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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Mackenzie of Canada
by
Mark S. Wade

published by
William Blackwood & Sons Ltd.
Edinburgh and London 1927

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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 p264  Chapter XI

Mackenzie's Achievements and Influence

While Mackenzie was in England in connection with the publication of his book, he took advantage of the opportunity thus offered to urge upon Lord Hobart, the Colonial Secretary at that time, the desirability of bringing about a union, a pooling of interests, of the great commercial organisations operating under the British flag — the North‑West and X. Y. Companies, the Hudson's Bay Company, the East India Company, and the South Sea Company.

Had his suggestions been received with greater sympathy, had the Government made an effort to bring about the union advocated by Mackenzie, the foundation would have been laid then for the superstructure of a great system of commercial Imperialism. Unfortunately there was a lamentable lack of vision in the majority of British statesmen of that period. Mackenzie's suggestions fell upon unresponsive ears, and nothing was done. Had it been otherwise, had all his proposals been acted upon, there is little room for doubt but that the British Empire would be the richer to‑day by that portion of the North‑West coast of North America now known as the states of Oregon and Washington. Mackenzie submitted his proposals in the form of what he called "Preliminaries," which are given in full in the Appendix to this volume, and with them he sent the following covering letter: —

 p265  "Norfolk Street, 7th Jan. 1802.

"My Lord, — In obedience to your Command I have now the honour of transmitting to Your Lordship, enclosed, a Project of 'Preliminaries to the establishment of a permanent Fishery and Trade in Furs, &c., in the interior and on the West Coast of North America' — expressive of the result of my experience and deliberation on the great National object.

"It will require some management ofº mediate the Coalition of the two Companies at Montreal in such a manner as to fix the System of Enterprise necessary for carrying the combination of the Fishery and Fur Trade into effect, as some of the oldest members are likely to prefer continuing in the Beaten track. Let such be at full liberty to do as they please; but if the Government should think fit to confide to me the licences in question for the behoof of such as shall accede, and at the same time to recommend it to the Governor of Canada to countenance me in my endeavours to bring it about, as a measure which has the sanction of, and will be protected by the Government; I have not the least doubt of succeeding with all those, whose personal exertions are essential; indeed, infinitely more essential than the Capital of the others, since the former can only be replaced by Juniors successively growing up in the Service, during a period of six to ten years; whereas the latter, and any larger sum that may be found to be necessary or employed to advantage, can be raised at any time by recurring to London, and might be raised in London before my departure, were it not thought that those already in trade at Montreal ought to have the preference, and others only the accession to it.

"I intend to embark on my return to America towards the end of the Month; and if there is any service which I may be deemed capable of there performing, it will give me pleasure to take charge of it. — I have the honour to be, My Lord, your Lordship's Devoted and most faithful Hble. Servant,

"Alex. Mackenzie."

It will be observed that Sir Alexander did not hide from himself the difficulties that might arise in attempting  p266 to bring about a coalition of the North‑West Company and the X. Y. Company.

According to Mackenzie's "Preliminaries" it was proposed to establish a supreme civil and military post at Nootka, on Vancouver Island, which position is roughly given as 50° N. latitude, with two subordinate stations — one on the Columbia River, latitude 46°, and the other at Sea‑Otter Harbour, latitude 55°. He proposed either a repeal of the Acts giving exclusive rights to the East India and South Sea Companies of fishery, trade, and navigation in the Pacific Ocean and on the north-west coast, or, in default of that, to obtain irrevocable and unlimited licences from these Companies to carry on trade and fishing, and to establish factories and agents in Canton or elsewhere for the sale or trade of their exports and imports. Further, another clause provided for obtaining from the Hudson's Bay Company a "Licence of Transit" permitting transportation of goods through the Hudson's Bay territories, and restricting the right of the Hudson's Bay Company to have a manifest presented and examination made at the first port of entry within the limits of the Company's jurisdiction, but not at any other station or trading post.

Sir Alexander did not succeed in forming his coalition company ere he returned to Montreal. On October 25th of that same year, evidently smarting under a sense of disappointment that his exertions had been in vain, he wrote to Mr John Sullivan, Under-Secretary, enclosing copies of a letter written by John Richardson (of Forsyth, Richardson, & Co.), dated October 21st, 1802, to H. W. Ryland, the Lieut.‑Governor's secretary, and of the Grand Jury's Presentment made at Montreal on September 19th of the same year, which papers, he said, would show that he had not succeeded, as also the improbability of his being able to bring about a union of the North‑West and X. Y. Companies, which Lord Hobart had recommended as the first step towards  p267 the fruition of the project, unless the Government intervened as he suggested. He said: "Without the aid of the Government by granting the licences to one of the contending Parties, with the condition that the other Party should have the option of sharing, in proportion of the amount of the Trade they might be then carrying on to that part of His Majesty's Dominions, I see no means of bringing about a coalition for several years to come, by which time the trade may be reduced, if not ruined, and the opportunity of making the Western establishment lost perhaps for ever."

