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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A portrait in oils, three-quarters right, of an intelligent-looking man in his thirties with tousled hair, who wears a greatcoat (barely distinguishable) and a high scarf entirely concealing his neck. He is the explorer Alexander Mackenzie. The portrait is by Thomas Lawrence.]

Sir Alexander Mackenzie

Mackenzie of Canada
The Life and Adventures of
Alexander Mackenzie, Discoverer

M. S. Wade, M. D.
Fellow Royal Historical Society,
Member Canadian Historical Association,
Member British Columbia Historical Association,
Member Oregon Historical Society,
Member Washington State University Historical Society

The Author and the Work

Medical doctor and history writer Mark Sweeten Wade (1858‑1929) was born in England, where he started to study medicine, before moving to the United States in 1881 and getting his degree at the Medical College of Fort Wayne; but as a young man of 25 he moved to British Columbia, where he would live the rest of his life except for three further years of medical studies in California. He first worked in Victoria, where we find him authoring a 14‑page paper innocuously titled Notes on Medical Legislation in British Columbia, characterizing homeopathy as quackery against which the public should be protected by law. He was appointed provincial Medical Officer in 1892, the first of a series of official medical positions which, among other things, pitted him against epidemics and the working conditions of the Indian and Chinese labor force. In 1895 he moved to Kamloops, opening a practice there: the town would be his home until his death, and he eventually served it as local magistrate, alderman, and President of the Board of Trade; he is buried there. It is also worthy of note that his historical work was recognized late in life by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. ▸ Further details of his life are given at the British Columbia archive portal MemoryBC.

It was in Kamloops that he became seriously interested in the area's history, becoming the editor (and if I'm not mistaken, the owner) of the town's newspaper, The Inland Sentinel, and that he started to write. The Thompson Country: Being Notes On the History of Southern British Columbia, and Particularly of the City of Kamloops, Formerly Fort Thompson was printed on the paper's presses in 1907; a lesser item is a 25‑page pamphlet, The Founding of Kamloops (1912), much of it taken up by photographs. The main value of these two works, based on oral history and uncritically assembled, is as source material. Mackenzie of Canada was published in 1927, and The Overlanders of '62 in 1929, posthumously. An earlier work, The Cariboo Road, also unpublished during his lifetime, was found in an old trunk and published in 1979, edited by Eleanor Eastick.

If today we have at least two other biographies of Mackenzie, more recent by almost a century —

Barry Gough, First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK, 1997)

Derek Hayes, First Crossing • Alexander Mackenzie, his Expedition across North America, and the Opening of the Continent (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2001)

Mackenzie of Canada, as Dr. Wade points out in his foreword, was the first. The book also has the merit of including oral accounts among its primary sources, and although Dr. Wade doesn't make a big deal of it, he was remarkable in visiting at least some of the remote places seen by the explorer on his pioneering journeys, which were still relatively hard to access. In several respects then, parts of the book are something like a primary source.

In other respects, however, the book is less satisfactory. Over half of it is taken up by a mere eight months of the explorer's life, albeit the most important: Mackenzie's trek to the Arctic (June to September, 1789) and from Fort Forks to the Pacific (May to August, 1793), the accounts of which are paraphrases of Mackenzie's own journal and his published Voyages, inevitable since almost no other sources exist. Sources may be the problem: despite Dr. Wade's statement in his Foreword that he has included material on the beginning and the end of Mackenzie's life — both spent in Scotland — we don't read that much about these years bracketing his Canadian period, except for a fairly minute recounting of his death based on careful research.

Wade's treatment of Mackenzie is uniformly laudatory, while not telling us that much of the man's character and personal life. Yet surely, for example, as a medical doctor, he could have spelled out for us that among the principal exacerbating factors in Bright's disease, of which the explorer died fairly young, are cold, excessive eating of meat, and heavy alcohol consumption: but an extraordinary drinking binge hosted by Mackenzie at the Beaver's Club, described on pp243‑244, is reported as an erratic (to use glacier terminology), and never mentioned again. Similarly, Dr. Wade writes about Edward, Duke of Kent, the explorer's bosom buddy for a time, without mentioning the Duke's most unsavory reputation; the omission is admittedly too much to expect, in 1927 and in a British dominion, but it might have thrown a curious light on the explorer's relation­ship with him. The account given of Mackenzie's marriage to Geddes Mackenzie in 1812 omits any mention of the bride's age: he was 47 or 48, she was at most 17, and probably only 14.

Caviling on my part, of course. Mackenzie of Canada is a valuable and informative book, from which I learned a great deal, about conditions in pioneer Canada and about the northern fur trade, and from which I gained some sense of Canada's First Peoples two hundred years ago: all in all, a good read.

