Joan K. Murray, Corporate Historian, HBC Heritage Services

Joan K. Murray has a seriously cool job. She’s the corporate historian for the Hudson’s Bay Company, which has been around since 1670. From tales of fur traders to managing the corporate art collection to sending tips on caring for your vintage Point blankets, she’s got a lot to work with. Here, she tells us what it’s like to be in charge of the HBC archives.

What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?

The alarm goes off 6 am.  Let the cats (3) out of the basement, feed them, put out the juice and vitamins, retrieve lunches from the fridge.  Wash and dress. Back in the kitchen for oatmeal at 6:25.  Out the door at ten to 7 for the short trip to Oakville GO station where I catch the 7:05 train to Union.  Arrive in town about 7:45 and walk to the office at Queen and Bay with a stop at the corner for a personal tall bold black at Starbucks.  At my desk about 8:05.  Check the morning mail and prioritize the day’s tasks.  All things being equal, client enquiries – everything from how to take care of HBC point blankets to when our first store opened to who owns the Company now – come first.  Then it’s on to current projects, which are widely varied.  Might be reviewing archival records – or capturing current media – for  my research files.  Or providing historical images and information to our HBC Collections product development team.  Or writing articles for intranet or heritage website. Or supporting Marketing and PR initiatives with a heritage component. Or managing the corporate art collection.  Basically, soup to nuts. Leave at 4:30 pm to catch 5:02 train; home by 5:45.  Feed cats and get dinner going; dinner at 6:30 pm.  Call my mother for our daily chat at 7.  A few hours of TV (Daily Show, The Agenda on TVO) and make lunches before the news at 10.  Prep for bed at 10:30; lights out by 11pm.  Sleep; repeat.

What was your first job out of school?

My first job was as a copy-editor at a legal publisher. I had just been married and moved with my husband from Ottawa to Toronto.  He was continuing his studies at U of T so I went off to work.  I’m a complete book nut so actually working in publishing – even something as specialized as legal publishing – was a dream come true.

What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?

The ability to communicate clearly and effectively, in both oral and written forms.  Prioritizing tasks and managing time effectively.  An intense curiosity.  I’m very much a generalist – my interests are very wide, with some very detailed deep specializations. To do this job well you need to understand a lot about a lot of different things: not just historical facts, but why things are the way they are; what our business is; who your clients are, what they do, and how you can help them – often in ways which are not at all on their radar.  That’s when knowing the history allows you to see patterns and linkages that open up opportunities.

What do you love most about your career?

The variety it provides.  No two days are alike.  And there is always something new to learn, each and every day.

Do you have any warnings?

Take time for yourself.  Be sure to have a life outside of work that is meaningful to you. In my case it includes family, friends and my garden.

If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?

The career I’m really fit for is permanent Jeopardy contestant. Seriously, I’d like to try teaching, but at a fairly senior level, like college or university.  A lot of what I do already is to provide information.  Teaching is a way not only to impart information but also how to find, assess, present and evaluate it. 

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