Those words written by Mackenzie were almost prophetic. Had the Government established the post at Nootka, with subordinate posts at the mouth of the Columbia River and at Sea‑Otter Harbour, what a difference there would have been in the history of the north-west coast! The British Government did nothing, and the opportunity neglected of exercising authority over the Oregon country was indeed lost for ever.

In his letter to Mr Ryland, referred to by Sir Alexander, John Richardson set forth in plain language the bitter hostility existing between the North‑West and the X. Y. Companies, the latter being viewed, he said, by the North‑West Company "with a Jealousy and Rancour improper in the Subjects of the same Empire." He complained that the Indians had been incited to pillage and attack the canoes of the X. Y. Company. He pointed out that "retaliation may become frequent," and "force may generally prevail over Justice. The consequences may be dreadful to contemplate, and the Fur Trade must in the end be annihilated, if a competent Jurisdiction is not established in the Canadas for the Investigation of Crimes and Criminal Offences committed in the British part of the Indian Country beyond their limits."

The other "paper" sent in by Mackenzie, the Presentment of the Grand Jury at Montreal, also urged that "His Majesty's Tribunals in Canada should be  p268 invested with jurisdiction in places . . . beyond their limits." The judges of the King's Bench and Lieut.‑Governor Milnes also favoured the extension of the jurisdiction of the Canadian Courts to the Indian country.

In consequence of these representations thus thrust by Mackenzie upon the attention of the Colonial Office, an Act was passed in 1803 giving jurisdiction to the Canadian Courts as requested.

Nothing was done, however, to carry out the proposals submitted by Mackenzie in his "Preliminaries," and while the onus of this inaction must rest upon Lord Hobart, it must be confessed, in all justice, that the communications sent by Sir Robert Milnes appear to have been strongly tinctured with the influence of the North‑West Company, and may have afforded a measure of excuse for his remissness. In December 1802 the Colonial Secretary requested Sir Robert Milnes to give early consideration to the subject of establishing a chartered company — Mackenzie's design — and to state fully his opinions thereon. The reply was long deferred. In September 1803 the Lieut.‑Governor forwarded to Mr Sullivan, the Colonial Under-Secretary, a statement received from the North‑West Company, and recommended Mr M'Gillivray, one of the partners of the North‑West Company, as one who could give full information about the fur trade. With the receipt of that communication the matter appears to have ceased to receive any further attention from the Government.

On September 15th, 1802, General Hunter transmitted to Lord Hobart a report by Colonel Mann on a Memorandum by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, suggesting the feasibility of opening navigation from Montreal to Lake Ontario by a canal fourteen miles in length, and urging capitalists in London to carry out this project rather than invest in another scheme for the construction, through American territory, of a canal to the same lake from Albany in the state of New York. Colonel Mann  p269 in his report agreed that Sir Alexander's proposal was practicable. Mr Douglas Brymner, Canadian Archivist, commenting on this, states: "Whatever may have been Sir Alexander's exact plans, his scheme has been substantially carried on with the addition of the Lachine Canal."

What Mackenzie did in the way of exploration provided much of the impulse that resulted in the subsequent explorations of Simon Fraser and David Thompson, men like himself, intrepid, fearless, inspired by a greater motive than selfish aggrandisement. To this trio belongs the credit of having saved for the British Empire what portion of the north-west coast appertains to the Dominion of Canada, the province of British Columbia. Had these men not made the explorations with which their names will be for ever associated, the United States would have secured it, even as they claimed it. By the terms of the Nootka Convention, Spain abandoned all claim to sovereignty over the north-west coast, but it was never transferred to any other power. The land was open to seisin by any nation entering into actual occupation, and exercising dominion over it. That was done for Great Britain by the North‑West Company, whose agents Mackenzie, Fraser, and Thompson were. Mackenzie reached the Pacific Coast at a most critical and opportune moment.

