The venerable Hudson's Bay Co., which grew rich trading furs bought from the explorers and trappers who opened up the North American continent, will stop selling fur coats because they are no longer profitable.

Hudson's Bay, the largest and oldest retailer in Canada, made its decision for purely business reasons, not because of pressure from the anti-fur movement, said Barry Agnew, vice president of sales and promotion.The company, which operates 400 department stores including the Bay chain, says the space used for its fur salons can be put to more lucrative use.

"It is ironic to a certain degree that the company is getting out of the business that made it a business," said Agnew. "But it was founded strictly on business and that's the same reason we're getting out."

The nine Bay stores still selling furs will wind down operations by the spring, leaving only one Hudson's Bay store - Simpsons - with a fur department.

Hudson's Bay is the latest in a string of retailers to move out of the fur business in recent years. Harrods, the ritzy London store, caused a fuss when it closed its fur department a year ago.

Fur industry officials tried to brush off the move, noting that the Bay stores sold only $6 million of furs last year out of an estimated $300 million of fur garments sold in Canada at the retail level.

But their comments were tinged with bitterness.

"The Bay's decision to abandon the fur industry goes against over 400 years of Canadian heritage. The fur industry opened up and sustained this country. It built Canada and it built the Bay," said Del Haylock, executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada.