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Sir Alexander Mackenzie's rock. End of the first journey across North America Bishop, Richart Preston, 1884-1954 1925

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 "I now mixed up some vermilion in
melted grease, and inscribed, in large
characters, on the South-East face
of the rock on which we had slept
last night, this brief memorial	
'Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada,
by land, the twenty-second of July,
one thousand seven hundred and
ninety-three' ".
Mackenzie's Voyages, 1801 edition, page 349.   Birthplace of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Stornoway, Scotland
The first European to cross the North American
continent north of Mexico was Alexander Mackenzie
(afterwards Sir Alexander Mackenzie), one of the partners,
or "bourgeois" of the North West Company of Montreal.
His achievement has not been heralded as the work of some
explorers has been and thus it happens that too frequently
the honour that is properly his is wrongly attributed to
others. It seems therefore desirable to state the fact and
to repeat it continually: Alexander Mackenzie was the
first white man to cross the main body of the continent of
North America.
Mackenzie's voyages to the Arctic Ocean and to the
Pacific Ocean are well known. Summaries will be found
in every history of Canada. Although the original edition
of his "Voyages" and the early reprints are now quite
rare and expensive, the book was brought within the
reach of every one by a popular-priced edition published
in New York about twenty years ago and republished in
Toronto in 1911. Yet strangely enough many readers
fail to realize that they are not merely reading of an early
journey across the continent—not merely reading of the first
crossing of British North America—but that they are reading of the first crossing of the North American continent.
It is not intended in this short introduction to retell
the story of this pioneer and perilous journey. The
"round, unvarnish'd tale" of the explorer would  lose its
Page Floe attraction in any such attempt. For the present purpose
it is sufficient to say that, setting out from Fort Chipewyan
on Lake Athabaska in October, 1792, he spent the winter
trading for furs at a place which he named Fort Fork on
the Peace River. It must never be forgotten that Mackenzie was a fur-trader and that his explorations both
north and west were undertaken in the interests of his
company to discover new regions for trade to which the
rival Hudson's Bay Company could not by any possible
construction of its vaguely-worded charter lay claim.
In May, 1 793, having closed the winter's business and
despatched the collected furs for Fort Chipewyan, he
with his nine companions resumed his journey up the
Peace River. In his account of the voyage Mackenzie
says: "My winter interpreter, with another person whom I
left here to take care of the fort and supply the natives
with ammunition during the summer, shed tears on the
reflection of those dangers which we might encounter in
our expedition, while my own people offered up their
prayers that we might return in safety from it." Arriving
at the source of the Parsnip, the southern branch of the
Peace River, he crossed a low divide of 817 paces to a
small lake whose waters flowed into the Fraser. He
launched his canoe upon this unknown River of the West—
he thought it to be the Columbia—and descended it until
on the advice of the natives he determined to seek the
Pacific Ocean by a shorter route. Accordingly he ascended
a tributary of the Fraser, now known as the Blackwater,
and, journeying by land and by water, at length reached
Bella Coola, or Rascals' Village, as he calls it. Thence
he continued his voyage towards the open ocean, until
22nd July, when having tested his artificial horizon, he
concluded to return.
The exact point which marked the termination of his
voyage has been for years a matter of doubt. This doubt
originates, almost entirely, in the discrepancy which
exists between the text of Mackenzie's "Voyage" and the
footnotes which he has added. If the latter be excluded
the difficulty is greatly diminished. In estimating the
reliance to be placed on those footnotes one must bear in
mind that, as appears from his letters to his cousin Roderick
Mackenzie, the explorer transcribed his journal and
prepared it for publication in I 794.    Vancouver's "Voyage"
Page Six was published in 1798 and Mackenzie's "Voyage" in 1801.
It would therefore seem that the footnotes were added
some four years or more after the journal was written.
It is not surprising that errors occurred when after that
lapse of time Mackenzie tried to plot his route upon
Vancouver's chart.
During the summer of 1923 the author, Captain
R. P. Bishop, a trained surveyor, who was then in the
service of the Land Department of the Government of
British Columbia and engaged in professional work in the
vicinity of Bella Coola, was instructed to make an effort
to locate the rock which was the westernmost point reached
by Mackenzie. The interest with which he undertook
the task and the skill with which he performed it are well
shown by the annexed report.
Captain Bishop has pursued the rational course of
going over the ground (or rather, the water) traversed by
Mackenzie from Bella Coola to the rock on which he made
his "brief memorial," taking as his guide the courses and
distances given in the journal and utilizing on every
occasion the "checks" therein contained. Following this
plan he found but three difficulties, outside of those caused
by the errors in the footnotes. (1) In one instance Mackenzie gives a course of one-quarter of a mile, whereas on
the ground the distance is about four miles. The explanation here seems obvious. (2) The "island," as Mackenzie
calls it, opposite Point Edward on King Island is in reality
a peninsula. The photographic view which is reproduced
in the paper shows how easily its real nature could be
mistaken. This is a frequent type of error on the part of
early explorers. The classical example in British Columbia
is that of Vancouver who denominates the peninsula near
the City of Vancouver, now known as "Stanley Park," as
an "island." (3) The most serious difficulty is that the
distance along the north shore of King Island is considerably greater than Mackenzie makes it. The author's
suggestion on this point is that owing to the danger in
which the party then was Mackenzie inadvertently failed
to record one course and distance.