The success of his journey to the Pacific completely satisfied Mackenzie. He no longer felt the urge to seek for that river of the west which he thought to be Cook's River, but the information he had elicited from the Loocheux, Dog Ribs, and the Hare Indians of the Mackenzie River, respecting the unexplored western waterway, he passed on to his colleagues. Several times that exploration was considered, but no definite mention of any person being named to undertake it was made until after the death of Mackenzie. In a letter written by W. F. Wentzel to Roderick Mackenzie in March  p270 1824, he states that "Many plans are suggested for exploring the unknown parts of Mackenzie's River, and none have yet been digested, excepting that Mr Samuel Black is to start this spring from the upper parts of Peace River with a clerk and eight men and proceed up Finlay's branch, and from thence to cross the Rocky Mountains and seek for a large river said to follow this range of heights towards the westward, from whence he is to try to make his way to Mackenzie's River. This plan appears to me to be wild and injudicious, because Mr Black is unable to ascertain by observation in what latitude and longitude he may find himself in. . . . But, unfortunately, this quarter is less known than it ought to be. . . ."

With what cool intelligence the partners at Grand Portage or Fort William assigned such exploratory work to their traders and men, and, more remarkable still, how cheerfully those tasks were taken, and generally, thoroughly carried through to a successful issue! Had it been thought there would be found a great fur‑producing region at the North Pole, the fur‑traders would have discovered it a century earlier than Peary!

Samuel Black did not make that exploration, however, but it was done instead partially by John Finlay, who ascended the Finlay to its source at Lake Thutade in 1824, returning without making any attempt to find either the unknown western river or to make his way across the mountains to the Mackenzie. It was not until 1840 that the western river of the north was discovered by Robert Campbell. He descended Pelly River, which is identical with the Yukon, and in 1843 followed it to where, three years later, J. Bell established a post at the mouth of the Porcupine River, a tributary of the Yukon. Campbell, arriving at the confluence, turned eastward, ascended the Porcupine, crossed the height of land to the Peel River, which he descended to where it empties into the Mackenzie at the upper  p271 end of the delta, thus accomplishing what Mackenzie had in mind to do when he left Forks Fort in May 1793. His informants had not misled him. There was a great river flowing to the west, at the far side of the mountains from where the Indians first told of its existence; but it was not discovered by any white man until Campbell embarked upon its waters half a century later.

By that time the Mackenzie River was no longer left to natives for their sole benefit and convenience. For years it had seen the canoes of the fur‑traders travelling from post to post which had been established on it. The Indians no longer took flight at the appearance of the whites, but there always lived in their memories the recollection of Mackenzie. Not only fur‑traders but other explorers made it a highway by which to reach the scene of their investigations, Franklin, Richardson, Dease, Simpson, &c., so that the appearance of Europeans on its waters became quite a familiar event.

In the appendix of his 'Voyages,' Mackenzie describes what he considered to be the boundaries of the British possessions in North America, and in the west lays claim to much of the territory now included in the United States. He refers to it as the

"second division. The line of the second division may be traced from that of the first at St Mary's,1 from which also the American boundary runs, and is said to continue through Lake Superior (and through a lake called Long Lake, which has no existence) to the Lake of the Woods, in latitude 49° 37′ N, from whence it is also said to run west to the Mississippi, which it may do, by giving it a good deal of Southing, but not otherwise; as the source of that river does not extend further North than Latitude 47° 38′ N, where it is no more than a small brook; consequently, if Great Britain retains the right of entering it along the line of division, it must be in a lower latitude, and wherever that may be the line must be continued  p272 West till it terminates in the Pacific Ocean, to the South of the Columbia. This division is then bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the West, the Frozen Sea and Hudson's Bay on the North and East. The Russians, indeed, may claim with justice the islands and coast from Behring's Strait to Cook's Entry."

His book also contains, in the same appendix, a general statement respecting the topography of Western Canada, and of its resources and potentialities. He speaks, for example, of the existence of coal and bitumen along the Mackenzie River and along the Peace, and says: "and the same was observed by Mr Fidler, one of the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, at the source of the South branch of the Saskatchewine." He also mentions the presence of coal "onº Slave Lake near its discharge by Mackenzie's River; and also near the forks of the Elk River." He gave the world its first knowledge of what are called the Barren Lands, which region, he says, "is inhabited by a people who are accustomed to the life it requires. Nor has a bountiful nature withheld the means of subsistence — the reindeer, which supply both food and clothing. . . . Their small lakes are not furnished with a great variety of fish, but such as they produce are excellent, which, with hares and partridges, form a portion of their food."

The climate of the country, the character of its great plains, its salt deposits and other resources are dealt with, furnishing the outside world with a fund of information of Western Canada never before presented.

