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Mackenzie of Canada. The life and adventures of Alexander Mackenzie, discoverer Wade, Mark Sweeten, 1858-1929 1927

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John Bartholomew Ir Son, Ltd., Edin.
 The University of British Columbia Library
 Mackenzie  of Canada
The Life and Adventures of
Alexander Mackenzie, Discoverer
    Mackenzie of Canada
The Life and Adventures of
Alexander Mackenzie, Discoverer
M. S. WADE, M.D.
William Blackwood & Sons Ltd.
Edinburgh and London
Printed in Great Britain
All Rights reserved
I.  EARLY EXPLORERS  AND FUR-TRADERS             .           . I
V.  IN WINTER QUARTERS  ON PEACE RIVER         .           . 95
VI.  FROM FORKS FORT TO FRASER RIVER   .           .           . Ill
VII.  FROM THE FRASER TO THE PACIFIC       .           .           . I35
VIII.  THE RETURN TO FORT CHIPEWYAN        .           .           . 215
X. THE  RETURN TO SCOTLAND            .... 245
NOTES  289
INDEX  323
Facing p.
Front Board
Notwithstanding the romantic story of his life, and the
tremendous importance of his achievements as a discoverer
and explorer, to say nothing of his generosity and philanthropy as the Laird of Avoch, it is remarkable that no
book has hitherto been published giving an account of
the life and work of Sir Alexander Mackenzie. That
omission this volume is intended to supply. From time
to time accounts have been published of his activities,
but most of these have been grossly inaccurate, more
especially in respect to the early years of his life, while of
his closing years practically nothing has been said.
Thanks to the courtesy of Sir Alexander's descendants,
it has been possible to give authoritative information about
those periods, culled from family records and other sources.
Among those who have been generously helpful in furthering my inquiries, I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness
to Mr John Morrison of Stornoway; Rev. Edwin J. Brechin,
O.B.E., of Avoch ; Sir Alexander's grand-daughter, Mrs
Heald (Alexandra Isabel Mackenzie); and his niece, Miss
Margaret Dowie Kirkland, whose wonderful memory and
knowledge of the Mackenzie family affairs are undimmed,
notwithstanding her advanced age of ninety-four years.
She was a frequent inmate of the Mackenzie home, both
in London and at Avoch, and had unequalled opportunities of acquiring full information about her distinguished
Kamloops, British Columbia,
Christmas 1926.
It is somewhat remarkable that the exploits of Alexander
Mackenzie have not been more highly extolled and given
wider publicity. For some inexplicable reason the man
and his achievements appear to have been overlooked or
forgotten save by a few historians. One turns in vain
to many sources commonly resorted to for information
concerning him. Many encyclopedias do not even mention his name; one such work of reference, allegedly a
reliable repository of knowledge, devotes about thirty
lines to him, and in that limited space succeeds in being
inaccurate. Some Canadian school histories do not refer
to him at all, an omission that is without excuse.
There are not wanting those who do not hesitate to
claim for others the honour that rightly belongs to Mackenzie. As an instance, John Fiske, the American historian and philosopher, in his - The Discovery of America,'
published in 1892, states that the North American continent was first crossed by Lewis and Clark in 1805,
totally ignoring the fact that Mackenzie anticipated that
expedition by twelve years.
As the first civilised human being to descend the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean, and whose eyes first
rested upon that expanse of sea stretching from Icy Cape
to Coronation Gulf; the first to give the world an inkling
of the existence of the Yukon River; the first to discover,
and descend for a considerable distance, the Fraser River,
and the first to reach the Pacific Ocean overland north of
Mexico, Mackenzie merits wider recognition than has
been given him.
In dealing with the subject of the man and his discoveries, the writer has divided it into several sections.
The first of these gives a brief review of the early land
explorations and the circumstances leading to the formation of the North-West Company, with which concern
Mackenzie was intimately associated for many years.
The second section treats of his entrance into the fur
trade, while the succeeding divisions are devoted to his
explorations and the closing years of his life.
At the end of the narrative a list of authorities consulted
is given.
 Mackenzie of Canada.
From the time that the hardy Norse navigators from
Iceland, the Cabots, Columbus, Vespucius, Drake, Cartier,
and Hudson from England, France, and Spain, descended upon the coasts of North America, down to the
present era, this continent has attracted the attention
of a continuous stream of explorers by both land and
sea. Great as were the exploits of the early navigators,
the hazardous enterprises of the dauntless adventurers
who plunged into the unknown wilderness by land
achieved that which was no less great.
In the roster of those explorers by land occur the names,
among others, of Hennepin, Joliet, Marquette, La Salle,
Verendrye, Radisson, Grosseillier, Hearne, Kelsey, Finlay, Simon Fraser, David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie, Franklin, Richardson, Back, Dease, Thomas
Simpson, Campbell, Tyrrell. The story of their achievements is a glorious chapter in the history of North
America, and more especially of that broad domain
extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from
the international boundary line with the United States
to the Polar regions, the Dominion of Canada.
The motives that actuated these men varied.    Some
of the explorers, Hennepin, La Salle, Louis Joliet, Jacques
Marquette, members of the Society of Jesus, sought to
extend the benefits of Christianity to virgin fields. Their
zeal in the cause of religion did not prevent them from
observing the fertility of the country through which
their travels led them, or from taking note of the natural
resources of the land, of the character of its native
population, of the vastness of its forests, the immensity
of its plains, and the grandeur of its rivers. Others
sought to reap a rich material reward by trading with
the aborigines for furs, risking their lives in penetrating
unknown regions where dwelt people of strange customs.
Still others were moved by a desire to add to the prestige
of their race by priority of discovery, and by adding to
the constantly increasing fund of human knowledge.
To all these men, the mysteries of the unknown possessed an irresistible charm. The daily encountering
and surmounting of difficulties, journeying under trying
conditions that tested alike their endurance and courage,
battling with the elements, with the strong currents of
rapid, rock-strewn streams, overcoming the opposition
of hostile natives, served but to whet their appetite for
further adventure. In these enterprises the first in the
field were the French, who, directing their ventures
from the towns of New France, added laurels to the
name of their homeland.   After them came the British.
From the natives and other sources the early explorers
heard of the existence of a great western sea, and in the
minds of many of them, in the midst of their commercial
avocation, there ever lurked a hope that their wanderings
would conduct them to that goal of their dreams. One
of tnem was Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la
Verendrye. Prior to his adventuring, Du Luth, La Noue,
and Charlevoix had been commissioned to learn what
they could concerning possible overland routes to that
western sea, the Pacific Ocean. Accompanied by his
sons,  Verendrye made his wav far to the west, dis-
covered the Red River of the North, and established
Fort Rouge at the mouth of the Assiniboine River—
the site of the present city of Winnipeg. Pressing still
farther west, he established Fort la Reine (Portage la
Prairie), and, with that as his base, essayed to reach
the Pacific. Obstacles interfered with the carrying
out of his plans, but the work he had begun was continued by two of his sons, who reached the headwaters
of the Missouri River in Wyoming, and gazed upon the
barrier of the Rocky Mountains. Insurmountable difficulties necessitated the abandonment of their project,
nor was the attempt renewed by them. It was left for
another explorer, a young Scotsman, one Alexander
Mackenzie, to accomplish that which they had failed to
achieve, to scale the ramparts of the great mountain
barriers and feast his eyes upon the waters of the mighty
western sea.
Prior to the explorations of the Jesuit Fathers, La
Salle, Marquette, Joliet, and Hennepin, and long before
the Verendryes penetrated the unknown far west, the
great inland sea, discovered in 1610 by Henry Hudson,
the English sea captain, and named after him Hudson's
Bay, was entered by several British navigators. One
of these, Captain Gillam, entered that bay in 1668, with
a pioneer expedition to engage in fur-trading on behalf
of Prince Rupert and a number of influential Londoners.
Between the date of Hudson's discovery of the bay
that bears his name, and the trading expedition under
Gillam, Captain Button (afterwards knighted), Captain
Luke Foxe of London, and Thomas James of Bristol
visited it. Captain Button wintered at the mouth of
the Nelson River and named it Port Nelson, and there
subsequently the Hudson's Bay Company established
York Factory.
Out of Gillam's expedition arose that company of
adventurers of England, trading into Hudson's Bay,
known as the Hudson's Bay Company, which obtained
a Royal Charter from King Charles the Second in 1670,
and acting on that authority, established trading posts
at various points along the shores of Hudson's Bay.
Administrative powers were vested in a local Governor
whose authority was paramount. One, Governor Sar-
geant, was urged in letters he received from the Governor and Council in England to send men into the interior " to draw down the Indians by fair and gentle
means to trade with us." Little was done to further
these ends, or in the way of western exploration, during
the earlier years of their occupancy of the country, such
activities being restricted, in the main, to loca|||pfe'':
more or less tributary to the bay. It appeared, indeed,
to be the general policy of those in charge of the trading
posts to cling closely to them.
This policy of masterly passivity was first broken by
a mere youth of barely eighteen years of age, who volunteered to journey to Churchill River and fix upon a
site for a new fort. One report of this expedition of
Henry Kelsey states that in 1688 Governor George
Geyer was instructed to send him, " because we are
informed that he is a very active lad, delighting much
in the Indians' company, and being never better pleased
than when he is travelling amongst them." Two years
later Kelsey undertook a journey in the country of the
Assiniboine, and in 1691 he is credited with having
accompanied the Indians on a journey which he estimated
at four hundred miles or more, penetrating as far as
the haunts of the buffalo and the grizzly bear. On those
journeys he took possession of the country in the name
of the Hudson's Bay Company with all the assurance
of the period, and at the same time managed to secure
the goodwill and trade of the natives, one of whose women
he married after the fashion of the country, and took
her back to York Factory with him. With these expeditions the activities of the Company in the way of
exploration seem to have become exhausted for the time
being. There is no record of any other officer or employee of the Company engaging in similar journeyings
until many years later. Such of the Indians that wished
to obtain the white man's goods in exchange for furs,
took them to the forts to trade, and the traders appear
to have rested content with that arrangement. It saved
them trouble and the Company expense. But such
conditions could not long continue une||$ilenged.
The Hudson's Bay Company were not the only ones
engaged in the fur trade. The French had engaged in
it in New France for many years, and gradually the
French traders extended their field of operations. Forcing their way up torrential streams and through dense
forests, traversing in frail craft the wind-swept inland
seas, they penetrated the wilderness towards the setting
sun. First they made their way to the shores of the
Great Lakes, but their eagerness led them still farther
afield; there was always a still unknown west to be
explored and exploited, inviting, alluring. Gradually
the mysterious unknown was opened to the gaze of the
intrepid adventurous spirits who lifted the veil, and
where none but the natives and wild animals had
trod, the feet of white men wandered. Far beyond the
Great Lakes lay the vast territory Kelsey had visited,
and which remained a terra incognita to the white trader
until the Verendryes, in 1713, aflame with the fire of zeal
in the cause of exploration, established Fort St Charles
on the west shore of the Lake of the Woods as a base
for their future operations.