But after all, these difficulties are more apparent than
real, for an examination of Mackenzie's map shows, as
does the working out of his courses and distances that
The Rock must be sought somewhere in the vicinity of
Page Seven ■
Cascade Inlet. It must be a rock which will meet the
following conditions: an abandoned village site near-by; a
rock suitable for defence and with a sheer face on the
south-east side; near an inlet on which is an old Indian
village; a southerly exposure for at least three miles; and
with a cove lying north-east about three miles distant.
The rock which Captain Bishop has located complies
exactly with each of these requirements. He has therefore
called it "Mackenzie's Rock," as being beyond doubt the
rock on which the explorer wrote with a mixture of vermilion and grease those words, his " brief memorial"
known to every school boy in the country: 'Alexander
Mackenzie from Canada by land the twenty-second of
July one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three."
His conclusion has been concurred in by the Land Department of British Columbia, the British Columbia Historical
Association, and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board
of Canada. Our author's work has also been checked by
another surveyor, Mr. J. P. Forde, Resident Engineer of
the Public Works Department in Victoria, on the ground
and his conclusion affirmed and accepted.
That "Mackenzie's Rock" has been definitely identified will be the opinion of every one who carefully reads
the attached paper (which is his official report on the
subject) and who studies the route as shown on the map
with the aid of Mackenzie's own account.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
regards this as one of the most important identifications
that has been made in connection with the story of Western
Canada. It has therefore determined to give Captain
Bishop's paper a wide publicity by publishing it as a
In conclusion I cannot do better than quote the
author's words in an address delivered in Victoria, B.C.,
upon this subject. Emphasizing the importance of this
apparently trivial matter he says:
"There are two important reasons. One is that it
marks the first crossing of the continent. All good Canadians are well aware of this, but the fact is apparently by
no means universally realized. Fiske, in 'The Discovery
of America, solemnly announces that the continent was
first crossed by Lewis and Clark, whose expedition reached
the Columbia some twelve years later, when the United
Page Eight States had acquired a right of way to the Pacific by purchasing the Louisiana territory from Napoleon, who had
not the naval strength to hold it. It is hard to understand
how so learned and impartial an historian as Fiske should
make such a mistake; possibly his sources of information
were influenced by some of the disputes which arose in
connection with the various international boundary
questions in this part of the world. The identification
and monumenting of our historic sites should, however,
help to neutralize the effect of any little errors of this kind
in the future.
"Another good reason for the identification of Mackenzie's Rock is that it marks the end of a journey which,
in my opinion, is the cause of Canada's having an outlet
on the Pacific Coast to-day.
"To support this somewhat sweeping statement I
should explain that this country, although elaborately
surveyed about the time of Mackenzie's visit, was without
an owner for many years afterwards.
"The reason for this was the terms of the Nootka
Convention whereby Spain abandoned all her claims to the
sovereignty of this part of the Pacific Coast. To quote
Howay and Scholefield's 'History of British Columbia':
'Neither treaty nor declaration ever transferred or
attempted to transfer the abandoned Spanish sovereignty.'
The land was left 'without sovereignty in any European
state, a sort of no-man's land, to which title could be
acquired by entering into possession and exercising dominion over it.'
"Such dominion was exercised by the North West
Company, whose traders entered into possession of the
country by establishing posts west of the Rocky Mountains.
Their advance agent, Alexander Mackenzie, arrived on
the coast while the question of the restitution of the lands
at Nootka Sound of which Meares claimed to have been
dispossessed was still under discussion and recorded his
mighty achievement on 'The Rock'—Mackenzie's Rock—
a few weeks after Captain George Vancouver had camped
near and, perhaps, on the very spot."
Capt. R. P. Bishop
ALTHOUGH the far-reaching extent of its results has
/ V hardly been appreciated, Sir Alexander Mackenzie's
A. \. voyage to the Pacific, being the first occasion on which
that coast was reached by land across the main body of
the continent, has generally been referred to at some
length in histories of North America.
The explorer's course from Fort Chipewyan to the
Pacific can now be clearly traced. The easterly portion,
following a water route as far as the mouth of the Black-
water, presents no difficulty to the student, but the notes
of the journey overland to the Bella Coola river, made
while the explorer was carrying a heavy load through the
day, are by no means easy to interpret. Fortunately
the famous Dr. Dawson, of the Geological Survey of
Canada, was able to define most of this part of the route
in the year 1876, when most of the old "back-pack" trails
could still be followed. A portion of the trail over the
Tsi-Tsutl Mountains, which Dr. Dawson did not have the
opportunity to follow, was located by the writer during
survey operations in 1923.
The historic arrival at the Pacific at Bella Coola is a
matter of great interest to the inhabitants of the valley, and
of proud tradition to those Indians whose forbears gave
Mackenzie a hospitable reception. Skimillick, a relation
of Soocumlick, who was chief of the "Friendly Village"1
1Now known as Burnt Bridge. It was here that Mackenzie struck the Bella
Coola valley; see Alexander Mackenzie, Voyages from Montreal through the Continent
of North America, London 1801, pp. 318, 368.