In his book, as well as his personal advocacy with Lord Hobart of the commercial union of the several great companies then in existence, he speaks of the advantages that would accrue from a union between the North‑West Companies and the Hudson's Bay. He says: "The junction of such a commercial association with the Hudson's Bay Company is the important measure which I would propose, and the trade  p273 might then be carried on with a very superior degree of advantage, both private and public, under the privilege of their charter, and would prove in fact the complete fulfilment of the conditions on which it was first granted."

"It would be an equal injustice to either party to be excluded from the option of such an undertaking; for if the one has a right by charter, has not the other a right by prior possession, as being successor to the subjects of France, who were exclusively possessed of all the then known part of this country before Canada was ceded to Great Britain, and having themselves been the discoverers of a vast extent of country since added to His Majesty's territories, even to the Hyperborean and the Pacific Oceans?" This last reference to his own exploits, to which he points with pardonable pride, indicates that he fully realised the vast importance to his native country of his achievements in discovery.

Sir Alexander's advocacy in 1801 of a union between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North‑Westers, was vigorously supported by Edward Ellice of Spring Gardens, Middlesex, a member of the North‑West Company, who in 1804 actually offered Sir Richard Neave, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, to purchase the latter concern for £103,000, the amount of the then capital stock of the Company, and this transaction might have been carried to a successful issue but for the legal difficulties encountered in the way of disposing of stock held for minors.

He was the first to advocate the freedom of the navigable waterways to all comers, and was the forerunner of the advocates of a transcontinental line of transportation by the waterways of the country. He was of the opinion that the Government should oblige the Hudson's Bay Company, should they decline the proposed amalgamation, to throw open the navigation of Hudson's Bay to Nelson's River,

"and by its waters, a passage to and from the interior country. By these waters that discharge  p274 themselves into Hudson's Bay at Port Nelson, it is proposed to carry on the trade to their source, at the head of the Saskatchiwine River, which rises in the Rocky Mountains, not eight degrees of longitude from the Pacific Ocean. The Tacoutche or Columbia River2 flows also from the same mountains, and discharges itself likewise in the Pacific, in latitude 46° 20′. Both of them are capable of receiving ships at their mouths, and are navigable throughout for boats. . . . By opening this intercourse between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and forming regular establishments through the interior and at both extremes, as well as along the coasts and islands, the entire command of the fur trade of North America might be obtained. . . . To this may be added the fishing in both seas, and the markets of the four quarters of the globe. . . . Then would this country begin to be remunerated for the expenses it has sustained in discovering and surveying the coast of the Pacific Ocean, which is at present left to American adventurers."

The East India Company obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1600 for "the discovery of Cathay and divers other regions, dominions, islands, and places unknown." They were granted exclusive trading privileges in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and they monopolised the trade in China and India. Canton was, at the time of the maritime fur‑traders and the early days of the North‑West Company, a profitable mart for the disposal of furs. The East India Company, exercising the privileges conferred by their charter, discriminated against British traders and merchants, but treated those of foreign States more generously. Perhaps it was because of this that some of the British ships actually sailed under foreign flags. It was undoubtedly because of that discrimination that the North‑West Company diverted some of their furs from the usual route viâ England to China,  p275 to send them through the United States channels, as related on a foregoing page. The East India Company pursued the same injurious policy for many years.

In the earlier years of the North‑West Company the returns from the western and northern trading posts were sent overland to Rainy Lake, whence they were taken to Grand Portage and Montreal, in due time reaching the London market, and from there a large number of furs were sent to China. A portion, instead of being sent to England, were conveyed from Montreal or Grand Portage to New York, and thence shipped to China in American bottoms. After the acquisition by the North‑West Company of Astor's Company, with its posts at Astoria and the interior of the country west of the Rocky Mountains, instead of furs being sent across country to Rainy Lake, they were shipped direct to China.

The first vessel to sail from Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, to China so laden was the Isaac Todd, in the year 1814. In that same year the schooner Columbia was sent out from England with supplies for Astoria, or Fort George as it was then called, and in the following year the Columbia proceeded to Canton with more furs. These, and other vessels engaged in the trade, were of British register, belonging to and outfitted by the London agents of the North‑West Company. The East India Company refused to permit them to carry tea and other Chinese goods to England, in return for the furs sold in China, while United States vessels were granted that privilege without demur, and thus had remunerative cargoes each way.

To overcome this handicap the North‑West Company arranged with the firm of Perkins & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts, to act as their agents. British goods intended for the Columbia River were sent to Boston in British ships, and from there transferred to American vessels and taken to their destination. The next step was the carrying of the furs from the Columbia River  p276 to China by the same vessels, which there took on a cargo of tea, &c., that a British ship would have been denied, with which the return voyage was made to Boston. There the tea was loaded on the North‑West Company's ships and conveyed to London. In this way the unpatriotic policy of the East India Company was circumvented, and it was the knowledge of these facts that led to Mackenzie's proposal for a union of interests.