In 1756 the French had a chain of forts extending
from Montreal far to the west. Their activities were
ubiquitous. St Denis Bouremont, Dutisme, the Mallets,
Le Gardeur de St Pierre, De la Corne, and others had
explored the western country. Trading posts were found
at Presq'ile, Le Boeuf, Venango, and Du Quesne, commanding the navigation of the Ohio River. They had
posts on the Illinois, Wabash, St Joseph's, and Wisconsin
Rivers. French settlements existed at New Orleans
and other points on the Mississippi. Posts had been
established at several places on the Red River, as well
as on the Arkansas, Kansas, and Osage Rivers; at
Prairies du Chien and Lake Pepin in Wisconsin. Bougainville, writing two years before the British conquest of
Canada, said : " The Post of the Western Sea is the most
advanced towards the north ; it is situated among many
Indian tribes with whom we trade, and who have intercourse with the English towards Hudson Bay. We
have there several forts built of stockades, trusted generally to the care of one or two officers, seven or eight
soldiers, and eighty engages Canadiens. We can push
farther the discoveries we have made in that country,
and communicate even with California. The Post of
the Mer de l'Ouest includes the forts of St Pierre, St
Charles, Dauphin, Poskoiac, and Des Prairies (De la
Jonquiere), all of which are built with palisades that
can give protection only against the Indians."
The French traders made great inroads in the trade
of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Indians found
it more convenient to have the goods they desired brought
almost to their doors, instead of carrying their furs many
hundreds of miles to the Company's forts. To counteract this, the Company despatched Anthony Hendry in
1754 to the Saskatchewan district, his mission being
to endeavour to divert the trade in furs from the French
traders to the Hudson's Bay Company. He visited
the French post established by De la Corne, and, pushing
farther on, wintered among the Blackfeet. Hendry
formed a very high opinion of the French traders, who
had succeeded in obtaining a marked influence over
the natives, and who had acquired several tribal languages.
After the cession of New France to England in 1763,
the fur trade suffered a period of comparative inactivity
on the part of the independent traders, to the corresponding advantage of the Hudson's Bay Company, to whom
the Indians were then obliged to have recourse in order
to satisfy the wants and habits acquired from their
intercourse with the whites. It was not for several
years that mercantile adventurers again essayed to
operate. There were many discouraging influences that
tended to retard an early resumption of activity—the
extreme length of the journey necessary to reach the
confines of the territory where trading could be engaged
in advantageously, the great expense attendant upon
the long and tedious transportation of supplies, and
the risk of attacks by hostile Indians adversely influenced
against the English by the French, being predominant
among them. In 1766 a resumption of the trade was
attempted. Those who engaged in the venture, however,
remained satisfied to go the length of the Kaministiquia
River, about thirty miles eastward of La Grande Portage,
where the French had established an important post
at the head of Lake Superior.
Encouraged by the success of the venture, increased
numbers essayed the hazard. One of these was a Thomas
Curry, who was so imbued with the spirit of daring and
adventure that he determined to extend his journey
to the farthest limit of French penetration to the west.
With guides and interpreters he set out in 1770, and
in due season reached Fort Bourbon, one of the French
posts, at the west end of Cedar Lake on the Saskatchewan
River, and almost directly north of Lake Winnipegosis,
securing so many furs that the proceeds amounted to
a satisfactory competence.
James Finlay was another trader who made the Saskatchewan his field of operations. Burpee suggests that
he and Curry were together, but whether they travelled
in company or not they were undoubtedly among the
first traders to enter that region. Finlay is said to have
been on the Saskatchewan in 1767. In 1771 he ascended
the river and reached Nipawee, or Fort Lacorne, the
same post of De la Corne visited by the Hudson's Bay
Company officer, Hendry, in 1754-55. He, too, was
successful in his operations, and returned to Montreal
greatly enriched.
Governor Norton of Fort Prince of Wales, at the
mouth of Churchill River on Hudson's Bay, despatched
Samuel Hearne in 1769 to discover a river where copper
abounded, to discover whether a north-west passage
existed from Hudson's Bay to the western sea, and to
establish amicable relations with the natives encountered
on his explorations. Twice his expedition had to return
to the fort, but the third attempt was crowned with
success. Leaving Fort Prince of Wales on 7th December
1770 with sleds and dogs, Hearne set forth over the
snow in the depths of a hyperborean winter on his hazardous quest, discovered Coppermine River, which he
followed to its mouth, emptying into the Arctic Ocean,
in June 1771, and began his return journey the ioSxsss^^y
month. Before leaving the Coppermine, he erected a
cairn and took possession of the country for the Company.
Extending his travels to Athabasca Lake, he did not return
to Fort Prince of Wales until 30th June 1772.
At this date began that intense rivalry between the
Hudson's Bay Company and the independent traders
that culminated in the ultimate amalgamation of the
opposing interests, but not until much blood had been
needlessly shed. Among those who took part in the
fur trade were a number of merchants from Montreal.
Two of these, Thomas and Joseph Frobisher, brothers,
determined to secure for themselves some of the trade
that had for years steadily flowed to the Hudson's Bay
posts, by intercepting the Indians en route. To this
end they built a trading post on Sturgeon Lake (near
the former Fort Poskoiac) on the Saskatchewan River.
The site was admirably suited to the purpose in view.
Near it must pass all the current of traffic from the
interior intended to reach Fort Prince of Wales by way
of Churchill River,  or by the Nelson River to York
Factory. This bold stroke of strategy did not long
escape the knowledge of the Hudson's Bay Company.
A counter-stroke was decided upon, and Samuel Hearne
was the man selected to put it into effect. Two years
after the Frobishers established their fort on Sturgeon
Lake, Hearne built a rival establishment on Pine Island
Lake, the western arm of Sturgeon Lake, within a few
hundred yards of his competitors.
Little did these opposing interests dream what fateful
events hung upon the strenuous competition thus set
afoot. The struggle then begun endured for half a
century, stirring the worst passions of hundreds of men,
putting in motion uncontrollable powers of evil, setting
men of the same race at each other's throats. But it
did more than that. It drove the independent traders
to seek mutual protection, in co-operating for the common interest and benefit, against a common and powerful competitor. A number of these traders pooled their
interests and became more aggressive. The Frobishers,
Alexander Henry, Cadot, and Pond met at Sturgeon
Lake and decided upon a plan of campaign. Cadot
went up the Saskatchewan, Pond proceeded to Isle a la
Crosse and the Athabasca district, and the Frobishers
and Henry, with a large supply of goods, hurried to
Churchill River to intercept the northern Indians, and
to divert their trade from the Hudson's Bay posts.
This first experiment in co-operation proved satisfactory, the outcome indicating a means whereby the
independent traders might carry on their business at
less expense and greater profit. There had hitherto
been not only extremely keen rivalry between them,
but in some instances rascality of the most depraved
type was practised. Each trader strove to get the advantage of his competitors, and the means adopted too
often being far from irreproachable, the effect upon the
Indians was far from salutary. The traders quickly
realised the  benefits  to  be  obtained  from  concerted
action, and out of the initial experiences was evolved
that greatest of all fur-trading enterprises, the North-
West Conroany, an organisation whose energy, initiative,
and progressive policy far transcended anything attempted
by the older and more conservative Hudson's Bay
Company. It came into existence at Montreal in the
winter of 1783-84, the management of its affairs being
entrusted to Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher and Simon
The North-West Company, an association of business
men bonded together to carry on the fur trade, unconnected with any of the other ventures in which they
might be interested individually, consisted of twenty
shares divided unequally among the several partners or
associates, who were divided into two classes: those
who remained in Montreal and managed the business
of the company and were styled agents ; and proprietors,
or wintering partners, who wintered among the Indians
and were concerned, along with their assistants, in the
actual trading for the furs. The agents provided the
capital, or credit, for the purchase in England of the
goods required for the business, stored them at their
own expense in Montreal until they were shipped to
Grande Portage, whence they were distributed to the
various posts under the control of the wintering partners.
The agents saw to the packing and despatch of the goods,
and paid all incidental charges in that connection. Those
who from long service and influence held double shares
could retire from the concern whenever they pleased,
retain one share and nominate some subordinate in
the service to receive the other, although seniority and
merit were generally given prior consideration. The
subordinates, clerks, engaged for five or seven years,
and their hope in life was to attain the rank of partner
and participate in the profits. Only those in the service
could become partners, except with the consent of the
other partners.    This fair-dealing with the young men
who entered the service of the company created a spirit
of emulation that made for the welfare of the company
and all in it, and offered a substantial reward for faithful
In 1768 the capital involved represented a sum of
forty thousand pounds, but by 1799 it had increased to
more than three times that amount, yielding handsome
profits which exceeded those of any other enterprise in
With the exception of alcoholic liquors and provisions,
all the goods obtained for this trade were purchased in
England, and thus directly encouraged British industries.
The money so invested did not bring any direct return
for four years after the order was sent in. For example-,
an order sent to England from Montreal in 1796 saw the
goods delivered in 1797. Repacked and forwarded by
canoe, they were not in the hands of the traders in the
Indian country until 1798, to be exchanged for furs that
winter. The furs so obtained reached Montreal in 1799,
were sent to London, where they were sold and paid for
in 1800.
As affording an idea of the activities of this vigorous
company of traders; in 1798 the number of furs obtained
in trade included 116,000 beaver skins, 32,000 marten,
17,000 musquash, 6000 lynx, 4600 otter, 4000 kitt fox,
3800 wolf, 2700 deer, 2100 bear, and over 3000 furs of
other animals. Part of these were sent through the
United States to Canton, a leading fur market at that
period, the others being forwarded to England. The
reason given for forwarding that portion of the season's
production vid the United States is accounted for by
Mackenzie as owing to the difficulty of getting home
the produce procured in return for the furs from China
in the East India Company's ships, together with duty
payable, and the various restrictions of that company,
whereas " from America there are no impediments;
they get immediately to market, and the produce of them
is brought back, and perhaps sold in the course of twelve
months. From such advantages the furs of Canada
will, no doubt, find their way to China by America,
which would not be the case if British subjects had the
same privileges that are allowed to foreigners, as London
would then be found the best and safest market."
The North-West Company employed a large number
of men—120 clerks and interpreters, 1120 canoe-men,
and 35 guides. Three hundred and fifty canoe-men,
5 clerks, and 18 guides were engaged during the summer
in conveying goods between Montreal and Grande Portage,
and to them the term Porkeaters, or Goers and Comers,
was applied. Leaving Lachine in May, the fleet of canoes,
heavily laden so that only six inches of freeboard showed
above the water, ascended the Ottawa River, and by
following an intricate course through diverse waterways,
the making of several portages, reached Lake Huron.