Page Eleven in    1793,    can furnish many interesting   details    of    the
explorer's visit.
The greatest interest of the journey, however, centres
in the historic memorial, painted by Mackenzie with a
mixture of grease and vermilion on the rock which formed
his westerly camping place:—
Alexander Mackenzie, From Canada, by Land,
the Twenty Second of July One Thousand
Seven Hundred and Ninety-Three.
The words of this memorial have been quoted in
almost every detailed history of Canada, but the exact
position of the rock on which they were written has apparently never been determined, although many rumours on
the subject have been prevalent on that part of the coast
for a number of years. The late Captain Walbran, who
was known to be deeply interested in the matter, is reported
to have commemorated the historic voyage by painting
an inscription on a rock in the vicinity of its westerly
camp. The existence of this painting may perhaps have
given rise to the rumours referred to.
From Captain Walbran's reference to the inscription
in "British Columbia Place Names,"2 it seems evident
that he did not profess to know the exact position and
that he was of the opinion that nobody had reported having
seen the inscription since the visit of John Dunn in 1836.
Mr. Dunn, who was then stationed at Fort McLoughlin,
now Bella Bella, refers to the painting in "The History of
Oregon," but gives no clue to its exact position. From
his account it would appear that there was not very much
left of the paint at the time of his visit.3
The Bella Coola Indians,4 who are full of lore on the
subject of Mackenzie, know nothing about the inscription
beyond what they have been told by white men as to its
2 British Columbia Coast Names, by Captain John T. Walbran, Ottawa, 1909,
pp. 44. 84-85.
8 "And in case any vessel should run to this place to trade, he [Mackenzie] made
a mark on a large rock; which was partly decipherable when we were there. ' See
History of the Oregon Territory, by John Dunn, London 1844.     p. 267.
* A Coast Salish tribe (by Dunn called Bellaghchoolas) on Bentinck Arm, whose
village "Rascals' village," is at the mouth of the Bella Coola River—the Salmon
River of   Mackenzie.
Page Twelve probable position. The Bella Bellas5 may possibly have
some traditions on the subject, but as there have evidently
been other painted rocks in the vicinity it might be risky
to take local information too seriously. The most satisfactory way of locating this historic point is apparently
by a careful analysis of Mackenzie's journal, coupled with
an examination on the ground. An opportunity to make
this investigation occurred recently and the following
evidence, which the writer believes to be conclusive, is
submitted for consideration.
In considering the evidence offered by the journal we
have, first of all, to decide on the reliability of Mackenzie's
astronomical observations for latitude and longitude, and
the degree of precision which may be expected of them.
His equipment for this purpose appears to have included a
telescope, a timepiece, an artificial horizon and some
kind of instrument for measuring angles, probably a
sextant or quadrant. As he never came in sight of the
open ocean his object at the end of his trip was to find a
"proper place for taking an observation,"6 a "proper
place" presumably being one where he could check the
behaviour of his artificial horizon. To do this properly he
required an uninterrupted view over open water for some
miles, especially to the south, a fact worth bearing in
mind in weighing the final evidence of the position of the
observation point.
In considering the results of the observations it is
better to deal first of all with the longitude, in the result of
which there is a discrepancy of about 42 minutes of arc7
amounting, in this part of the world, to nearly 30 miles.
At first sight it might appear that Mackenzie's observations would not afford evidence of much value in determining the position of the observation point. As an analysis
of the question of longitude is necessarily a somewhat
lengthy affair, I will deal with the matter separately.
To summarize the subject it may be stated that in view
5 A Kwakiutl tribe living on Milbank Sound, but who had a village at the head of
Elcho Harbour. Mackenzie's Rock lies a short distance east of the entrance to Elcho
6 "As I could not ascertain the distance from the open sea and being uncertain
whether we were in a bay or among inlets and channels of islands, I confined my
search to a proper place for taking an observation." This was on 21st July 1793. See
Mackenzie's Voyages, ante, p. 343.
1 Mackenzie gives the longitude of the rock as 128° 2' west.    See Voyages, p. 351.
Page Thirteen of the nature of his equipment, the time at his disposal
and the methods which he was obliged to use, Mackenzie's
longitudes were as good as might be expected; that the
lack of accuracy in the determination does not reflect on
his ability as an observer, and that we may in consequence
have no hesitation in accepting his observations for latitude, which from their nature were susceptible of a much
greater degree of precision. Fortunately we have an
opportunity of checking his inland latitude observations,
which were taken with the artificial horizon, at places
the positions of which are now known with a fair degree of
certainty, such as Bella Coola, or "Rascal's Village,"
Burnt Bridge or "Friendly Village," and Fort George
Canyon.8 Mackenzie's results at these places are generally
a little over a mile in error, so we may assume that the
instrument with which they were observed was not very
much out of adjustment, and that confidence may be placed
in the latitude observation at "The Rock." Observations
were taken here both with the natural and artificial
horizons, the results differing by 45" or -86 miles, so that
we are probably quite safe in assuming that the rock is
within a mile and a half to the north or south of the mean
of the latitudes given by Mackenzie. This is important,
as the mean result is about four miles from "The Cheek
of Vancouver's Cascade Canal" referred to in the footnote
of Mackenzie's book,9 and generally assumed to be the
correct position.