In the appendix to his 'Voyages,' Mackenzie says somewhat sarcastically:

"It would be very unbecoming in me to suppose for a moment that the East India Company would hesitate to allow those privileges to their fellow-subjects which are permitted to foreigners, in a trade that is so much out of the line of their own commerce, and therefore cannot be injurious to it.

"Many political reasons, which it is not necessary here to enumerate, must present themselves to the mind of every man acquainted with the enlarged system and capacities of British commerce in support of the measure which I have very briefly suggested, as promising the most important advantages to the trade of the United Kingdoms."

It was not, however, until 1821 that the Hudson's Bay and North‑West Companies joined forces as Mackenzie had urged twenty years before. The proposed amalgamation with the East India Company did not materialise. In 1833 the British Parliament deprived them of their trading privileges, and thus shorn of their main sources of wealth their position became anomalous. Had Mackenzie's suggestion been adopted at the time it was made, how much ill‑feeling, bloodshed, waste of time, money, and energy would have been avoided!

The Rev. Dr D. Masson of Edinburgh, a friend of the descendants of Sir Alexander, states that Mackenzie's book was one of Napoleon's favourites, and that at his behest it was translated into French. A copy of it in  p277 three volumes had a place in his library during his exile at St Helena. Dr Masson had the privilege of examining these volumes, then in possession of the explorer's grandson, at the Deanery at Fortrose. There he was also given the opportunity of reading a most interesting manuscript, in autograph, by Napoleon, which sheds new light on the Emperor's secret schemes in the plan of his campaign against Great Britain. The reading of Mackenzie's 'Voyages' gave him the idea of attacking the enemy nation in her Canadian possessions, not by direct assault but by a circuitous route, which he believed would be an effective surprise and prove infallible. Reference is made to this subject in a very interesting letter written by William Mackenzie of Gairloch, an old friend of Sir Alexander, to the latter's son, the heir of Avoch. It is as follows: —

Leamington, May 24th, 1856.

"When in Stockholm in 1824, Lord Bloomfield, our minister there, did me the honour of presenting me to the King — Bernadotte, father of the present king of Sweden. At the King's special request the audience was a private one, and I was further especially requested to oblige by coming in my full Highland dress. The audience lasted fully an hour. Such an interest did Napoleon's first and most fortunate marshal take in everything which was Highland, not even the skean dhu escaped him, etc., etc. I now come to your family portion of the audience.

"As we chatted on (old Bernadotte leaning upon my o'keachan, claymore), he was pleased to say, in that suaviter in modo for which his eagle eye so fitted him: 'Yes, I repeat it — you Highlanders are deservedly proud of your country and your forefathers, and your people are a race apart, distinct from all the rest of Britain in high moral as well as martial bearing, and long, I hope, may you feel and show it outwardly by this noble distinction in dress. But allow me to observe, sir, that in your family name and in the name Mackenzie there is a very predominant lustre, which shall never be  p278 obliterated from my mind. Pray, are you connected in any way with Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the celebrated North American traveller, whose name and researches are immortalised by his discoveries in the Arctic Ocean and of the river which since then does honour to his name?'

"I informed His Majesty that as a boy I had known him well, and that our families and his were nearly connected. This seemed to give me still greater favour with him, for, familiarly putting his hand on my shoulder brooch, he replied that, on that account alone, his making my acquaintance gave him great satisfaction. He then proceeded to tell Lord Bloomfield and me how your father's name had become familiar to him, and so much valued in his eyes.

"He said that at one time Napoleon had arranged to distract the affairs of Britain by attacking her Canadian possessions, not by a direct descent upon them, but by a route which would take England quite by surprise and prove infallible. That route was to be of the Mississippi, Ohio, etc., up to our Canadian border lakes. For this arrangements were to be made with America — New Orleans occupied as a pied-à‑terre by France, etc.

"The organisation and command of this gigantic enterprise, as Bernadotte said, 'was given to me by the Emperor with instructions to make myself master of any work which would bear upon it, and the facilities the nature of the country afforded. Foremost among these the work of your namesake (Sir Alexander Mackenzie) was recommended, but how to get at it, with all communication with England interdicted, all knowledge of English unknown to us, seemed a difficulty not easily to be got over. However, as every one knows, my then master, L'Empereur, was not the man to be overcome by such small difficulties. The book, a huge quarto, was procured through smugglers, and in an inconceivably short space of time most admirably translated into French for my especial use. I need hardly add with what interest I perused and reperused that admirable work, till I made myself so thoroughly master of it that I could almost fancy myself (this he said laughing heartily) taking your Canada en revers from the upper waters, and ever since then I have never  p279 ceased to look upon the home and think of the authorº with more than ordinary respect and esteem.'