Passing the Island of St Joseph and the Sault Ste. Marie,
Lake Superior was entered, and near the head of the lake,
on a pleasant bay, they arrived at their destination,
Grande Portage, where stood the estabfishment or fort
of the company. " The bottom of the bay," writes
Mackenzie, " which forms an amphitheatre, is cleared
of wood and inclosed, and on the left corner of it, beneath
an hill three or four hundred feet in height, and crowned
by others of a still greater altitude, is the fort, picketed
in with cedar palisadoes, and inclosing houses built with
wood and covered with shingles. They are calculated
for every convenience of trade, as well as to accommodate
the proprietors and clerks during their short residence
there."   Few traces of the fort now remain.
The portage itself, a fairly well-made road, wide enough
for the passage of sleighs drawn by horses or oxen in the
winter season when the soft marshy ground was frozen
hard, was some ten miles in length to avoid the falls on
Pigeon River. At other seasons the packages of goods
had to be carried over the portage by the men.
From the west and north came the " Northmen,"
clerks, traders, and canoe-men, with furs from the distant
posts. The men upon arrival were regaled with food and
drink and tobacco. In 1783 five hundred men might be
found there at one time. A decade later sometimes as
many as twelve hundred would be assembled there,
and as drinking was a habit indulged in by many of them,
and nsually attended with much singing and dancing
and occasionally fighting, the fort presented a lively
" The mode of living at the Grande Portage is as
follows," says Mackenzie. "The proprietors, clerks,
guides, and interpreters mess together to the number
sometimes of an hundred, at several tables in one large
hall, the provision consisting of bread, salt pork, beef,
hams, fish and venison, butter peas, Indian corn, potatoes,
tea, spirits, wine, &c, and plenty of milk, for which
purpose several milch cows were constantly kept. The
mechanics have rations of such provision, but the canoe-
men, both from the North and from Montreal, have no
other allowance here or on the voyage than Indian corn
and melted fat." The latter preparation was hominy
boiled, and to which melted fat was added, the dish
resembling a thick pudding.
At a later date, when the North-West Company moved
their great distributing centre to Kaministiquia, naming
it Fort William (after William M'Gillivray, one of the
principal shareholders or partners), a considerable village
grew up alongside the post. There, as at Grande Portage,
the annual meeting of partners was held, the wintering
partners coming in from the outlying districts, as far
away as Fort Chipewyan, and two or three of the " agents "
journeying from Montreal, with all its comforts, for the
purpose. The business of the past year was discussed,
and plans laid for the coming season. " Here, in an
immense wooden building, was the great council hall,
as also the banqueting chamber, decorated with Indian
arms and accoutrements and the trophies of the fur
trade," says Washington Irving in ' Astoria.' " The house
swarmed at this time with traders and voyageurs, some
from Montreal bound to the interior posts, some from
the interior posts bound to Montreal. The councils
were held in great state, for every member felt as if
sitting in parliament, and every retainer and dependant
looked up to the assemblage with awe, as to the house
of lords. There was a vast deal of solemn deliberation
and hard Scottish reasoning, with an occasional swell
of pompous declamation.
" These grave and weighty councils were alternated
by huge feasts and revels, like some of the feasts described in Highland castles. The tables in the great
banqueting-room groaned under the weight of game
of all kinds ; of venison from the woods, and fish from the
lakes, with hunters' delicacies such as buffaloes' tongues
and beavers' tails; and various luxuries from Montreal,
all served up by experienced cooks brought for the purpose. There was no stint of generous wine, for it was a
hard-drinking period, a time of loyal toasts, of bacchanalian songs, and brimming bumpers.
" While the chiefs thus revelled in hall, and made
the rafters resound with biirsts of loyalty and old Scottish
songs, chanted in voices cracked and sharpened by the
northern blast, their merriment was echoed and prolonged by a mongrel legion of retainers, Canadian voyageurs, half-breeds, Indian hunters, and vagabond hangers-
on, who feasted sumptuously without on the crumbs
that fell from their tables, and made the welkin ring
with old French ditties, mingled with Indian yelps and
" Such was the North-West Company in its powerful
and prosperous days, when it held a kind of feudal sway
over a vast domain of lake and forest."
Of lesser literary fame another writer, one of the clerks
and traders of the company, Ross Cox, gives a no less
spirited, if not so flamboyant, picture of Fort William
as it was in his day. " Fort William may therefore be
looked upon as the metropolitan post of the interior,
and its fashionable season generally continues from the
end of May to the latter end of August. During this
period good living and festivity predominate, and the
luxuries of the dinner-table compensate in some degree
for the long fasts and short commons experienced by
those who are stationed in the remote posts. The voy-
ageurs too enjoy their carnival, and between rum and
baubles the hard-earned wages of years are often dissipated in a few weeks.
" The (fining-hall is a noble apartment, and sufficiently capacious to entertain two hundred. A finely
executed bust of the late Simon M'Tavish is placed in
it, with portraits of various proprietors. A full-length
likeness of Nelson, together with a splendid painting of
the battle of the Nile, also decorated the walls, and
were presented by the Honourable William M'Gillivray
to the Company. At the upper end of the hall there
is a very large map of the Indian country, drawn with
great accuracy by Mr David Thompson, astronomer
to the company, and comprising all their trading posts
from Hudson's Bay to Athabasca and Great Slave Lake.
" The buildings at Fort William consist of a large
house in which the dining-hall is situated, and in which
the gentleman in charge resides ; the council house ;
a range of snug buildings for the Doctor's residence ;
extensive stores for the merchandise and furs ; a forge ;
various workshops, with apartments for the mechanics,
a number of whom are always stationed here. There
is also a prison for refractory voyageurs. The whole
is surrounded by wooden fortifications, flanked by
bastions, and is sufficiently strong to withstand any
attack from the natives. Outside the fort is a shipyard, in which the Company's vessels on the lake are
built and repaired.    The kitchen-garden is well stocked,
and there are extensive fields of Indian corn and potatoes.
There are also several head of cattle, with sheep, hogs,
poultry, &c, and a few horses for domestic use."
Such, then, constituted the headquarters of the great
company of Canadian fur-traders, and such the nature
of their organisation, beginning first with the Grande
Portage establishment, which possessed all the features
of that subsequently built at Kaministiquia, and in
its most prosperous days the scene of many stirring
incidents. It is essential to describe at some length
these particulars concerning this Company and its affairs,
because with them Alexander Mackenzie had a great
deal to do, and without having some knowledge of the
vast resources of the North-West Company, and of its
almost perfect organisation that enabled its business
to proceed with clockwork precision, it would be impossible to comprehend the vastness of the task that
confronted him when he came to enter into direct competition with it.
Among the enterprising and prosperous firms of merchants of Montreal at the time of the organisation of the
North-West Company was that of Gregory, M'Leod &
Co., the partners being John Gregory, an Englishman,
and Alexander Norman M'Leod, a Scotsman. When
the North-West Company was formed, two traders from
the American Colonies who had penetrated into the
western plains, Peter Pond and Peter Pangman, and
who felt aggrieved because they had not been taken
into the combine, proceeded to Montreal with the object
of interesting some merchants there in entering the fur
trade in competition with that concern. They succeeded
in enlisting the active interest of Gregory, M'Leod & Co.
In the counting-house of that firm a young Scotsman
named Alexander Mackenzie had been working for
several years. Little did either the members of the
firm, his employers, or the two disgruntled traders,
Pond and Pangman, dream that the quiet, well-behaved,
industrious, youthful clerk was destined to be the leading
spirit in the fur trade centring in Montreal; still less
did they foresee that he was to become a great explorer,
the man who would first trace the great northern river
that bears his name to where it debouches into the
Arctic Ocean, who would first cross the continent north
of Mexico to the waters of the western sea, the
Alexander Mackenzie was a descendant of the Mac-
kenzies of Seaforth—
" MacKenneth, great Earl of the North,
The Lord of Loch Garron, Glenshiel, and Seaforth,"—
ancestors of the Mackenzies of Logis, Hilton, and Gair-
loch, to whom the Island of Lewis, of which Stornoway
is the capital, at one time belonged. It was at Stornoway
that Alexander Mackenzie was born in 1764, according
to a written family record still extant. Rev. George
Bryce states that Mackenzie's grandson informed him
that his grandfather was born in 1763, but a year later
is the date now accepted by his descendants. Chambers's
Eminent Scotsmen (vol. iii.) and the Dictionary of
National Biography both commit the same error in
giving the date of his birth as 1755. It is possible that
this mistake may be due to mistaken identity, for there
was another Alexander Mackenzie in Canada at that
time, and, strange to say, he too hailed from Stornoway,
where his brother Colin was Comptroller of Customs;
a third brother, Kenneth, was also in Canada. To make
confusion more confounded it has been stated that Colin
Mackenzie was the brother of Sir Alexander, but this
is obviously incorrect; Sir Alexander had only one
brother, whose name was Murdoch. I have before me
a letter written by the pseudo Alexander Mackenzie to
his brother Colin at Stornoway. It is dated " Canada,
6th June 1778," and is endorsed " Reed. 6 Septbr. 1778,"
and contains the following passage: " Tell our father
I'll write him next fleet." If this means anything at
all it would indicate that their father was then at or
near Stornoway, whereas at that date Kenneth Mackenzie, Sir Alexander's father, was in Canada, a lieutenant in the Royal Forces. These facts prove conclusively
that Alexander, Colin's brother, and Alexander, Kenneth's son, were two entirely different persons.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie's father, Kenneth Mackenzie
of Melbost, was the son of Donald Mackenzie of Fair-
burn, whose father was Allan Mackenzie of Stornoway.
Kenneth of Melbost, who is said to have been a very
powerful man and bore the nickname of " Cork," was
an ensign in the Stornoway Company raised by President Forbes to oppose the rising of 1745. He married
Isabella Maciver, a member of one of Stornoway's leading
families, whose brother John Maciver, known by the
sobriquet of " Ready Money John " because of his habit
of paying cash for everything, was a well-to-do merchant
in New York. Kenneth and his wife resided at Melbost
farmhouse, two miles distant from the town of Stornoway. Four children were the fruit of this union, two
sons, Murdoch and Alexander, and two daughters,
Sybilla and Margaret. The elder son studied medfc$ft&}
and, as was a common practice at^lhat period, went a
voyage as ship surgeon, probably on board a whaler,
and was lost at sea.
There are various versions of the story of Kenneth
Mackenzie and his family, but that which I believe to
be the true account is derived from the direct descendants
and associates of the Mackenzie family as set forth in
written family records. According to this account
Kenneth's wife died at Stornoway, and her husband,
with their son Alexander and the latter's two aunts, the
Misses M'lver, sisters of Alexander's mother, emigrated
to New York, the place of residence of John MTver,
Alexander's uncle, and brother of the two ladies who
were of the party, in 1774. Alexander was then ten
years of age.
