Alexander Mackenzie was born at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in 1764.  He came to North America in 1774, and was employed as a clerk in the fur trade in 1779.  By 1787, he was a wintering partner in the Northwest Company, and was posted at Ft. Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca under the direction of fur trader Peter Pond. 


Based on information and maps provided by Pond, Mackenzie, Laurent Leroux, a guide known as English Chief, his two wives, five voyageurs, two of their wives, and two young natives set out on June 3, 1789 to follow a large river flowing west from Great Slave Lake in search of a Northwest passage to the Pacific (Mackenzie in Lamb, 1970 p. 163).  On July 13, Mackenzie and his party reached salt water, although it was the Beaufort Sea, and not the Pacific Ocean.

Mackenzie, realising that his navigation and mapping skills were inadequate, completed another two years in the fur trade and then returned to England in the fall of 1791 for further schooling in astronomy and cartography. After a winter's studies, Mackenzie returned to Canada in the spring of 1792 with a proper set of instruments and tables, improved skills, and renewed determination. 

Fully concentrated on the task ahead, Mackenzie pushed west to newly constructed Fort Fork, near the junction of the Smoky and Peace Rivers, where he spent the winter preparing for his next and last great voyage.

In May, 1793, Mackenzie departed on a difficult passage by canoe and foot through the Rocky Mountains.  Mackenzie and his crew of six voyageurs, two natives and Alexander Mackay arrived on the Pacific Ocean near Bella Coola, British Columbia, inscribing in vermilion paint on a rocky outcrop on the shore of the Dean Channel. (see Pictorial History Page)

Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land

the twenty-second of July,

one thousand seven hundred and ninety three

Mackenzie returned to Grand Portage in 1794 and was commended for his efforts, although the route he followed and recorded did little to contribute to the business of the Northwest Company.  The route Mackenzie followed was too difficult to be practical as a trading route.  Mackenzie returned to Montreal and acted as an agent for the Northwest Company until 1799, after which he retired to England.  In 1801, Mackenzie's book 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 was published.

The publication of Voyages and Mackenzie's subsequent proposals drawing attention to the importance of the Pacific coast were perhaps as notable achievements as Mackenzie's journeys across Canada.  In 1802 Mackenzie was knighted by King George III.  Alexander Mackenzie served as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada from 1804 to 1808.  In 1812, Mackenzie married, and purchased an estate in Scotland. Mackenzie died in Britain in 1820 of Bright's disease.

EARLY CANADIAN FRENCH HISTORY(The Beginning of The Voyageurs)

NEW FRANCE  1600 - 1700

When the French government saw the potential value of the fur trade, the fishing industry, and other resources of northern North America, it began to take more interest in the region, which came to be known as New France. New France would eventually comprise Canada (the area drained by the St. Lawrence), Acadia (now the Maritime provinces), the island of Newfoundland (shared unwillingly with the English), and later Louisiana (the valley of the Mississippi River). France claimed and defended this vast area as its possession. For the most part, however, indigenous inhabitants continued their way of life unaffected by French laws or customs, and they dealt with the French primarily as allies and as customers for their furs. The French claim was contested by the English, who tried persistently to divert the fur trade or to occupy parts of the territory.


The EarlyYears

To confirm its claims to North American territory, France needed to build permanent forts and settlements. But settlements were expensive, and in order to pay for them, commercial colonizers sought a monopoly on the fur trade. Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts, acquired such a monopoly from the king of France, and in 1604 he established a post in Acadia. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain, an explorer hired by de Monts, founded a settlement at Quebec on the St. Lawrence River. Champlain, who became the champion of French colonization, understood that a monopoly of the inland fur trade could be better protected there, where the river narrowed, rather than at sites on the open coast of Acadia. Consequently, French colonization began to focus on the St. Lawrence valley. Eventually, Champlain convinced Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to King Louis XIII, of the importance of North America. In 1627 Richelieu organized the Company of One Hundred Associates to develop and administer New France.