"After a short pause and a long-drawn breath, almost amounting to a sigh, accompanied by a look at Bloomfield and a most expressive 'Ah, my lord, que des changements depuis ces jours‑là !' Bernadotte concluded by saying that the Russian campaign had knocked that of Canada on the head until Russia was crushed, but it had pleased God to ordain it otherwise — 'et maintenant me voilà Roi Suède' (his exact words as he concluded these compliments to your father). So much for old recollections of my sunny days of youth. — Yours faithfully,

"Wm. Mackenzie,

(Gairloch).

"To George Mackenzie, Esqre., Avoch."

Mrs Heald, Sir Alexander's granddaughter, in a letter to the writer, says: "I have the 3 volumes that belonged to Napoleon of grandpapa's voyages." In them is written — Napoleon's copy from St Helena. It is also stamped with the French eagle. This book contains an engraving of Lawrence's portrait of Sir Alexander, and also a map showing his travels in 1789.

Sir Sandford Fleming, commenting on Mackenzie's book, says: "Every page of Mackenzie's journal shows that his explorations were not effected without constant toil and great privations. The discouragements arising from the difficulties and dangers he experienced, and they were incessant, had no influence on his cool determination and dauntless spirit. The many tedious and weary days of physical labour and mental strain, the gloomy and inclement nights to which he was constantly exposed, were not, however, passed in vain. He gained his great reward in the knowledge that he had, in the interests of his country, attained the object of his design. He had penetrated a vast continent, for the most part in a condition of wild nature; he had overcome the  p280 obstacles imposed by rapid rivers previously unknown, by rugged mountain ranges, by distance, by intervening forests, and by the extremes of a variable climate. From time to time obstacles presented themselves in the enmity of hostile native tribes, who had never before looked upon the face of a white man; but on the day he arrived at the Pacific coast he had the unqualified satisfaction of feeling that his undertakings had been crowned with complete success."

After Mackenzie's return to Fort Chipewyan from his journey to the Pacific, no steps were taken by the North‑West Company to turn to their advantage the information he brought of the resources in furs of the country west of the Rocky Mountains. It was not until five years later that any other individual associated with the Company followed the discoverer's footsteps over Rocky Mountain Portage. In 1798 James Finlay, he who had been stationed at New Establishment on the Peace River in 1792, and whom Mackenzie would have taken with him had he been more robust, crossed the mountains by the same route taken by his chief. Ascending the Peace to the junction of the two branches, he chose to follow the northern fork instead of the southern taken by Mackenzie, and subsequently named the Parsnip River. The north branch, the main source of the Peace, and therefore the headwaters of the Great Mackenzie system, bears the name of Finlay, after the man who first explored it.

When, after the death of Simon M'Tavish, Mackenzie busied himself in the affairs of the newly amalgamated North‑West and X. Y. Companies, another member of the same organisation, Simon Fraser, was preparing to turn to account Mackenzie's discoveries west of the mountains, and established Rocky Mountain House on the Peace at the foot of the great rapids that make the twelve-mile portage imperative. Fraser was bound for the Tacoutche, the river that both Mackenzie and he believed  p281 to be the Columbia, for Captain Gray's discovery of that stream was, long ere the date of the publication of Mackenzie's book, common property. Fraser was inclined to be critical of his predecessor, and finds fault with Mackenzie for several omissions in describing his route of travel, but the old adage about the beam and the mote has application to the critic himself, for he was not infallible either. It was not Fraser, however, who was the third civilised man to visit the upper waters of the Peace River, but James M'Dougall, one of his subordinates, and he it was who discovered the Pack River, a tributary of the Parsnip that Mackenzie had not seen. Beginning with the year 1805, trading posts were first established in what is now British Columbia, but then known as New Caledonia, and three years later Fraser made his historic journey to the sea and discovered he had descended a river other than the Columbia, the river that now bears his name.

While Fraser was busy with his trading posts in New Caledonia, and the Mackenzie impulse still prevailed, another servant of the North‑West Company, David Thompson, crossed the Rocky Mountains farther south, reached the Columbia River proper, and established trading posts on it and its tributaries, the first of his posts being founded at Windermere Lake, one of the two lake sources of the Columbia, in 1807. But even as James M'Dougall had been the forerunner of the Fraser, so were Jaco Finlay — half-brother of the discoverer of the Finlay River — and Finan M'Donald the forerunners of David Thompson, who was the first to explore the Columbia from its source to its outlet.