The position of the latitudes as observed is shewn on
the accompanying sketch; their bearing on the remainder
of the evidence will be discussed later on.    (See Appendix).
The next thing is to follow the bearings and distances
from Bella Coola. Here we must take into consideration
the remark at the end of the Journal that "The courses
are taken by compass" and that "the variation must be
considered."10 In Mackenzie's time this probably
amounted to about twenty-three degrees East. In certain
cases, however, the bearings appear to have been converted
to astronomical bearings.
8 Mackenzie makes the latitude of these three places as follows: 52° 23' 43", p
355; 52" 28' II*. p. 323; 53° 42' 20" p. 234.
9 P. 349 of his Voyages.    All the references are to the edition already cited. London,
10This is the very last statement in the book.     It is at the end of the errata.
Page Fourteen "At about eight o'clock we got out of the river, which discharges itself by various
channels into an arm of the sea."
The Indian Village, at Bella Coola
In following the track extracts are quoted in the
exact words of the Journal and interpreted step by step
with the aid of the sketch.
"At about eight we got out of the river, which discharges itself
by various channels into an arm of the sea. The tide was out, and
had left a large space covered with seaweed. The surrounding hills
were involved in fog. The wind was at West, which was ahead of us,
and very strong; the bay appearing to be from one to three miles in
"At two in the afternoon the swell was so high, and the wind,
which was against us, so boisterous, that we could not proceed with
our leaky vessel, we therefore landed in a small cove on the right side
of the bay. Opposite to us appeared another small bay, in the mouth
of which is an island, and where, according to the information of the
Indians, a river discharges itself that abounds in salmon."12
"I had flattered myself with the hope of getting a distance of the
moon and stars, but the cloudy weather continually disappointed
me, and I began to fear that I should fail in this important object;
11 P. 341, Mackenzie's Voyages
13 P. 341, Mackenzie's Voyages.
Page Fifteen "Opposite to us appeared another small bay, in the mouth of which is an island.'
South Bentinck Arm
particularly as our provisions were at a very low ebb, and we had, as
yet, no reason to expect any assistance from the natives. Our stock
was, at this time, reduced to twenty pounds weight of pemmican,
fifteen pounds of rice, and six pounds of flour, among ten half-starved
men, in a leaky vessel, and on a barbarous coast. Our course from
the river was about West-South-West, distance ten miles."13
This bay, named by Mackenzie "Porcupine Cove, is
now known as Green Bay. The "small bay ' opposite is
South Bentinck Arm, a photograph of which, taken off
Green Bay, shews the island referred to by Mackenzie.
"Sunday, 21.—At forty minutes past four this morning it was low
water, which made fifteen feet of perpendicular height below the high-
water mark of last night. Mr. Mackay collected a quantity of small
muscles which we boiled. Our people did not partake of this regale,
as they are wholly unacquainted with sea shell-fish. Our young chief
being missing, we imagined that he had taken his flight, but, as we
were preparing to depart, he fortunately made his appearance from
the woods, where he had been to take his rest after his feast of last
"At six we were upon the water, when we cleared the small bay,
which we named Porcupine Cove, and steered West-South-West for
seven miles, we then opened a channel about two miles and a half wide
at South-South-West, and had a view of ten or twelve miles into it."14
13 P. 342, Mackenzie's Voyages.
14 P. 343, Mackenzie's Voyages.'
Page Sixteen ■■"■•■■^■^■■■l^^BBl^^HHk.
This  is  obviously  Burke  Channel.
"As I could not ascertain the distance from the open sea, and
being uncertain whether we were in a bay or among inlets and channels
of islands, I confined my search to a proper place for taking an observation. We steered, therefore, along the land on the left, West-North-
West a mile and a half; then North-West one fourth of a mile, and
North three miles to an island; the land continuing to run North-
North-West, then along the island, South-South-West half a mile,
West a mile and a half, and from thence directly across to the land on
the left (where I had an altitude), South-West three miles.* From
this position a channel, of which the island we left appeared to make a
cheek, bears North by East."15
"*The Cape or Point Menzies of  Vancouver."
This paragraph is by no means easy to follow. As
Mackenzie refers later on to going "across to the land on
the left" the first course mentioned would apparently be
around Masachi Head.16 Probably the next course should
be four miles instead of one-fourth of a mile. After this
we have "North three miles to an island, the land continuing to run North-North-West." There is no sign of
an island here but the peninsula to the north of Edward
Point looks very much like one when viewed from the
opposite shore. If one accepts this peninsula as the
"island," the remaining courses fit in fairly well except
that "the distance across to the land to the left" (Point
Edward?) is a little exaggerated—quite a likely thing to
happen in crossing this awkward piece of water in a crazy
and leaky canoe. A view of the "island' and of Dean
Channel, "of which it forms a cheek" appears in the
accompanying photograph. It seems safe to assume that
we are now at Edward Point and that Mackenzie is in
error in referring to it as Point Menzies, which is obviously
far behind by this time. His next course takes him towards
Cascade Inlet, which makes Point Menzies out of the
It would appear that Mackenzie had a certain amount
of difficulty in interpreting his own notes—a fact not at all
surprising when it is considered that he had no map or
chart with him when making the trip, and that several
years elapsed before he had an opportunity of plotting
them on Vancouver's chart. It casts no aspersion on
Mackenzie's ability if it be assumed that it is possible at
15 p   343, Mackenzie's Voyages.
