He was assigned to the post on the Athabasca River as second-in-command to Peter POND, who had explored the region extensively and would be leaving it in the spring. Pond was convinced that Cook's River (Cook Inlet, Alaska) on Captain COOK'S chart was the mouth of the large river that flowed westward out of Great Slave Lake, and that it would provide a travel route to the Pacific. This association with Pond was decisive; Mackenzie later declared that "the practicability of penetrating across the continent" was the "favourite project of my own ambition," and this resulted in the 2 remarkable expeditions upon which his fame rests.
He and Pond had founded FORT CHIPEWYAN on Lake Athabasca, and he set out from it in 1789 to test Pond's theory, but found that the river (the MACKENZIE RIVER) led to the Arctic, not the Pacific. Undaunted, he planned a second expedition. Having wintered at Fort Fork, on the upper waters of the Peace, he headed westward in May 1793. Crossing the divide from the watershed of the Peace to that of the Fraser, he was advised by Indians to complete his journey to the Pacific overland, instead of following the Fraser to its mouth. The last stage of this first crossing of the full width of North America was down the Bella Coola River. The speed and efficiency with which Mackenzie travelled were astonishing; he brought both his crews home safely and in spite of numerous contacts with Indians never fired a shot in anger.
Mackenzie left the West in 1795, and after serving as a partner in McTavish, Frobisher and Co, which managed the NWC, he went to England in 1799. His Voyages was published in 1801 and he was knighted in 1802. His ambition was to form a trading concern that would span the continent and involve a union of the NWC and the HBC, but his efforts to bring it about failed. He married in 1812 and retired to an estate in Scotland.
Author W. KAYE LAMB
Links to Other Sites
Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail
This website describes the heritage trail that follows the route of explorer Alexander Mackenzie. From the British Columbia Adventure Network.
In Pursuit of Adventure: The Fur Trade in Canada and the North West Company
An extensive website featuring digitized archival material related to the fur trade and its role in the early exploration, settlement, and economic development of Canada. From the McGill University Digital Collections Program.
Canadian Heroes in Fact and Fiction
See brief profiles and bibliographies for many notable historical Canadian figures (real and fictional). From Library and Archives Canada.
Explorers and Northern Exploration
This site chronicles the exploration of Canada's North. Illustrated with photographs and related archival material. From the Northern Research Portal, Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists.
Major Northwest Passage Exeditions and Explorers
This site offers brief accounts of various European expeditions to North America in search of the Northwest Passage. From the website "Of Maps and Men: In Pursuit of a Northwest Passage," Princeton University.