Mackenzie, Sir Alexander (Explorer)

Sir Alexander Mackenzie, fur trader, explorer (b at Stornoway, Scot 1764; d near Dunkeld, Scot 12 Mar 1820). Mackenzie's father took him to New York in 1774, and in 1778, because of the Revolutionary War, he was sent to school in Montréal. There in 1779 he entered the employ of the fur-trading firm of Finlay and Gregory, later Gregory, MacLeod and Co. In 1784 he became a partner and spent the years 1785-87 in charge of the post at ÎLE-LA-CROSSE. In 1787 the company coalesced with the NORTH WEST CO and Mackenzie became a partner in the larger concern.

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.