36 The  south-eastern  point  of  Labouchere   Channel    The  word,   " Masachi"  is
from the Chinook jargon and means "bad."
Page Seventeen the present time, with the appearance of land and water as
an aid, to make a better interpretation of the journal than
the explorer himself could manage with only his memory for
aid. The modern investigator is aided by the facts that
the unfriendly Indians have disappeared, the craft is not
quite so crazy and the prospect of starvation is perhaps a
little more remote. There need then be no hesitation in
discarding the foot note, penned some years after his visit
to the coast, in which Mackenzie, in referring to the
location of the rock, says, "This I found to be on the
cheek of Vancouver's Cascade  Canal."
"Under the land v/e met -with three canoes, with fifteen men in
them, and laden with moveables, as if proceeding to a new situation,
or returning to a former one. They manifested no kind of mistrust
or fear of us, but entered into conversation with our young man, as I
supposed, to obtain some information concerning us. It did not
appear that they were the same people as those we had lately seen, as
they spoke the language of our young chief, with a different accent.
They then examined everything we had in the canoe, with an air of
indifference and disdain. One of them in particular made me understand, with an air of insolence, that a large canoe had lately been in
this bay, with people in her like me, and that one of them, whom he
called "Macubah" had fired on him and his friends, and that "Bensins"
had struck him on the back with the flat part of his sword. He also
mentioned another name, the articulation of which I could not determine. At the same time he illustrated these circumstances by the
assistance of my gun and sword; and I do not doubt but he well deserved
the treatment which he described. He also produced several European
articles, which could not have been long in his possession. From his
conduct and appearance, I wished very much to be rid of him, and
flattered myself that he would prosecute his voyage, which appeared
to be in an opposite direction to our course.
"However, when I prepared to part from them, they turned their
canoes about, and persuaded my young man to leave me, which I
could not prevent."17
From the fact that the obnoxious Indian produced
several European articles which could not have been long
in his possession it seems quite likely that he was the
individual whom Vancouver's party met on the 2nd of
June, towards the head of Dean Channel, and who avoided
them by poling his canoe up a small creek at the mouth of
which Vancouver left some trinkets. He probably imagined the firing episode as soon as he had recovered from
his fright.18
17 P. 344, Mackenzie's Voyages.
18 See "A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World,'
etc., by Captain George Vancouver.    London 1801, vol. IV, pp. 12-13.
Page Eighteen ^TTT-
"From  this position a channel, of which the island we left appears to form
cheek, bears North by East."
Dean Channel
Showing the Peninsula north of Edward Point
Page Nineteen
v   • \   -- "We coasted along the land* at about West-South-West for six
miles, and met a canoe with two boys in it, who were dispatched to
summon the people on that part of the coast to join them. The
troublesome fellow now forced himself into my canoe, and pointed
out a narrow channel on the opposite shore, that led to his village,
and requested us to steer towards it, which I accordingly ordered.
His importunities now became very irksome, and he wanted to see
everything we had, particularly my instruments, concerning which he
must have received information from my young man. He asked for
my hat, my handkerchief, and in short, everything that he saw about
me. At the same time he frequently repeated the unpleasant intelligence that he had been shot at by people of my colour. At some
distance from the land a channel opened to us, at South-West by
West, and pointing that way, he made me understand that "Macubah"
came there with his large canoe. When we were in mid-channel, I
perceived some sheds or the remains of old buildings on the shore;
and as, from that circumstance I thought it probable that some Europeans might have been there I directed my steersman to make for
that spot.    The traverse is upwards of three miles North-West."19
" * Named by Vancouver King's Island."
There are two inlets on the opposite shore, Cascade
and Elcho. The latter would better correspond to the
description of a "narrow channel" especially as the
"troublesome fellow" said that it led to his village. There
was at that time a large village belonging to the Bella
Bellas at the head of Elcho Harbour, but there is no
account of anything of the kind in Cascade Inlet by Vancouver, who took observations at its head. He does
mention a village to the south of the point at the entrance
of Cascade Inlet,20 but this was probably the home of the
more peacefully inclined Indians who visited Mackenzie
just after his arrival and who said that "Macubah" had
come to their village in boats, which these people represented by imitating our manner of rowing."21
The "troublesome fellow," on the other hand, made
no mention of Vancouver having visited his village,
although he had a great deal to say of him in other respects,
facts which bear out the supposition that the village lay
at the head of Elcho Harbour, one of the few parts of this
portion of the coast which Vancouver did not visit.