[p. ix] Foreword

Notwithstanding the romantic story of his life, and the tremendous importance of his achievements as a discoverer and explorer, to say nothing of his generosity and philanthropy as the Laird of Avoch, it is remarkable that no book has hitherto been published giving an account of the life and work of Sir Alexander Mackenzie. That omission this volume is intended to supply. From time to time accounts have been published of his activities, but most of these have been grossly inaccurate, more especially in respect to the early years of his life, while of his closing years practically nothing has been said.

Thanks to the courtesy of Sir Alexander's descendants, it has been possible to give authoritative information about those periods, culled from family records and other sources. Among those who have been generously helpful in furthering my inquiries, I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr John Morrison of Stornoway; Rev. Edwin J. Brechin, O. B. E., of Avoch; Sir Alexander's grand-daughter Mrs Heald (Alexandra Isabel Mackenzie); and his niece, Miss Margaret Dowie Kirkland, whose wonderful memory and knowledge of the Mackenzie family affairs are undimmed, notwithstanding her advanced age of ninety-four years. She was a frequent inmate of the Mackenzie home, both in London and at Avoch, and had unequalled opportunities of acquiring full information about her distinguished relative.

M. S. Wade

Kamloops, British Columbia,
Christmas 1926.

[p. v] Contents



Early Explorers and Fur‑Traders



The Advent of Alexander Mackenzie



The Exploration of the Mackenzie River



The Return to Fort Chipewyanº



In Winter Quarters on Peace River



From Forks Fort to Fraser River



From the Fraser to the Pacific



The Return to Fort Chipewyanº



From Chipewyan to Montreal and Scotland.
The Last Exploration



The Return to Scotland



Mackenzie's Achievements and Influence




[The North‑West Company's petition for ten years' exclusivity of trade in the interior of Canada]



[Peter Pond's claim of a major exploration]



[Letter of Daniel Ogden, Nov. 7, 1789, witnessing to general ignorance of the geography of northern and western Canada]



[Memorandum and correspondence of Alexander Dalrymple urging further exploration of western and northern Canada]



[A brief sketch of the career of Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, with particular reference to his North American travels]




Letter from Sir Alexander Mackenzie to John Sullivan, Under-Secretary for the Colonies



Sir Alexander Mackenzie's "Preliminaries to the Establishment of a permanent British Fishery and Trade in Furs, &c., on the Continent and West Coast of North America"


Genealogical Tree


Authorities Consulted


[p. vii] Illustrations

Sir Alexander Mackenzie


Luskentyre House, Stornoway, Birthplace of Sir Alexander Mackenzie

Facing p. 18

The Ramparts, Lower Mackenzie River


Junction of Peace and Smoky Rivers


Bella Coola River Delta


Mackenzie Rock, from the South


Mackenzie's Inscription


South-East face of rock on which Mackenzie slept, 22nd July 1793


Bronze tablet on Mackenzie Memorial Monument, Dean Channel, British Columbia


Sketch Maps

Map showing Mackenzie's route
from Fraser River to Pacific Ocean

Front Board

Arctic Ocean and Mackenzie River delta

Page 71

Junction of Athabasca, Peace, and Slave Rivers


Mackenzie's Explorations on the Pacific


Technical Details

Edition Used, Copyright

The edition followed in this transcription was that of my own copy of the 1927 edition, which was published in the United Kingdom. Since the Canadian author died in 1929, the work has been in the public domain since Jan. 1, 1980 if governed by Canadian copyright law, or Jan. 1, 2000 if by British law. If on the other hand, the work was protected by copyright in the United States, American law at the time required the copyright to be renewed in 1954 or 1955, which it was not: so if governed by United States law, the book rose into the public domain in the United States on Jan. 1, 1956.


The illustrations in the printed book are all black-and‑white. The frontispiece is a cropped oval version of the portrait of the explorer by Sir Thomas Lawrence: I replaced it with a color photograph, uncropped as far as I know, which is in the public domain per Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. For readability, I've colorized the maps to my usual scheme.

The illustrations accompany the text at appropriate points: I left them there, except for the image of the commemorative plaque on p284, which I moved to what seemed to me a better place in the text: p263, where the inscription is transcribed by the author. In this Web transcription, the map of Mackenzie's route to the Pacific, which in the book forms the paste-down to the front board (the route and the Palmer Trail being printed in red), opens in its own window to make it easy to track the unfolding narrative.

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The book was well proofread, with almost no typographical errors. My few corrections are all therefore very minor, and merely marked by a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

Thruout the book, a number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

[image ALT: A portrait three-quarters right, from an oil painting, of an intelligent-looking man in his thirties with tousled hair, who wears a greatcoat (barely distinguishable) and a high scarf entirely concealing his neck. It is a cropped version of the portrait of the explorer Alexander Mackenzie by Lawrence; on this site it serves as the icon for Mark S. Wade's book 'Mackenzie of Canada'.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a cropped version of the portrait of the explorer by Lawrence, which, as noted, is reproduced as the Frontispiece in the printed book, but as a black-and‑white cropped oval.

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Page updated: 19 Mar 21