Alexander's two sisters, Sybilla and Margaret, were
to have accompanied them on the voyage, but had not
gone aboard the ship with the others, the vessel being
delayed by unfavourable winds, and were left behind
when, taking advantage of a change in the wind, the
captain suddenly set sail.
The following spring, 1775, began the war of American
Independence, and Kenneth Mackenzie and his brother-
in-law John MTver, or Maciver as it is spelled in some
of the family records, joined the King's Forces, entering
the Royal Yorks as lieutenants under the command of
Sir John Johnson,1 the boy Alexander being left in charge
of his two aunts, who left New York and moved up to
old Johnstown,2 which is said to have been commonly
known by the name of Sir John's Bush, which is probably
the hamlet near Johnstown called Scotch Bush. The
two ladies took the boy with them, and there he remained
until 1778, when, feeling uneasy for his safety in the
heart of a rebellious country, his aunts sent him into
Canada in charge of Colonel M'Donell's mother, who
took him to Montreal, where he was sent to school.
Lieutenant Kenneth Mackenzie, Alexander's father, remained in the royalist army until his death, which occurred
in 1780 at Carleton Island, near Kingston, south of
Wolfe Island, in Lake Ontario, and which now belongs
1 Sir John Johnson (1742-1830) was the son of Sir William Johnson who,
born in Ireland in 1715, went to America in 1738 to take charge of the
estates of his uncle, Sir Peter Warren. For his services against the
French and the defeat of Dieskau at Lake George, he received the
thanks of Parliament, a vote of ^5000, and a baronetcy. He died in
1774, and in that same year his son, Sir John Johnson, was appointed
major-general of militia. He raised and commanded the "King's Royal
Regiment of New York " (and it was in this body that Kenneth Mackenzie
and John MTver served) to fight against the Revolutionists. His possessions being confiscated by the rebels, he laid waste all that region,
burning villages and farmhouses in retaliation. He fled to Canada in
1776, and served under St Leger against Arnold the following year. In
May 1780, Sir John, at the head of 500 British regulars, his own Loyalist
troops, the Royal Greens, and about 200 Indians and Tories, raided
Johnstown, an object being to recover family plate concealed at Johnson
2 Johnstown, located in the Mohawk Valley, Fulton County, New
York State, witnessed during the Revolution the invasion by the British
under St Leger, the battle of Oriskany, Sullivan's Indian expedition, and
frequent depredations by Loyalist troops and Indians under Sir John
Johnson and other leaders. The town was founded by Sir William
Johnson, who induced settlers to locate there, and who built Johnson
Hall there.
to the United States. In 1779, the year before the death
of his father, Alexander entered the service of Gregory,
M'Leod & Co.;  he was then fifteen years of age.
Another version of the migration to New York is given
by the late John N. Anderson, at one time provost of
Stornoway, who took a keen interest in the life-story of
Sir Alexander Mackenzie. He states in a letter he wrote
to one of the Mackenzie clan, and which has been handed
to me and now lies on my desk, that he obtained his
information from a descendant of one of the explorer's
sisters, but unfortunately he is so careless in his statements
that they cannot be always accepted at par ; in all probability he misconstrued or misunderstood the information given him. As an instance of the looseness of his
statements, it may be pointed out that he refers to Sir
Alexander as being " the first white man to cross the
Rocky Mountains and reach the Island of Vancouver in
British Columbia." It is common knowledge that Sir
Alexander Mackenzie not only did not reach Vancouver
Island but he never saw it, not even from a distance !
The account given by Mr Anderson of Alexander's advent
in the United States is that, John M'lver having invited
Kenneth Mackenzie, his brother-in-law, to visit him in
New York, it was arranged that he was to be accompanied by his wife and two daughters and the boy Alexander. " He (Kenneth) and his son went on board the
emigrant ship at night with their belongings, and the
ladies were to follow next morning, but a terrible storm
having sprung up during the night the captain, fearing
his ship would drive ashore, took up anchor and drove
out to sea. The storm continuing, the captain was
unable to make the harbour of Stornoway again, and the
ship continued on her way to America. Kenneth Mackenzie, however, got a promise from the captain that
on his next voyage from Stornoway he would bring out
Mrs Mackenzie and her daughters. Whatever was the
reason, Mrs Mackenzie and her daughters did not go to
America, but remained in Stornoway for a considerable
time thereafter; in fact, Sir Alexander Mackenzie on his
return to Stornoway found his mother still living, and
there is a pretty story of how he reverenced her when he
met her in Stornoway."
How much of this pleasant and entertaining story
is based upon village and countryside gossip is open to
conjecture, but the fact that Mr Anderson made so many
errors, notwithstanding his apparent interest in the
subject, throws a grave doubt over his alleged facts.
In support of this criticism it may be pointed out that
he says that Sir Alexander's sister Sybilla married a
Mr Dowie, and the other sister, Margaret, became the
wife of John Kirkland, and that Sir Alexander died
" about 1819 " while on his way north, while it is beyond
question that Sybilla married Kirkland, Margaret wedded
Captain Dowie, and Mackenzie died in 1820. Not only
did Sir Alexander not see his mother at Stornoway
or anywhere else after his return from Canada, but the
family records show that she died before he first left
In his younger days at Stornoway he had received the
benefit of the educational faculties available there at
that period. Reared in an invigorating climate, inured
almost from the cradle to the chill blasts of raw winds,
the salt spray of the sea, his muscles toughened by
tugging at the oars of fishing boats, having as compa^te^*
on such occasions the sturdy rugged sons of sturdy rugged
fishermen and sailors, Alexander was no sickly, white-
faced, anaemic, city-bred lad when he sailed away from
the port of Stornoway for the New World.
For years the Hudson's Bay Company had recruited
the ranks of their employees from Scotland, and many
of their ships bound for the trading posts on the shores
of Hudson's Bay had as a chief point of departure the
seaport of Stornoway on the Island of Lewis. The imagination of youth is easily kindled, and more especially
is this the case with those natures in whom dwells the
spirit of romance and adventure, and such an one was
young Mackenzie. The unknown beckoned him. It
held out the promise of everything dear to the susceptible mind of vigorous youth—adventure, opportunity
to acquire wealth and honours. The boy Alexander
had seen other lads sail for the West to enter the service
of the company of adventurers of England trading into
Hudson's Bay, and who can say his ambition was not
fired ?
When he entered the counting-house of the Montreal
firm of merchants and traders, Alexander Mackenzie
was not slow to discern the advantages he enjoyed in
that service as compared with that of the great Company,
where he would have been trammelled and bound by the
rigid rules that governed its employees.
For five years he worked in the office of Gregory,
M'Leod & Co., acquiring a knowledge of the business
in all its branches, absorbing the tales of the coureurs
de bois and of the gay vivacious voyageurs, whose avocations brought them in direct contact with the fur-traders
and merchants. He learned of the customs of the country,
of the Indians, of the hunters, and of the trappers, thus
preparing himself for a more active participation in the
stirring life of a trader. So well did he perform his duties,
so great was his zeal, so indefatigable was he in all that
pertained to the business of the firm, that his principals
entrusted him with a small venture in goods with which
he proceeded to Detroit, not an easy journey in those
days. There were no roads through the dense forest
with which Ontario was then covered, but there was
the River St Lawrence, and beyond that lay the great
lake, over whose surface canoes laden with men and
merchandise might travel. Traversing the intervening
country on foot from Lake Ontario, Lake Erie was
reached and its shores followed to Detroit, once a favourite
rendezvous   for   traders.     Mackenzie   soon   established
friendly relations with the Indians in the back country,
and prosecuted his business with characteristic energy
and address, diplomatically overcoming the resentment
of a party of European traders already established in
that region. While he was engaged in this traffic his
former employer, Mr Gregory, arranged that he should
be admitted a partner in the independent enterprise
in which he and Mr M'Leod were associated. This graceful acknowledgement of Mackenzie's worth and integrity
was made by Mr Gregoi?y without any solicitation. In
such high esteem did Mr Gregory hold his quondam
clerk that, not content with having performed this
voluntary service, he despatched his partner, M'Leod,
to Detroit to advise Mackenzie of it. Needless to say>
the young trader accepted with alacrity the golden
opportunity, and he at once agreed to the condition
attached to the proposal that he should go to the Indian
country, sometimes vaguely spoken of as the Saskatchewan country, the following spring, 1785. This being
all settled, Mackenzie, now enjoying the rank of a bourgeois,
set out for Grande Portage, where he joined his associates.
While Alexander Mackenzie was engaged at Detroit
in his first independent trading venture, there arrived
in Canada from Scotland, in September 1784, his cousin,
Roderick Mackenzie, with letters of introduction to
Peter Stuart of Quebec. Roderick presented the credentials, and consulted with Stuart as to the best course
for him to adopt with a view to his material advantage.
Mr Stuart advised him to enter the fur trade. In accordance with this advice Roderick Mackenzie proceeded
to Montreal and succeeded in finding employment with
Gregory, M'Leod & Company. In June 1785 he began
his career as a trader, embarking at St Ann for the northwest under a three years' engagement. The brigade—a
term applied to the flotilla of canoes employed in making
these voyages—was under the guidance and in charge
of one La Londe, a middle-aged guide well known to
voyageurs. The usual route was up the Ottawa River—
portaging at the Carillon Rapids, Long Sault, and Chute
au Blondeau—to the Chaudiere, and thence by the west
branch of the Ottawa to its headwaters, making the
Vaz portages to a small stream that conducted them to
Lake Nipissing, thence down French River to Georgian
Bay, and up the St Mary's River into Lake Superior.
At Long Sault on the -Ottawa, the brigade was joined
by Mr Gregory, the senior partner, Duncan Pollock,
recently engaged in the fur trade among the Michili-
mackinac Indians, and James Finlay, jun., Gregory's
brother-in-law and son of the old trader, James Finlay,
who had long before adventured as far as the Saskatchewan River. Young Finlay was of the same age as
Roderick Mackenzie, and on the same footing in the service.
When they arrived at Thessalon on Lake Huron, near
the mouth of St Mary's River, Gregory and Finlay
separated from the main party and went to Miehili-
mackinac, leaving Duncan Pollock in command. Soon
afterwards they were met by Peter (Bastonnais) Pangman, and a few days later they were joined by Mr Gregory,
James Finlay, and Alexander Mackenzie.