19 See page 345, Mackenzie's Voyages.
20 See Vancouver's Voyage 1801. ed. vol.
21 See Mackenzie's Voyages, pp. 346-347.
Page Twenty
4, p. 15. Elcho Harbour is not named on Vancouver's chart,
or any subsequent one, and is somewhat imperfectly
indicated, so that Mackenzie had very good reason for
supposing that he had been opposite the mouth of Cascade, the only inlet hereabouts surveyed in full detail.
In order to "clear Vancouver's yard-arm" it may be
pointed out that an expedition to the head of Cascade
was particularly necessary as the Straits of De Fonte were
said to exist in the neighbourhood. Elcho, however,
obviously led nowhere, so that Vancouver would not have
been justified in wasting time in surveying it.
Finally there has to be taken into consideration the
fact that "the traverse is upwards of three miles North-
West," and that "At some distance from land a channel
opened. . . .South-West by West." A comparatively short
glimpse down Dean Channel may be obtained from midstream opposite Cascade Inlet, but the bearing is nothing
like South-West by West, whether Magnetic or Astronomic. Opposite Elcho, on the other hand, a clear view
at the bearing mentioned may be had for many miles
down Dean Channel, where Vancouver came on the 31st
of May, having left his ship in Restoration Bay.
Furthermore, as this is the only place reasonably
near the latitude given by the observations where a traverse of three miles can be obtained in a north-westerly
direction, we may feel justified in assuming that Mackenzie
approached the mouth of Elcho Harbour, and not Cascade
Inlet, from the south-east. The only evidence which
does not support this is the fact that the distance "coasted
along the land" from Edward Point is given as six miles.
In view of the windings of the channel and of the somewhat
harassing conditions at the time, an erroneous estimate of
the length of this course would be quite pardonable.
Possibly Mackenzie omitted to book his last course at the
point where the "troublesome fellow" forced himself into
the canoe.
Elcho Harbour is, however, clearly indicated by all
other evidence, including Mackenzie's description of his
final camp, three miles to the North-East, a matter which
is dealt with later on.
The direction of the shore line for some distance to
the south of Elcho Harbour does not permit a clear view
Page Twenty-one The Ancient Village Site, Now Covered by Alder, and The Rock on the South
Side, to the Left
to the south, and as Mackenzie used the natural horizon
for his latitude observation at noon, it is apparently
necessary to confine our search to the north shore.
"We landed, and found the ruins of a village, in a situation calculated for defence. The place itself was overgrown with weeds and in
the centre of the houses there was a temple, of the same form and construction as that which I described at the large village. We were
soon followed by ten canoes, each of which contained from three to six
men. They informed us that we were expected at the village, where
we should see many of them. From their general deportment I was
very apprehensive that some hostile design was meditated against us,
and for the first time I acknowledged my apprehensions to my people.
I accordingly desired them to be very much upon their guard, and to be
prepared if any violence was offered to defend themselves to the
View OF The Rock From the South, Shewing the Canoe Landing
22 See pp. 345-346, Mackenzie's Voyages.
Page Twenty-two We had no sooner landed, than we took possession of a rock,
where there was not space for more than twice our number, and which
admitted of our defending ourselves with advantage, in case we should
be attacked. The people in the three first canoes were the most
troublesome, but, after doing their utmost to irritate us, they went
The search now becomes a matter of detail. The
first thing is to look for a village site, which can usually be
recognized by the nature of the vegetation. A little to
the north of Elcho Harbour a bright green patch of alder
catches the eye at once. Examination shews that this
was once the site of a village "in a situation calculated for
defence." There is a commanding view, the nature of
the country behind offers excellent protection, while the
canoe landings at each end afford a means of escape to
the north or south by way of Dean Channel, or towards
the west by way of Elcho Harbour. On the southern
canoe landing are a couple of petroglyphs, carved on
boulders a little below high water mark. The presence of
the petroglyphs apparently tends to confirm the supposition
that the place is an old village site. One of them, which
is in a remarkably fine state of preservation, somehow
seems to convey the warning that "Trespassers will be
Prosecuted." Dr. C. F. Newcombe, who has very kindly
examined the photograph, points out that the object in its
lower right hand corner is a "copper," 24 and that parts of
the design bear a strong resemblance to others on the
coast which have been interpreted as the "Cannibal
Spirit,"26 a personage whose name I omit as special type
is apparently necessary to give an idea of its sound.
To the south of the village site is an isolated rock
which answers to Mackenzie's description. Its sides are
nearly vertical for the greater part and overhang on the
inland side,  while in other places  they have been built
23 See page 346, Mackenzie's Voyages.
24 A part of the ceremonial dress of certain chiefs. These coppers were originally
beaten from the native copper, but after the advent of the traders sheets of the manufactured article were used. They represented wealth and social standing and were
frequently engraved with a crest of the chief who owned them. The top of the copper
was in the form of a bow, the sides straight and sloping towards each other for a distance, the remainder being parallel. The bottom was straight. The largest coppers
were about three feet in length. For further particulars see "The Social Organization
and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians," by Franz Boas, Washington, 1897,
p. 353.
