working for the company and, along with their hunting knives and rifle, was their most important possession. Even when matches and other lighting methods came along in 1826, many traders still used the Hudson Bay Fire Kit because it was trusted to do the job.
The design was improved on over the years but was essentially a small tin into which you could put something dry and flammable like char cloth and kindle and keep it dry. The top of the tin normally had a small strong magnifying glass built in that could be used to concentrate the power of the sun as well as a fire striker, usually made of carbon steel, as an alternative that could be struck against flint to provide a spark, light the tinder and start a fire.
The kits were so popular because they were generally failsafe options. and it was quick and easy to light the dry char-cloth and jute kindling inside, even in difficult circumstances. This was important in challenging conditions, while out in the wild. When a trapper wanted to make a fire or even light his trusty pipe, he simply had to reach into his bag and grab his fire tin.
Even today the Hudson Bay Fire Kit is still a popular choice for the adventurer who wants something simple and unique. They bring us back to a time and place, important to Canada’s history, and are perfectly suited to do the job at hand.
The little brass kits are still made today, identical to the Hudson Bay Company’s original design. Each tin is made of hardy brass, and includes a strong magnifying glass, a U-striker and flint, char cloth and jute kindling which provide all you need to light a fire in the wild.
First of all, you need to gather some dry wood and tinder (smaller bits of wood and grass that are likely to catch fire quicker). Build your pile in a safe place and then open your Hudson Bay Fire Kit.
Next you’re going to need to make a nest – a small amount of jute kindling and char cloth that you are going to ignite first to get everything going. Pull apart the fibres of a piece of jute and then add a little char cloth to form a pile.
Char cloth is made from cotton fiber, exposed for a long period of time to high temperatures – the result is a highly flammable material. Because it is so flammable, only a pinch needs to be used to build your fire.
Next you need to light the nest. You can do this either by striking the U-striker and flint together to cause a spark, or concentrate the heat of the sun into a small spot of light on the char cloth. Once the cloth and tinder begin to smoulder, it’s time to move the nest to your fire. You can use soft breaths and extra kindling that you have gathered to help the flames spread.
All this should take just a few minutes. We’ve tried the process out ourselves, and were amazed at how quickly the fire lit.