All the members of the new concern assembled at
their headquarters at the Grande Portage, with the
exception of Mr M'Leod, whose duty was to manage
the affairs at Montreal. Those gathered together at
Grande Portage were John Gregory, Peter Pangman,
John Ross, and Alexander Mackenzie, partners; Duncan
Pollock and Laurent Leroux, clerks; and Roderick
Mackenzie and James Finlay, apprentice clerks. Peter
Pond, he who had been so keen in urging Gregory, M'Leod
& Company to compete with the Frobisher and M'Tavish
interests, had soon deserted them and gone back to his
former associates. At the conference that ensued it was
decided that John Ross should proceed to Athabasca,
Alexander Mackenzie to English River (Churchill River),
Pangman to Fort des Prairies (the Saskatchewan district),
and Duncan Pollock to Red River. These assignments
made, the several parties departed for their respective
posts, leaving the establishment at Grande Portage in
charge of the veteran Pierre L'Anniau. Roderick Mackenzie also remained at the same place, together with
eighteen voyageurs, to erect buildings and make other
necessary preparations for the prosecution of their enterprise. That winter Roderick superseded L'Anniau, and
in the summer of 1786 he accompanied Alexander Mackenzie to English River, and was placed in charge of the
post at Lac des Serpents. To that same locality came
William M'GilHvray in the interests of the North-West
Company. Side by side stood the posts of the two rival
concerns. The competition was keen, each striving to
acquire the greater number of furs, but always they
maintained the most friendly personal relations. In
the spring of 1787, when they set out for their respective
headquarters at the Grande Portage, they travelled in
company, the rival crews singing their chansons in
So keen was the competition between the North-
West Company and the Gregory-M'Leod concern that
the rivalry of the Hudson's Bay Company was, for the
time, completely overlooked. At the head of the North-
Westers were men determined to brook no opposition
they could possibly overcome or prevent, and their competitors soon discovered that every obstacle that their
more experienced opponents could place in their way
was made use of to incommode and annoy them. Vigorous as was the younger and smaller company, it was no
match for the older and more powerful organisation.
(Note A.) Neither benefited by the bitter rivalry, and
the wiser heads soon decided that the saner course to
pursue was to sink their differences and combine their
forces. Fortunately these wiser counsels ultimately
prevailed, but not until financial losses and bloodshed
had left their mark.
It has been stated above that John Ross was despatched to the Athabasca country in the interest of the
young company. Thither the deserter, Peter Pond,
had also been sent by his old associates, the North-West
Company. Pond did not enjoy a very savoury reputation. He was unscrupulous, overbearing, and had been
accused of the murder of a Mr Wadin, a rival trader,
some years before. He had been tried at Montreal for
the crime, but his guilt had not been proved and he
had been set at liberty. John Ross found his competitor
far from sharing the feeling of good-fellowship displayed
by M'GilM*§sp.y and some others of the North-West
Company. On the contrary, Pond's conduct was such
as to give rise to frequent quarrels between the traders.
In one of these disputes Ross was shot and killed. This
act served to bring the competing organisations to their
senses, and their union was effected in July 1787. The
news of the murder was conveyed to Grande Portage by
Roderick Mackenzie, who was at Isle a la Crosse at the
time. In a light canoe manned by five voyageurs he
hastened to headquarters with the disturbing intelligence,
accomplishing the journey in a month of hard travelling.
The situation in the Athabasca required the attention
of a firm hand, a resolute tactful mind. The partners
of the North-West Company cast about for the man
possessing the necessary qualifications, and they settled
upon Alexander Mackenae, then only twenty-four years
of age. Young as he was he had proven himself to be a
man of mettle, determined, daring, resourceful, inured
to hardship, and a successful trader. What he had done
at Detroit, and what he had accomplished as a bourgeois
in the Gregory-M'Leod organisation, showed his capabilities. To bim, then, the North-West Company,
just reorganised on a broader basis, turned to handle
affairs in the far-off district that Peter Pond had ruled
to such unfortunate purpose.
The route followed by Mackenzie was by a series of
portages to Rainy Lake, and thence to Lake of the Woods.
A short portage at Rat Portage, from the lake to Winnipeg
River, gave access to Winnipeg Lake, into which flow
the Red River of the North from the south and the
Saskatchewan from the west, and out of which flows
the Nelson River into Hudson's Bay. It was up Lake
Winnipeg to the Churchill River that Mackenzie had
journeyed to his first assignment. Now he was to ascend
the great Saskatchewan to follow in the footsteps of
Finlay, Pond, and the others who had gained the interior by its means. Soon after entering that river the
great rapids, three miles long, were encountered, necessitating a portage of nearly a mile. Two miles above
another and shorter portage, that of the Roche Rouge,
had to be made, and after passing still more rapids Cedar
Lake was reached, on which was the old French post of
Fort Bourbon. Passing Cumberland House on Sturgeon
Lake, the lake itself was entered and traversed, whence
the route ran northerly to Beaver Lake, Heron Lake,
&c., and by Frog Portage to the Churchill River. Turning
westerly the course ran through Otter Lake, Black Bear
Island Lake, Mouse Lake, Knee Lake, Lake of Isle a la
Crosse, Lake Clear, Buffalo Lake, and so on to the Clearwater River which empties into the Athabasca River,
on whose banks stood the post which was to be his headquarters for the district placed under his control.
Alexander Mackenzie reached Athabasca Fort on 21st
October 1787. It had been established by Pond in 1778,
who, after the formation of the original North-West
Company, had sent a clerk, Laurent Le Roux, to Great
Slave Lake to open trade with the Indians there, the
post being named Fort Resolution. Subsequently another
post was established on the Little Lake and named Fort
Providence. While on his way to the posts on Great
Slave Lake, Cuthbert Grant lost five men, two canoes,
and several packages of goods in the autumn of 1786 in
the rapids at Portage des Noyes, on the Slave River below
what is now called Smith's Landing. One of Mackenzie's
first acts was to close the posts on Great Slave Lake,
then the most northerly of the company's outposts.
While at Fort Athabasca the young trader familiarised
himself thoroughly with the conditions of the trade in
that district, and determined upon making some radical
changes. Before carrying his plans into execution, however, he paid a visit to Rainy Lake in July 1788, and
succeeded in having Roderick Mackenzie, then stationed
at English River, transferred to his own district. Already
Alexander Mackenzie was fired with ambition. He had
learned of the existence of a great river running northward
out of Great Slave Lake, and he longed to discover into
what ocean it emptied its waters. Did it flow into the
frozen sea, the Arctic Ocean, or did its course run in such
a direction as to cause its current to flow into the western
sea, the Pacific ? Samuel Hearne had discovered a large
river, the Coppermine, which debouched into the Arctic,
and Hearne was a fur-trader even as he. What Hearne
had done he felt that he could do, and he wanted opportunity to make the venture. To do this he felt he must
have a trustworthy lieutenant to leave in charge of his
post during his absence, and where could he find a more
reliable man than his own cousin, Roderick ? Self-
interest and the ties of blood would, in themselves, ensure
faithful service, but besides those influences was the
integrity of the man whose honourable disposition was a
yet more powerful factor in justifying the confidence
of his chief than the mere fact of kinship would guarantee.
Pond had built the Athabasca Fort on the Elk, or
Athabasca River, about forty miles from its mouth in
the Lake of the Hills, Lake Athabasca. Alexander
Mackenzie was not satisfied with its situation, and now
that he had his kinsman with him he carried into effect
the changes he had already determined upon. He sent
Roderick down to the Lake of the Hills to select a site
and erect thereupon a new fort.   Until 1785 Pond's fort
was the only trading post in that territory, at which
date the posts on Great Slave Lake were established.
Mackenzie wiped out all that Pond had done. He began
his rule of the extensive domain committed to his charge
by starting with a clean slate, as it were. By this centralisation of his post he hoped to meet the trading
requirements of the Indians. The new location was not
too far removed from the old fort to incomiHlde those
Indians accustomed to trade there, and it brought appreciably nearer those other tribes dwelling north of the
lake. It had the additional advantage of being close to
a winter supply of food—that is to say, the fish to be
obtained from the lake itself. The new post was named
Fort Chipewyan, and, says Mackenzie in his ' Voyages,'
stood " on a point on its (Lake Athabasca) southern side,
at about eight miles from the discharge of the river." The
post was an important one. From it expeditions were
sent in all directions in search of trade. The men under
his command numbered from ninety to one hundred
souls, and to keep them supplied with food was no easy
task. Herein lay much of the wisdom that prompted
the removal of the headquarters of the district to the
lake. Every day the sixty fathom nets were set so that
the supply might ever be plentiful, for upon fisi|;the men
sustained life almost entirely, the amount of flesh meat
obtained being altogether inadequate.
Alexander Mackenzie left the old fort for Fort Chipewyan shortly before Christmas 1788, and remained
there until February 1789. During that period it may
be readily imagined what formed the chief subject of
conversation between the cousins, the chief and his
trusty aide. The thoughts of Alexander ran upon the
exploration of the unknown river. The germ that inspires
men to face the untrodden places of the earth had found
a favourable medium in him for its development, and his
brain was busy with plans for the carrying out of his
purpose, for he had fully determined in his own mind
that nothing short of death would deter him from making
the voyage. He had men and materials at his disposal.
He would leave the affairs of the company in the capable
hands of Roderick, while he himself would, in the course
of his explorations, not omit to further the objects of
the North-West Company with respect to the prosecution
of the trade.
At nine o'clock on the morning of July 14th, 1789, while
the Parisians, vociferating the cry " to the Bastille,"
were hastening, frenzied with conflicting passions and
emotions, to batter down the gates of that hated fortress
and raze its walls to the ground, Alexander Mackenzie
gazed upon a far different scene—a school of whales
disporting in the waters of the Arctic Ocean, for he had
achieved an objective he had determined upon, the
exploration of the great river of the north.
From west of the Rocky Mountains, carried in the first
instance by the natives, there had come to the ears of
the fur-traders rumours of a land beyond that opposing
barrier, a land of promise; not flowing with milk and
honey perhaps, but rich in beaver and other fur-bearing
animals. Other reports had also reached them from
England of the maritime fur-traders, of the voyages of
Captain James Cook and other explorers by sea. Their
interest was excited and their appetite for adventure
whetted by these rumours and reports. A few of the fur-
traders were endowed with rather a passion for adventure
and exploration than the more prosaic bartering for furs,
and more than one of them longed to penetrate that
frowning rampart of snowclad peaks, to see for themselves
what lay at the other side—a wild virgin country they
were told, of forests of vast extent, of rugged mountain
ranges, of rapid tempestuous streams, of smiling valleys,
peopled by natives of strange language and treacherous
There was, however, something more than the desire
to explore and exploit a virgin field. Always there was
lurking at the back of it a yearning to search for that
great western sea that lay in the indefinite somewhere
beyond those frowning heaven-piercing fastnesses. Alexander Mackenzie felt that yearning, and was the first
of the Nor'-Westers to give rein to it. He knew that a
mighty river flowed out of Athabasca Lake and emptied
into Great Slave Lake—the North-Westers Grant and
Laurent Le Roux had built winter quarters there in
1786,—and out of Great Slave Lake an unknown river
ran through unexplored country. Perhaps it might
lead to the western sea ; who could tell ? At any rate,
Mackenzie decided to explore it, to descend it and ascertain what lay at the distant end of it.    (Note B.)