26 Amongst the Kwakiutl Indians of whom the Bella Bellas are a tribe the cannibal
spirit is known as BaxbakualanuXsiwae. For a full account of this spirit and the
cannibal dances, see Boas " Social Organization and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl
Indians," III, p. 437, etc. "Dr. C. F. Newcombe was a recognized authority upon the
history of the Northwest Coast and upon the manners and customs of its Indians. He
died on 19th October, 1924."
Page Twenty-three The Cannibal Spirit
with stones or timber. The top of the rock is covered
with a deep layer of the black soil usually found on old
village sites and known as Indian mould. I could find
no trace of the clam shells which are usually to be found
in the mould, but Mr. White of Bella Coola, who is well
acquainted with this part of the coast, was of the opinion
that the total absence of clams from the neighbourhood
would account for the lack of shells. The surface of the
mould presents a series of terraces where the gently sloping
summit has evidently been carefully levelled for the construction of buildings. From these signs, and from the
built up nature of the sides, it would appear that the rock
once formed a defence point such as is usually found in
the vicinity of the older Indian villages on this part of the
coast. The view to the south is clear for some miles, so
that an altitude of the sun at noon could be obtained
without any trouble. Finally, a large portion of the
south-east face, specially mentioned by Mackenzie, is
smooth, flat and almost vertical, and having a good
painting surface, presents the most suitable place Mackenzie could have found in the neighbourhood for his famous
Page Twenty-four .   ........
I now mixed up some vermilion in melted grease, and inscribed, in large characters, on the South East face of the rock on which we had slept last night, this brief
"Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July,   one
thousand seven hundred and ninety-three."
I will now quote an incident of Mackenzie's return
voyage which throws additional light on the subject:
"As I thought that we were too near the village, I consented to
leave this place, and accordingly proceeded North-East three miles,
when we landed on a point, in a small cove, where we should not be
readily seen, and could not be attacked except in our front."26
The words "could not be attacked except in our front"
invite comparison with The Rock and the abandoned village
site, both of which Mackenzie had already described as "well
suited for defence." They were well suited for defence
against attacks from the main channels to the North or
South but not against one from the "troublesome fellow's"
village in Elcho Harbour; and the fact that canoes from
this direction could creep up unseen to within a few hundred
feet of The Rock explains Mackenzie's desire to move
further from the village to a place where "we could not be
attacked except in our front."
"The two canoes which we had left at our last station, followed
us hither, and when they were preparing to depart, our young chief
embarked with them. I was determined, however, to prevent his
escape, and compelled him, by actual force, to come on shore, for I
thought it much better to incur his displeasure than to suffer him to
expose himself to any untoward accident among strangers, or to
return to his father before us. The man in the canoe made signs for
him to go over the hill, and that they would take him on board at the
other side of it."27
26 See page 349. Mackenzie's Voyages.
27 See page 350, Mackenzie's Voyages.
Page Twenty-five View of Cape Mackay From Mackenzie's Rock
The words "Final Camp" mark the assumed position of the "Point in a Smal
Cove," where the young chief attempted to escape.
"The men in the canoe made signs for him to go over the hill, and that they
would take him on board at the other side of it."
The "hill" is apparently Cape Mackay. The "other side" would be in Cascade
Inlet, the position of which is marked by clouds in the photograph.
Page Twenty-six Three miles north-east of the rock is a point in a small
bay. A narrow peninsula dividing this from Cascade
Inlet corresponds exactly to the hill over which the young
man wished to escape. At no other spot along the coast
could I find any place which would agree with this
description, so that the peninsula, which I have named
Cape Mackay, may be considered as providing additional
evidence as to the position of Mackenzie's rock.
Page Twenty-seven
MMmMmuimmmmmmmsmmmmm APPENDIX
In analyzing the results of Mackenzie's observations it is necessary
to go at some length into the question of longitude in order to see
whether the discrepancy between the results of his observations and
the true position affects his reputation as an observer, and whether his
latitude observations should, in consequence, be rejected.
In order to get a good idea of the matter it may be as well to
discuss the general subject of longitude which, for centuries previous
to Mackenzie's time, had been the chief bugbear of navigators and
The history of the discovery of America gives a very good idea
of the difficulties which arose from lack of accurate data on the subject.
Columbus apparently thought at first that Cuba was Japan, and until
the time of his death, after his third voyage to the New World, imagined
that the mainland of the continent was part of Indo-China, and a
trace of this belief still lingers in the name of the West Indies, and in
the word Indian, as applied to the aborigines of this continent.
Astronomical determinations of longitude depend on a comparison
between local time and the time at the meridian of reference, which in
this case was Greenwich. Local time, which was obtained by a comparatively easy observation on the sun or a star, presented very little
difficulty to Mackenzie; but the correct determination of Greenwich
time was in those days a very different matter, presenting a problem
for the satisfactory solution of which the British Government had, in
1714, offered a reward of £20,000. The first instalment of this prize
was paid in 1765 to a certain John Harrison, who submitted to the
Board of Longitude a chronometer which, after being tested on certain
trial voyages, was retained in England as a model. It is a matter of
local interest to note that the first and third copies of this famous
time-piece were used by Captain Cook on his third voyage, and afterwards by Vancouver, and so presumably helped in the first published
position of the shores of British Columbia, as well as in the more
detailed chart work later on.