To maintain his settlement and develop the fur trade on the St. Lawrence, Champlain had to form alliances with the local Algonquian nations and their inland allies, the Huron confederacy. These indigenous allies brought the furs to Quebec, and with their assistance Champlain was able to travel widely and to map eastern North America from Newfoundland to the Great Lakes.

 Under the company, the Canada colony continued to grow after Champlain died at Quebec in 1635. More settlements were founded, notably at Trois-Rivires (1634) and Montreal (1642). However, the colony remained small in population and dependent on the fur trade. Fur traders also maintained a small French presence in Acadia, and in the 1640s a small, settled Acadian community took root around Port Royal (now Annapolis Royall) on the Bay of Fundy.

 In the 1640s New France was unable to aid its ally, the Huron confederacy, in a war with the Iroquois. After the Iroquois defeated and scattered the Huron in 1649, New France's fur trade was devastated, and Montreal and Quebec were exposed to attack. The colony survived, however, and the fur trade rebounded after the Ottawa, Ojibwa, and other Algonquian nations replaced the Huron as French allies and suppliers. New France's trader-explorers also began to venture inland from Montreal in search of new sources of furs. Two of them, Medard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers, and Pierre Esprit Radisson, explored the west side of Lake Superior in the 1650s.


Development of the Colony

In 1663, when New France still had barely 3,000 people, Louis XIV's finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert abolished the One Hundred Associates, ending the era of company rule. Thenceforth, New France was a royal province ruled from Quebec by a governor-general, who commanded the military forces and symbolized royal authority. In addition, an intendant oversaw colonial finances, justice, and daily administration. Both officials reported to the Minister of Marine in the king's court, since all French colonies were administered by the naval department. An appointed Superior Council advised the governor and acted as a supreme court, but there were no elective bodies in the government of New France.

With royal support, the defenses of New France were improved. The Carignan-Salieres regiment, a veteran military force of 1,200, arrived in 1665 and waged a campaign against the Iroquois. This campaign led to a peace settlement with the Iroquois. About 400 members of the Carignan-Salieres regiment stayed on in Canada as settlers. During the first decade of royal rule, the monarchy also subsidized immigration from France, notably of some 700 unmarried women, who were later called filles du roi (daughters of the king) because the king paid for their transportation and dowries. Their arrival helped balance the male-female ratio, which had been overwhelmingly male. Thereafter immigration from France was slight; the 10,000 settlers reported on the 1681 census became, by natural increase, the ancestors of almost all the 6.3 million French-speaking Canadians of the late 20th century.

 Soon after the peace settlement with the Iroquois, New France acquired a permanent garrison of colonial troops. Soldiers for the colony came from France, but they were commanded by what became a hereditary aristocracy in New France. Military officers explored new territory, built forts, and participated in diplomacy, trade, and warfare with the indigenous peoples.


Trade and Exploration

In 1664 Colbert organized a new company, the Company of the West Indies, to hold the fur trade monopoly. As a settled rural population developed in the St. Lawrence River valley, the fur trade moved westward and northward. After 1670 there was a new competitor in the fur trade. In that year, King Charles II of England granted a trade monopoly in the area of Hudson Bay to a London group, the Hudsons Bay Company (HBC). However, the fur trade merchants of Montreal were able to compete successfully. They combined the fur trade with exploration and missionary work. Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette began exploring the Mississippi River, and Rene-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, reached the Gulf of Mexico in 1682.

 Illicit traders called coureurs de bois(woods rangers/runners) and licensed ones called voyageurs pushed northwest toward the prairies. Some remained there, adopting indigenous ways of life and marrying indigenous women. Around 1700, King Louis XIV authorized development of a chain of forts linking the St. Lawrence to Louisiana, a colony newly founded at the mouth of the Mississippi. Some fur traders and their mixed-blood families formed communities of farmers and traders around these forts and posts. Their descendents became the Metis (French for mixed people).









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