Until Alexander Mackenzie lifted the veil that had
hitherto concealed from the eyes and knowledge of civilised
man the mysteries of the unknown country that lay
to the west and north of the trading posts of Athabasca
(afterwards renamed Fort Chipewyan when removed to
the Lake of the Hills), Fort Resolution, and Fort Providence, no attempt worthy of note had been made
by either Pond, Le Roux, or Cuthbert Grant to explore
those rivers, or the lands they drained. Those traders
had rested content with what imperfect information
they could glean from the Indians who came to trade
with them, or from others whom they casually encountered
in the course of the peregrinations about the country
under their jurisdiction. Not so Mackenzie. He did
not rest content with the meagre details ascertained in
such haphazard fashion, and having determined to see
for himself first what the great river of the north might
reveal, he prepared for a voyage of discovery.
The preparations Mackenzie considered necessary for
such an undertaking were of the simplest kind. No
elaborate equipment was laboriously collected and more
laboriously conveyed along the route of march or voyage,
to hamper their movements and impede their progress.
A good gun for every man, an abundant supply of powder
and ball—those were the days of muzzle-loaders and
flint-locks,—a limited quantity of provisions—the gun
and fishing-line or net must be the main reliance for
adequate sustenance,—some merchandise and trinkets
for presents wherewith to gain the goodwill of natives
met en route, and blankets for each man, sufficed for the
longest journey. Some of the traders—Mackenzie was
one of these—carried with them a small supply of spirits ;
others, David Thompson for example, would have none
of it, and proved that trading and travelling, even under
the most arduous conditions, could be done as well,
if not better, without it. Such, then, was the nature of
the preparations for a voyage of exploration into an
unknown region for an unknown period and an unknown
Now that he was about to engage in this venture,
and having secured full control of the situation respecting
carrying on the business of the North-West Company
in Ins district, he decided to abandon his first policy of
retrenchment and to embark upon a new, or more correctly perhaps a return to the former, line of action.
The trading post on Great Slave Lake was to be reopened
again under Le Roux, and a new post established on the
river that flowed from the west—Peace River—into
Slave River. Doubtless Mackenzie was not unnundful
of the advantage that would accrue from having an
outpost on the Peace River when the time came for him
to turn his attention to western exploration, for there
can be no question that he had already made up his
mind to break through the Rocky Mountains at the
first opportunity. To the Peace River, therefore, in 1788
he sent one Boyer, who established a post, some authorities
say, at the junction of Little Red River with the Peace,
while others place it higher up above Loon River. Mackenzie coached his cousin Roderick in the management
of affairs during his absence, and with a heart full of hope
and resolution set out on his great adventure.
In his narrative of the descent of the Mackenzie River,
for so the mighty waterway was named in honour of him
who first reached its mouth, the explorer relates in simple
language a tale worthy of more elaborate setting. The
story begins with the sentence : " June 1789, Wednesday,
3.—We embarked at nine in the morning at Fort Chepe-
wyan, on the South side of the Lake of the Hills, in
latitude 58.40 North, and in longitude 110.30 West from
Greenwich, and compass has sixteen degrees variation
East, in a canoe made of birch bark." In that canoe,
^gl^Sl^es Mackenzie, were four Canadians—two having
their wives with them—and a German. The Canadians
were Francois Barrieau, Charles Ducette, Joseph Landry,
and Pierre De Lorme; the German was a young man
named John Steinbruick. In a second canoe, in charge
of Le Roux, were bestowed the bulk of their supplies,
together with goods for trading and presents; and in
still another canoe an Indian known as English Chief,
his two wives, and Some followers. English Chief derived
his name from the fact, states Mackenzie, that he had
been a " principal leader of his countrymen who were
in the habit of carrying furs to Churchill Factory, Hudson's
Bay, and till of late very much attached to the interest
of that company."
The canoes used by the fur-traders were made of birch
bark and were manned by voyageurs, a hardy class inured
from youth to the use of the paddle. Many of them were
French-Iroquois half-bloods, others were of unadulterated French parentage. Colonel Landmann, who travelled
by canoe from Lachine to St Joseph with William M'Gil-
livray in 1798, describes the canoes as of two main types ;
a larger sort employed on the rivers and lakes east of
Grande Portage, and a smaller type used west of that
place. Of the first kind, Landmann says: " These
canoes were exceedingly strong and capacious. They
were about thirty-six feet in length by six feet wide
near the middle, and although the birch bark which formed
a thin external coating over their ribs of white cedar,
and their longitudinal laths of the same wood, appeared
to compose but a flimsy vessel, yet they usually carried
a weight of five tons. It may be well to state that this
cargo was very carefully stored in order to remove any
unequal pressure, which would have been fatal to such
vessel. Four poles, three or four inches at their thickest
ends, denominated by the Canadian grand-perch, were
laid side by side in the middle of the bottom of the canoe.
On these poles the cargo was carefully arranged so that
all the weight rested on them, and none allowed to press
against the bare and unprotected sides of the canoe.
Every package was made up of the weight of ninety
pounds, and none heavier. The five tons included the
provision for ten men, sufficient to support them during
about twenty to twenty-two days. Each canoe was
provided with a mast and lug-sail, and also each man
had a ten-foot pole of good ash, shod with an iron ferrule
at each end, for assisting the men towing with a long line
in ascending the rapids. The paddles were supplied by •
the canoe-men, each bringing his own. Each canoe had
also a camp-kettle provided by the owners, as also a few
Hambro lines, a bundle of watep, roots of the pine-tree,
for stitching any seam that might burst, a parcel of gum
of a resinous nature for paying over the seams when
leaky, a piece of birch bark for repairs, hatchet, crooked
knife, and a few more indispensable articles." The
north canoes, as those used on the waters west of Grande
Portage were called, were about half the size of the
Ottawa River route canoes, with a capacity of a ton
and a half and carrying four or five men.
Of the voyageurs the same authority says :  " No men
in the world are more severely worked than are these
Canadian voyageurs. I have known them to work in
a canoe twenty hours out of twenty-four, and go at that
rate during a fortnight or three weeks without a day
of rest or a diminution of labour; but it is not with
impunity they so exert themselves; they lose much
flesh in the performance of such journeys, though the
amount of food they consume is incredible. They smoke
almost incessantly, and sing peculiar songs, which are
the same their fathers and grandfathers and probably
their great-grandfathers sang before them; the time
is about the same as that of our military quick marches,
and is marked by the movement of their paddles. They
rest from five to ten minutes every two hours, when they
refill their pipes; it is more common for them to describe distances by so many pipes, than in any other
The foreman, or " le maitre," had his place in the bow,
and as soon as the last piece of cargo had been bestowed,
the crew at their posts, and the passengers embarked,
he gave the word to start, the paddles plunged into
the water, and the men burst into song as they began
their voyage. A prime favourite of these chansons
de voyage was the lively En Roulant, the story of
" Three Fairy Ducks "—
" Derriere chez nous, il y a un e*tang, ,
En roulant ma boule.
Trois beaux canards s'en vont baignant,
En roulant ma boule.
Rouli, roulant, ma boule roulant,
En roulant, ma boule roulant,
En roulant, ma boule."
Verse after verse is lustily sung, all hands joining in the
chorus and swinging their paddles vigorously in perfect
rhythm.    Or the leader might,  perchance,  prefer the
greatest favourite of all, " A la Claire Fontaine," with
its plaintive chorus—
" Long is it I have loved thee,
Thee shall I love alway,
My dearest;
Long is it I have loved thee,
Thee shall I love alway."
Simple-minded fellows were these muscular, hard-drinking,
hard-working voyageurs, superstitious, volatile, laughter-
loving; inclined to grumble and growl when things
went amiss, but amenable to discipline when properly
approached. Mackenzie had the happy faculty of knowing,
apparently intuitively, how to handle them, and had
frequent occasion to apply that knowledge.
In gay spirits the voyage of discovery was begun,
and doubtless the four voyageurs and their German
comrade awoke the echoes of the Lake of the Hills with
their rousing choruses as they paddled away from the
landing-place and headed for the Slave River.
After leaving the fort the canoes hugged the south
shore for twenty miles to the west, and after making a
traverse of nine miles in a northerly direction they entered
the Rocher River, also known as the Riviere de Quatre
Fourches, into which Athabasca Lake empties after the
river freshets have subsided, or through whose channel
the overflow of the Peace River pours into the lake when
the rains and melting snows of spring fill the streams
to capacity. Mackenzie took the precautions of making
this detour rather than risk the crossing of the open
expanse of the lake, because of the possibility of encountering one of the sudden squalls which not infrequently
arise on the northern lakes, and render their navigation
dangerous. He merely followed the usual custom of
making several traverses with the object of keeping as
much as possible in touch with the land should an emergency demand a speedy landing.    Having entered the
river—which becomes Slave River after joining with
the waters of the Peace—they proceeded seven miles
down-stream, encamping for the night at seven o'clock
in the evening. The total distance travelled that first
day in the day hours since leaving the fort was thirty-
six miles. Mackenzie makes the following note in his
journal: " One of the hunters killed a goose and a couple
of ducks; at the same time the canoe was taken out of
the water to be gummed."
Embarking at four o'clock in the morning of the following day, Thursday, June 4th, the journey was resumed,
and after paddling a distance of ten miles the Peace
Kiver—it is thirty miles from Fort Chipewyan by the
route taken by river steamers to-day—was reached.
How his heart must have quickened its beats and how
his eyes must have kindled at the sight of that stream,
at that spot " upwards of a mile broad," for was it not
by following it to the west that he hoped in the not far
distant future to win a way through the mountain
barrier and reach the Pacific, should his present adventure
not produce that result ? Having made a note of the
width of the Peace River at its mouth, Mackenzie adds,
" and its current is stronger than that of the channel
which communicates with the lake. It there, indeed,
assumes the name of the Slave River." At half-past
seven that evening they made camp and unloaded the
canoes. " Here we arrived at the mouth of Dog River,
where we landed and unloaded our canoes at half-past
seven in the evening, on the East side and close by the
rapids." This camping - ground was apparently near
the site of the present Smith's Landing, below which
are the sixteen miles of rapids, the chief of which are the
Rapids of the Damned and the Rapids of the Drowned,
at which last Cuthbert Grant had lost, as already stated,
five of his men, two canoes, and some merchandise in
Mackenzie gives the distance travelled that day as
sixty-one; miles. If we deduct from this the ten miles
done at the early part of the day, from their camping-
ground of the night before to Peace River, the remaining
distance stands at fifty-one miles. This is underestimated.