It can be seen then that the satisfactory solution of the longitude
problem, even by ships at sea, was a comparatively recent matter.
Greenwich time could not, however, be carried for any great length of
time by means of chronometers, even when a large number were
transported on board ship under the most favourable conditions.
The timepieces, however carefully they may be rated and compared,
will eventually fail to give the true Greenwich time, and this must be
obtained by some other method.    Before  the days of  telegraph   or
Page Twenty-eight wireless this could best be done by an observation for local time at some
place the longitude of which was known. Failing such a place of
known longitude the error of the chronometer on Greenwich time had
to be obtained by means of one of the "absolute" methods of obtaining
longitude. These methods, generally speaking, may be divided into
two classes, the simpler of which consists of simply noting the time of
certain celestial phenomena, the Greenwich time of which has already
been calculated, such as, for example, the eclipse of one of Jupiter's
satellites. Methods of the other class include the various kinds of
observation on the moon from which the Greenwich time can be
computed by a variety of methods, all more or less laborious. Of the
latter class the English navigators almost invariably used the method
of "lunar distances," while the Spanish occasionally observed the
occultation of a star by the moon or even a lunar eclipse.
Embarrassed as he was by prospects of attack by hostile Indians,
Mackenzie was fortunate in being able to use the former method and
succeeded in observing eclipses of two of Jupiter's satellites. This
observation, however, while the simplest of the absolute methods and
one in common use even for scientific purposes a few years before
Mackenzie's time, cannot be depended upon to give very accurate
results, as the eclipses are not instantaneous and the exact time of
the moments of immersion and emersion, or disappearance and reappearance, of the satellites is difficult to determine. Raper's "Navigation"
states that the observation is only to be considered complete -when both
immersion and emersion of the same satellite are observed on the same
evening under the same circumstances. Mackenzie had a telescope
which was very probably not up to the standard deemed necessary by
Raper, who specified a magnifying power of at least 40 diameters for
satisfactory work.28
In comparing the results of Mackenzie's necessarily crude method
with those obtained by skilled observers carrying the best equipment
that England could produce, we find that Vancouver's determination
of the longitude of Nootka differed from that of Cook by 20 minutes of
If another case be examined in detail it is found that Vancouver,
in fixing the longitude of Monterey, used 199 sets of lunar distances,
of six observations each. The 199 sets are divided into 21 groups of
sets and the average error of each group, compared with the mean
result, is \2}/-i . Of these 21 groups of sets, one is 28' 40" in error and
another 27' 11", so that certain individual sets are probably well over
30 minutes, or 21  miles, in error.
As the lunar distance was considered to be a more accurate method
than the eclipse of a satellite, even when the latter was observed under
the most favourable conditions; and as Mackenzie's determination,
under difficult circumstances, and by the less accurate method, was
incomplete, and possibly obtained by means of a telescope of insufficient
power, it may be considered that the error of approximately 40 minutes
of arc was not excessive.
28 In a note in "Les Bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest," by L. R. Masson,
Quebec, 1889, vol. I, p. 40, it is stated that "Sir A. Mackenzie's sextant and chronometer are still preserved in the family at Terrebonne." And in a letter on the same
page written by Mackenzie from the Forks Peace River 10 January 1793, he asks his
cousin Roderick to "send me the sextant with all the quicksilver you have, as I have
lost all mine." It is presumed that the quicksilver was required for the artificial
Page Twenty-nine I should, perhaps, mention that Mackenzie omitted to wind his
watch, and so could not carry Greenwich time from his last observing
place. This fact would not affect the necessity for a final observation
as it would have been impossible, in view of the conditions under which
MacKenzie was travelling, to carry a satisfactory determination so
far with a single timepiece. The geographical result of the observation
was most valuable as Mackenzie was able to say with certainty that
he had reached the shores charted by Vancouver and not one of the
inland seas which had appeared on the map for centuries, and which
Meares had reported only three or four years before.
My main object in discussing the longitude in detail is to shew
that the apparent inaccuracy of the result is due to the circumstances
and to the nature of the observation, and that it casts no reflection
on Mackenzie's reliability or steadiness as an observer.
The frame surronded by Symbolizing Our Northern Climate,
a border of pine cones and
pine needles.
Surmounted by a Crown. The   King   and   the   British
" Canada.
Below the Crown, maple
On either side surrounding circular relief Rose,
Thistle, Shamrock, Lily and
Circular relief on the
left, the arrival of Jacques
Circular relief on the right
in the foreground a harbour
with elevator, docks, shipping, etc., at right of panel, a
city and in the background,
a well-developed agricultural country.
At the bottom, on either
side, a shield—on the shield
to the left the first arms
used in Canada (the fleur
de lis & cross). On the
shield to the right, the new
arms of Canada.
Principal  races   from  which
Canadians are descended.
The beginning of Canadian
Development of Canada commercially, industrially and
Canada as a Colony and
Canada as one of the self-
governing nations of the
British Commonwealth.
Page Thirty-one PRINTED  AT


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