The labours of these two men, Fraser and Thompson, supplemented those of Mackenzie. The latter found and showed the way; the others followed and planted the trading posts that brought to the North‑West Company immense profits, that more than repaid many times over the cost of Mackenzie's explorations that  p282 opened the way. Trading posts were established on the Mackenzie, on the Liard, on the Peel; and other traders, plunging into the wilds, founded posts in the northern interior of British Columbia and in the Yukon. The impulse for all these activities came from Alexander Mackenzie. In his footsteps followed Franklin, Richardson, Dease, Simpson, and other Arctic explorers who made his river the highway for reaching their respective fields of investigation.

Mackenzie was not one who loved the wilds — nature unspoiled and unadorned. His preference lay in the delights and comforts of social intercourse with his fellows amid the advantages of civilisation. "I begin to think," he wrote to his friend and cousin, "it is the height of folly in a man to reside in a country of this kind, deprived of every comfort that can render life agreeable, especially when he has a competency to enjoy life in a civilised society, which ought to be the case with me." His was not the mind of the nomad. The wanderlust had not part in the economy of his character. His journeys into the unknown wilds, north and west, were not the result of the mere desire to gratify idle curiosity, but were undertaken of deliberate purpose for a definite end. In his determination to continue at all hazards until that end had been achieved, he was inflexible. It had been easy for him to have abandoned his quest at any time. A less determined man might have not unwillingly made the unruly conduct of his men an excuse for escaping from dangers and discomforts inseparable from such expeditions. The spirit that dominated Mungo Park, David Livingstone, John Franklin, and a host of others, a thirst to extend geographical knowledge, to enlarge the field of operations of his Company, to achieve something that none other had yet succeeded in accomplishing, inspired him to endure all manner of privations and physical sufferings.

Little did he dream as he floated on the bosom of the  p283 majestic Mackenzie, that one of the greatest of the world's oil‑fields lay there awaiting the enterprise of a future generation, that large vessels luxuriously equipped and provided with all the comfort of, and more, of the best hotels in his native land at that date, would ply on his Grand River, and that the then ungovernable natives would be subjugated by a handful of constables and a few missionaries.

Nor did his wildest flights of imagination conjure up such scenes as he would now witness could he again journey along his Unjigah River, immense tracts of cultivated land producing enormous crops of wheat, and herds of prime beef cattle grazing on the adjacent hills and plains, the Indian lodges replaced by settlers' homes, and warriors by peaceful farmers. Nor did his active and fertile brain conceive that bands of steel would skirt the banks of the Tacoutche Tesse, conveying passengers from his old headquarters at Montreal to the object of his quest, the Pacific Ocean, within the space of less than a week.

As a fur‑trader he amassed a competency; as a man he made many friends and did his duty to himself and to his neighbour with a good conscience; as a husband and father he was all that could be wished. As an explorer and discoverer he proved himself to be endowed with all the qualities that make for success — determination, upright in his dealings with the natives, inflexible in his purpose, considerate and thoughtful for the safety of those with him whose services rendered it possible for him to accomplish his designs.

Too many of the brave men who have done things that count, who have achieved successes that have extended the benign influences of civilisation, whose lives have been shining examples for others to emulate, suffer effacement at the hands of posterity. Monuments and statues adorn the public places of our cities and towns, and State buildings, libraries, and municipal  p284 halls, but how few of these are memorials of those who have gained renown on the field of war, by land or sea! Where is there a fitting memorial to Alexander Mackenzie, the pathfinder, the discoverer of two great rivers, the discoverer of the fallacy of the much sought North‑West Passage by sea, the first to discover and make the north-west passage by land? To our shame be it acknowledged there is none. His sole memorials are the record of his knighthood, the gracious acknowledgment by his sovereign of his exploits; his book, which will endure throughout the ages; a tablet let into the wall of a house in Montreal; a tablet and cairn at Fort George, B. C.; a Monument with Bronze Tablet erected at Western Terminus of first journey across the Continent of North America;a a portrait, and the stone at the head of his grave in the old churchyard at Avoch in the north of Scotland. Those, and no more.