The actual distance from Peace River to Smith's Landing
at the head of the rapids of the Slave River is seventy
miles. It has been suggested that Mackenzie habitually
underestimated mileage with the object of leading his
men to think they had not covered such a long distance
as was the case in reality. Be this as it may, Mackenzie's
miles seem to be of that elastic quality which has been
expressed as " a mile and a bitee," although he occasionally miscalculated in the other direction.
Until recent years, comparatively recent that is, every
pound of goods had to be taken over these rapids by
frequent portages. Mackenzie portaged six times. Travellers since his day give seven as the necessary carrying
places. At a later date the Hudson's Bay Company
avoided all that labour and delay by instituting a Red
River cart transport for the entire sixteen miles between
the Landing and Fort Smith, and still later a tramway
was provided. But there was then neither Smith's Landing, nor Fort Smith, nor transport other than the broad
backs and toughened muscles of the crew. Some conception may be formed of the dangerous and turbulent
nature of these rapids from the fact that in the course
of that sixteen miles of rushing water there is a total
drop of two hundred and forty feet, equivalent to fifteen
feet to the mile, but in reality considerably in excess of
that at the places where portaging is essential. That
stretch of churning, boiling, white water is enough to
make the stoutest - hearted voyageurs hesitate before
daring to attempt the run. The Indians accompanying
Mackenzie lost one of their canoes at the portage called
the "Mountain," near which is a dangerous fall. The
frail birch-bark craft was in charge of an Indian woman,
and in some manner it got caught in the current, was
whirled over the falls, and instantly dashed to pieces.
The woman managed to escape death by casting herself
into the river while there was yet time to save herself.
As Mackenzie gazed at the swirling rapids at the
■ Mountain," his glance rested for a space upon a wooded
island in the very midst of the turmoil of waters. Upon
it he saw numbers of the White Pelican (Pelecanus
erythrorhynchos). They gave no heed to the proximity
of man. No doubt they felt perfectly secure from harm
?:-iirtbat so well-guarded sanctuary. That island is the
farthest north breeding-place of that species.
The whole of Friday, June 5th, was consumed in
passing this danger zone, yet despite the frequent portages,
they travelled that day, according to the figures given
by Mackenzie, no less a distance than thirty miles, under
the circumstances a most excellent day's work. The
following day, however, Saturday, 6th, the time lost
at the carrying-places was fully made up. Notwithstanding a strong head wind that materially interfered with
their progress, and cold so intense that "the Indians
were obliged to use their mittens," they covered seventy- *
six miles. This was made possible by embarking at half-
past two in the morning and continuing steadily until
six o'clock in the evening, when they landed and made
camp. What a foremost place the question occupies of
mamtaining the commissariat well provided, is shown
by the frequent reference made by the explorer to the
success or otherwise that attended the hunters. " In
this day's progress," he notes under this date, " we
killed seven geese and six ducks, and nets were also set
in a small adjacent river."
On Sunday, June 7th, the journey was resumed at
half-past three in the morning, but, after forcing a landing
to prevent their goods becoming wet, rain compelled
them to halt for the day at half-past three in the afternoon. " The Indians killed a couple of geese and as
many ducks."    Le Roux, however, and those with him
did not camp when Mackenzie did, but continued on their
way in search of a camping-ground more to their liking.
The following day the inclemency of the weather, wind
and rain, obliged Mackenzie to remain in camp all day.
Tuesday, 9th, saw them once again en route, a start being
made at half-past two in the morning, and soon after
two hunters who had been gone for two days rejoined
them, bringing with them as the fruit of their prowess
four beavers and ten geese. Sixteen miles of paddling
took them to Great Slave Lake, which they found still
filled with ice except along the shore. Turning east
they kept along the inside of a long sand-bank, frequ$t$3y
touching bottom on account of the shallowness of the
water, for five miles, which took them to " the houses
erected by Messrs Grant and Le Roux in 1786." There
they found Le Roux and his party, who had parted
company with Mackenzie on Sunday, 7th.
Mackenzie found time to observe the characteristics
of the country through which he passed. He noted
the conditions existing along Slave River, and compared them with those obtaining at the lake. " The
banks of the river both above and below the rapids,"
he states, " were on both sides covered with the various
kinds x of wood common to this country, particularly
the Western side, the land being lower and consisting
of a rich black soil. This artificial ground is carried
down by the stream and rests upon driftwood, so as
to be eight or ten feet deep. The eastern banks are
more elevated, and the soil a yellow clay mixed with
gravel; so that the trees are neither so large or numerous
as on the opposite shore. The ground was not thawed
above fourteen inches in depth; notwithstanding, the
leaf was at its full growth; while along the lake there was
scarcely any appearance of verdure. . . . The mud-
banks in the river are covered with wild-fowl; and we
this morning killed two swans, ten geese, and one beaver,
1 White spruce, Banksian pine, willows, alder, and poplars.
without suffering the delay of an hour; so that we might
soon have filled the canoe with them if that had been
our object." Notwithst3anding this abundance of game
to be htad for the asking, it is significant that imnippately
upon landing at Great Slave Lake recourse was had to
fishing, Mackenzie naively observing, " I then ordered
the nets to be set, as it was absolutely necessary that
the stores provided for our future voyage should remain
untouched. The fish we now caught were carp, poisson
inconnu,1 white fish, and trout." From this it would
almost appear that preference was given to fish over
game, or at least wild-fowl.
Next day the explorer sent two Indians to a lake nine
miles dist;ant which, they said, was frequented by animals
of various kinds, and on the succeeding day, Thursday,
nth, while the women of the party were engaged in
gathering wild berries, which abounded near the camp,
Mackenae with one man proceeded to a small island
near at hand and added to the larder " some dozens of
swans', geese, and duck eggs," and shot two ducks and one
goose. That evening the Indians who had been sent off
on a hunting expedition the preceding day returned
almost empty-handed, having succeeded only in killing
a swan and a grey crane. Every day, however, something in the way of fresh food was brought into camp,
and on Saturday, 13th, one of the huntefs who had
been to Slave River returned with a bag of three beaver
and fourteen geese, at the same time bringing what was
less welcome, three families of Indians who had left
Athabasca at the same time as Mackenzie; they came
empty-handed, not even a duck among them, pleading
in excuse for their improvidence that they had travelled
too rapidly to permit of their procuring sufficient food
for their needs! which meant, of course, that they
would have to be fed by Mackenzie — a drain upon
1 The "poisson inconnu," a species akin to salmon, and weighing
from eight to thirty pounds.
his supplies that he would not relish but could not
It was not until Monday, June 15th, that the ice permitted the expedition to move from the camp. At
sunset they embarked and made a traverse, and shortly
before midnight landed on an island, where they camped.
At that hour the light was sufficient to enable Mackenzie
to read and write with comfort. So fight were the nights
that they had not seen a star since leaving the rapids
on Slave River. The following day strong winds again
delayed embarkation until one o'clock noon, the course
followed being in the same direction as that of the preceding day, among a chain of islands under whose shelter
they hoped to cross to the north shore of the lake, but
Hhe presence of ice interfered with their progress. The
delay was accepted with patience, the easier borne
perhaps because of the abundance of fish caught. Two
of the hunters killed a reindeer and its fawn, upon which
they feasted with relish. Rain, thunder-storms, and cold
winds did not add to their comfort, but it is worthy of note
that not one word of complaint was made by Mackenzie
or his men, who accepted with becoming fortitude and
resignation conditions beyond the power of man to alter,
which would indeed appear to be the natural state of
mind for any reasonable man to harbour, but which
is more frequently utterly absent, being replaced by ill-
temper, impatience, and irritability.
At five o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, June 21st,
the ice permitted of some progress being made, and they
covered a distance of fifteen miles in the lee of the islands,
upon one of which they camped within three miles of the
north shore, which they were prevented by the ice from
reaching. Upon another island in the group they saw
some reindeer, and Mackenzie sent the hunters there
to get some. In this they were successful, easily killing
five large and two small ones. In remembrance of this
fortunate   accession  to  their  supplies  the  island  was
promptly named Isle de Carrebceuf. " I sat up the whole
of this night to observe the setting and rising of the sun.
The orb was beneath the horizon four hours twenty-two
minutes, and rose North 200 East by compass. It,
however, froze so hard that, during the sun's disappearance,
the water was covered with ice half a quarter of an inch
The route taken by Mackenzie after leaving Fort
Resolution, " the houses built by Messrs Grant and Le
Roux in 1786," was in a general easterly direction until
the chain of islands was reached, and by threading a
way through the passage between them he came within
three miles of the north shore. From that point he
skirted along shore towards the west. Leaving the
island where he had watched the sun set and rise at half-
past three a.m., after travelling fifteen miles it blew so
hard they were driven to take refuge on an island. There
they cached two bags of pemmican for the use of Le
Roux and his men upon their return journey, and on
that account they named the island Isle a la Cache.
There Mackenzie took an observation, and gives the
position as 61 ° 53' N., with a compass variation of two
points. Resting there from half-past nine until the
violence of the wind abated, they again got afloat, and
steering west by north among the islands, not meeting
with any ice, they camped for the night upon an island
at eight o'clock, enduring the torments inflicted by
clouds of mosquitoes, for it is remarkable that in those
latitudes no sooner does the sun begin to melt the ice
and snow than myriads of these pests appear as if by
On Tuesday, June 23rd, they re-embarked at half-
past three, and after travelling westerly for over thirty
miles landed on the mainland, the north shore of Great
Slave Lake, at half-past two in the afternoon, at a place
where were three lodges of Red-Knife Indians, " so
called from their copper knives,"  explains Mackenzie.
(They are sometimes called Yellow Knives.) Intelligence
of the arrival of the traders spread from this small native
settlement to other lodges of the same tribe at a little
distance. From these Indians on the following day
Le Roux purchased a quantity of furs, " upwards of eight
packs of good beaver and marten skins." The Indian
known as English Chief, who had set out from Fort
Chipewyan with Mackenzie, collected from these same
natives a hundred skins in payment of debts owing to
him, and forty of these he handed over to Le Roux in
settlement of indebtedness incurred two years before
at Fort Resolution. With the remainder he purchased
some rum and other articles from the trader, and, says
Mackenzie, " I added a small quantity of that liquor as
an encouraging present to him and his young son."
From these Indians Mackenzie failed to extract any
useful information about the river that emptied out of
the lake, with the exception of the situation of the outlet
of the lake itself, and, as this was an important matter,
Mackenzie engaged one of the Red Knives to guide them
to it. To further facilitate progress he purchased a large
new canoe for the use of the guide, with whom went
two of Mackenzie's Indians from Athabasca.
