American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-142
Author: Mackenzie, Alexander, Sir, 1763-1820
Title: Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans; in the Years 1789 and 1793 [excerpt]
Source: Mackenzie, Alexander. Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans; in the Years 1789 and 1793. With a Preliminary Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Fur Trade of That Country. Illustrated with Maps. (London, Printed for T. Cadell; Jun. and W. Davies; and W. Creech by R. Noble, 1801). Pages 337-355.
Pages/Illustrations: 20 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-142/

Author Note

Ten-year-old Alexander Mackenzie came to America from Scotland in 1774 with his father after his mother died. His father fought during the American Revolution in the King’s Royal Regiment, and when he was killed in 1780, sixteen-year-old Alexander went to work in the Montreal office of a fur trade company. Five years later he began trading in the far west, and having distinguished himself with his employers, he was directed to find a route to the Pacific.

Mackenzie departed his headquarters at Fort Chippewyan on Lake Athabasca in northern Alberta on June 3, 1789. After passing Great Slave Lake he descended the river now named for him to its mouth in the Arctic Ocean, about 150 miles east of the modern border between Alaska and Yukon Territory. This pathbreaking trip of more than five thousand miles was a formidable achievement, but it did not identify a Pacific Coast outlet for the fur trade. Three years later, therefore, Mackenzie tried again, on the expedition described in this document, reaching his goal near modern Bella Bella, British Columbia, where he carved on a large rock, “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety three.”

In 1802 Mackenzie received a knighthood for his geographical achievements, and after three more years of work in the fur trade went back to Britain in 1805, where he married and wrote his account of his travels. He died prematurely at the age of fifty-six, in March 1820, two years after retiring to Scotland.

Expedition to the Pacific, 1792-1793

Mackenzie’s most famous expedition departed Fort Chippewyan in northern Alberta on October 10, 1792, and wintered at a remote trading post near the modern town of Peace River. Leaving there on May 9, 1793, with five companions and two Indian guides, they reached the Fraser River in British Columbia on June 18, . Taking this south past present-day Prince George, they followed its tributary known today as West Road River and took overland trails through present-day Tweedsmuir Provincial Park to Bella Coola. From here they descended the Bentinck Arm of the Dean Channel to the Pacific, which they reached July 21, 1793, midway between the north end of Vancouver Island and the modern boundary of Alaska and British Columbia. They began the return trip two days later and reached Fort Chipewyan again on August 24, 1793, having crossed overland to the Pacific more than a decade before Lewis and Clark would.

Document Note

Mackenzie’s account of his trips, entitled Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans

in the years 1789 and 1793 : with a Preliminary Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Fur Trade of That Country was published in London in 1801, and American and German editions quickly followed. His narrative of his experiences was also issued separately many times without his history of the fur trade, beginning in 1802 and continuing through the present day.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The full text of Mackenzie’s narrative, as well as his history of the fur trade, can be found at the Early Canadiana Online project, www.canadiana.org.

A detailed description of the route, with maps, is available from the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail at http://www.bcadventure.com/adventure/explore/cariboo/trails/ almack.htm

The National Library of Canada has created “Pathfinders and Passageways: The Exploration of Canada” at http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/2/24/h24-220-e.html with a wealth of background information, images, and excerpts from primary sources on the country’s early history that will provide further biographical and historical information.

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2014 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history