It has been suggested by Mr Harlan I. Smith of Ottawa, that a tract of country on the coast of British Columbia, near the mouth of the Bella Coola River, be made into a park, a national memorial to the great discoverer. In a paper published in the 1924 'Annual Report of the Canadian Historical Association,' Mr Smith earnestly advocates that

"a strip of country, approximately seventy miles long east and west by some twenty miles wide north and south, be set aside as a great out-of‑doors museum for the conservation and sanctuary of wild life, both animal and plant, for the preservation of Indian petroglyphs and other historic sites — all this to be a national monument to Sir Alexander Mackenzie. . . . This area lies immediately south of the Bella Coola Valley, and is as yet unsurveyed, its title being in the Crown. This being the case, it would be unnecessary to go to any expense to have the park established. The area has in it many glaciers and innumerable waterfalls. Practically  p285 all of it is high land, which will never be used for agricultural purposes. With the possible exception of the eastern part, it lies in an area which the geologists indicate is not likely to be valuable for its minerals, and much of it is above the timber line. Like a great monument, in some places over 10,000 feet high, it overlooks the spot where the first white man to cross Canada reached the sea, and it in turn with its lofty peaks was seen by him as he came down the valley and embarked on the waters of the Pacific. . . .

"If my suggestion to establish Mackenzie Park is carried out, visitors to the region will soon find there are many delightful and interesting side trips which may be taken from the vicinity of the park to such places as the historic sites above mentioned, and to many beautiful natural features. They may in fact well spend many months in the Bella Coola Valley viewing the beauties of the park without ever going up into it, and they will find, in the eastern portion of the area at least, that the usual objection to the rainy weather of the Pacific coast cannot be entertained. In fact, the entire park is dry during the summer months. It is free from violent storms and mosquitoes.

"When the profits to Canada from the money spent by foreign tourists in visiting this area are sufficient, the roadway up the Bella Coola Valley might be improved throughout its length, and continued about fifty miles to the east to connect it with the automobile road to the east and thus make this area accessible from the Caribou Road, and eventually from the Pacific states and the east. This road up the Bella Coola Valley, which might appropriately be called Mackenzie highway, follows practically the route of the great explorer. In fact, the width of the valley would not allow it to depart more than a mile or so from his route down the valley. Motorboats and Norwegian fishing boats make the great explorer's sea route easily accessible to visitors."

 p286  Whether or not this suggestion be acted upon, the idea is highly commendable. There are several national parks already in existence whose chief claim to recognition as such lies in scenic attractions mainly. The one proposed by Mr Smith possesses remarkable scenic allurements that greatly surpass those of Jasper and other parks in the Rocky Mountains, and has besides the more important claim of being the scene of a most momentous event in the history of Canada.3

It is a pity that the youth of Canada is not better supplied with information respecting the men concerned in the exploration and development of the country in which they live. The writer has before him a high school history of England and Canada, authorised by the Education Department of Ontario, in which the Hudson's Bay Company is disposed of in one brief paragraph; in which there is no mention made whatever of the North‑West Company; in which neither Verendrye, nor Hearne, nor Mackenzie, nor Fraser, nor David Thompson, nor Cook, nor Vancouver, nor Campbell, nor Dease, nor Simpson, are even mentioned. This book was commonly used in other provinces besides Ontario, and if it be a fair sample of the material purporting to convey historic pabulum to the youthful mind, surely some steps should be taken by the Education Departments of the several Provinces to provide a more suitable class of text-book. All those whose names are just written deserve better at the hands of posterity than to be passed over in silence.

The greatest men have their seasons of prosperity, of wane and decline, but in the contemplation of their lives there is that which tends to the upbuilding of a sound intelligence, a broad understanding. " 'Tis opportune to look back upon old times, and contemplate our  p287 forefathers," said Sir Thomas Browne in the epistle dedicatory to the 'Hydriotaphia.' Another old writer says (Ecclesiasticus xliv.1‑10): "Let us now praise famous men . . . men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding. . . . There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial, who are perished, as though they had never been." Almost in this category falls Alexander Mackenzie, discoverer, and how better can this record of the man and his deeds be brought to a close than by quoting the words of the great elegist:

"No farther seek his merits to disclose,

Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,

There they alike in trembling hope repose,

The Bosom of his Father and his God."


The Author's Notes:

1 Sault St. Marie.

[decorative delimiter]

2 He is here referring to the Fraser, which he erroneously believed to be the Columbia.

[decorative delimiter]

3 The British Columbia Government has set aside thirteen acres of land on Dean Channel to be known as the "Sir Alexander Mackenzie Historic Park," which will be controlled by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. It is within this area that the Memorial on Mackenzie's Rock is situated.


Thayer's Note:

a The printed edition has an illustration of the tablet here; I've moved it to where it is first mentioned, and transcribed in full, on p263.


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