Keen as he was on the exploratory work he had commenced, Mackenzie did not overlook an opportunity for
advancing the business interests of his company, and he
informed the Red Knives that although he would continue his journey on the morrow, Le Roux would remain
amongst them, and that if those of their own tribe living
at a distance, and for whom they had sent, brought with
them plenty of skins, the traders would go for further
supplies and come back to establish a fort there. Mackenzie took advantage of the moment to indite letters
to Roderick Mackenzie and to A. N. M'Leod, as this
would be the last opportunity he would have until his
return to send any communication to his associates.
Bidding adieu to Le Roux and his men at three o'clock
on Thursday morning, June 25th, to the accompaniment
of a volley of small arms, Mackenzie and his companions
left the Red Knife village to begin in earnest his voyage
of discovery. Once the descent of the unknown waterway discharging from the lake was commenced, with
the exception of a comparatively short distance, a region
not yet visited by white man would be entered upon.
It soon transpired that the Red Knife whom they had
taken as a guide to the outlet of the lake was of very
little service to them* Eight years had passed since he
had last visited that spot, and his imperfect knowledge
resulted in a great loss of time and energy, inasmuch as
he led them to enter several bays which proved to have
no outlet whatever. Mackenzie observed deserted lodges
on shore, and other evidences of the natives having made
use of that part of the country at one time. From time
to time the hunters succeeded in adding swans, beaver,
deer, ptarmigan, and other game to the larder, and the
abundance of wild berries of various sorts was noted.
Sunday, 28th, brought no relief to their anxiety. A
heavy wind and sea gave them so much trouble that,
says Mackenae, " we were obliged to make use of our
large kettle to keep our canoe from filling, although we
did not carry above three feet sail. The Indians very
narrowly escaped. . . . The English Chief was very
much irritated against the Red-Knife Indian, and even
threatened to murder him, for having undertaken to guide
us in a course of which he was ignorant; nor had we
any reason to be satisfied with him, though he still continued to encourage us by declaring that he recollected
having passed from the river through the woods to the
place where he had landed." Fortunately the irascible
English Chief did not put his dire threat into execution,
and the next morning, Monday, 29th, brought an end
to their anxiety. Embarking at four o'clock, they rounded
a point, one of the horns of the blind bay into which the
Red Knife had taken them-the evening before, at half-
past five, and found themselves in a channel separated
from the main body of the river by an island fourteen
miles in length. Passing the island they found the current
strong, with a depth of water varying from two to five
More than four full days had been consumed in arriving
at the river after leaving the trader Le Roux at the Red
Knife lodges. In that period they had covered many
miles by the use of sail and paddle in making their course
westerly, and despite the anger of English Chief, and
the more temperate dissatisfaction of the leader of the
expedition, at their guide's incompetence, they had done
exceedingly well to accomplish so much. It must be
remembered that Great Slave Lake is a very large sheet
of water, its area being ten thousand square miles. Its
greatest length is about three hundred miles, and its
extreme width fifty miles. Its shores are indented with
numerous bays, some of them very deep, thus creating
a coast-line of great length. Ice, fog, and wind militated
against setting a straight course for an outlet seen only
once eight years before by the Indian guide. As it turned
out, the river could have been found quite as easily
without a guide as with. Nor did the Red Knife prove
of any service to them after they entered the river, for,
soon coming to what is now known as Little Lake, an
expansion of the Mackenzie River below the outlet of
Great Slave Lake, they were at a loss what course to take
to find its outlet, nor could the guide help them since
he had never " explored beyond our present situation."
After floundering about in shallows for some time they
eventually recovered the proper channel and continued
their way.
Their guide told them that " a river falls in from the
North, which takes its rise in the Horn Mountain, now in
sight, which is the country of the Beaver Indians; and
that he and his relations frequently meet on the river."
The stream referred to is that afterwards spoken of by
Mackenzie as Yellow Knife River, where the following
year he established a trading post.
Leaving camp at four o'clock a.m. on the 30th, the
last day of June, they ran down the river for a distance
of fifty-seven miles, and at six in the afternoon " there
was an appearance of bad weather; we landed, therefore, for the night; but before we could pitch our tents
a violent tempest came on, with thunder, lightning, and
rain, which, however, soon ceased, but not before we
had suffered the inconvenience of being drenched by it.
The Indians were very much fatigued, having been employed in running after wild-fowl, which had lately cast
their feathers ; they, however, caught five swans and the
same number of geese."
Resuming the voyage at half-past four on the morning
of July ist, in a short time the river narrowed to about
half a mile, with a strong current and high banks on either
hand. After proceeding thirty-three miles, making frequent soundings as was Mackenzie's custom, the all-
important lead was lost. " Here I lost my lead," wrote
the explorer, " which had fastened at the bottom with
part of the line, the current running so strong that we
could not clear it with eight paddles, and the strength
of the line, which was equal to four paddles." This loss
was sustained about twenty-four miles above the confluence of the Liard River, which Mackenzie designates
as " the river of the Mountains," which " falls in from
the southward." The word Liard means poplar, with
which timber the banks of the tributary are fined. He
describes it as a large river whose mouth is half a mile
Six miles below the junction of the Liard they landed
opposite an island on which they cached two bags of
pemmican for their use upon the return journey. Another
reason for thus lightening the cargo was because they were
in daily expectation of coming to some falls of which
they had  been forewarned by the Indians, and their
canoe being heavily laden, it was sound policy to reduce
the load. The Indians, however, did not approve of caching the pemmican, for they professed to believe that they
could not possibly make the return voyage until the
following season, and by that time it would be spoiled !
Resuming their way the following day at half-past five
on a foggy morning, at nine o'clock they sighted a cluster
of mountains that stretched as far as they could see to
the southward and " whose tops were lost in the clouds,"
which were neither more or less than the main range
of the Rocky Mountains at whose base the river flows
for a long distance, until indeed their height gradually
dwindles until they are lost in the low lands bordering
the Arctic. In illustration of the unreliable testimony
of the Indians on some occasions, may be cited the incident recorded by Mackenzie that afternoon. " At
noon," he writes, "there was lightning, thunder, and
rain, and at one we came abreast of the mountains;
their summits appeared to be barren and rocky, but
their declivities were covered with wood ; they appeared
also to be sprinkled with white stones, which glistened
in the sun, and were called by the Indians manetoeaseniah,
or spirit stones. I suspected they were Talc." Here
indeed did " distance lend enchantment to the view,"
for he confesses that on their return journey " these
appearances were dissolved, as they were nothing more
than patches of snow."
So imbued were fhjey all with the belief that ahead of
them lay dangerous falls, that they were frequently
persuaded that they actually heard the roar of the rapids
close at hand, but it was not until four o'clock the following afternoon, July 3rd, that they encountered anything
worthy the name. Mackenzies observes in his journal
under that date: " Since four in the afternoon the
current has been so strong that it was at length in an
actual ebullition, and produced an hissing sound like a
kettle of water in a moderate state of boiling."    An
hour before entering that rapid water the explorer had
observed a river that " fell in from the north," which
means the east. The stream referred to is Wilfcw River,
over four hundred miles distant from Fort Resolution
on Great Slave Lake.
Possibly because he was hugging the north or east
shore, Mackenzie appears to have missed observing the
North Nahanni River which joins the Mackenzie from
the south or west side, ninety miles below the confluence
of the Liard and sixteen miles above Willow River.
The noise of the waters as they rush over the shallow bar
is clearly heard across the Mackenzie, there a mile wide.
Mackenzie did not waste time on his expedition. Whenever possible he travelled early and late, breaking camp
at an hour when the stall-fed townspeople were still
snoring in their comfortable beds. The Indians with
him did not find this mode of travel to their liking.
They infinitely preferred to take life—and travel—less
strenuously. Time is not " the essence " of anything to
them. It is a commodity they have in plenty, and they
think nothing of it. Haste and hurry are foreign to their
nature. They marvelled at Mackenzie's eagerness to
push onward, but protested in vain. Had he listened
to their counsels his expedition would have resulted in
failure, probably in disaster. Mindful of his object he
pressed on, calling into play his shrewd tact, occasionally
cajoling, sometimes compelling, the reluctant Indians,
but always there was the iron hand under the velvet
glove. He would not permit their indolence to deter
him from prosecuting his journey with all the ardour
of the enthusiast.
Camping at eight in the evening at the foot of a high
hill, which in some parts rose perpendicular from the
river, the explorer immediately ascended it in the company of two of his men and some Indians. An hour
and a half of hard climbing took them to the top, where,
to Mackenzie's surprise, he found an abandoned Indian
camp. The Indians accompanying him told him that
it is usual for unarmed natives to choose such elevated
sites for their residence, as they are thus better protected
from their enemies. All around him Mackenzie saw other
peaks as high as that he was on, and in the valleys between
were numerous glistening lakes swarming with swans.
The mosquitoes were so thick and troublesome that
Mackenzie was unable to remain on the summit long,
and speedily returned to the camp.
On July 4th they covered seventy miles, the river
running with as strong a current as on the preceding
afternoon, passing the mouths of " the river between
two mountains," Le Vieux Grand Lac River, and Gravel
River on the way. Although they had started at five
in the morning they did not encamp for the night until
eight o'clock, at which hour they hauled the canoes out
of the water and erected their tents on an island. The
hunters did not succeed in adding much provision that day,
one goose being all they brought into camp. One of them
had shot a beaver, but it had sunk before he could recover
it. That night Mackenzie noted that the sun set at
fifty-three minutes past nine, and rose again on the morning of the 5th at seven minutes before two. Shortly
after sunrise they embarked, passing a number of islands
and observing ahead a ridge of snow-clad mountains.
After making about twenty miles they " saw several
smokes on the north shore" which they believed to
proceed from Indian lodges, and Mackenzie immediately
ordered the canoes to make for the shore. As they
approached the land they observed the natives running
about in great confusion, some making for their canoes,
others hastening to the shelter of the belt of trees on the
bank. Mackenzie sent his hunters ashore first to parley
with such as remained, but it was only after all Mackenzie's men had landed and unloaded the canoes and
pitched their tents, that the affrighted natives were
convinced that no hostile intent was directed against
them. They were ultimately induced to visit the camp
of the strangers, and their reception speedily assured
them they had nothing to fear, whereupon they hailed
their companions and bade them join them.
The encampment comprised five families numbering
from twenty-five to thirty people all told, of the Slave
and Dog Rib tribes. Following his usual custom Mackenzie made them smoke, but they did not appear to know
the use of tobacco, nor did the serving out of grog afford
them any satisfaction, but when the travellers made
them presents of knives, beads, flints, hatchets, and
similar articles they became almost too friendly, and it
proved difficult to keep them out of the tents. If Mackenzie hoped to obtain from these Indians any useful
information about the route still before him, he was
doomed to disappointment. They told him that it would
require several winters—a winter or " snow " meaning
a year—to get to the sea, and they would be old men
before they could return. They further assured Mackenzie that there were two impassable falls or rapids in
the river ahead of them, the nearest of which was a thirty
days' march distant, and that they would encounter
monsters of such horrid shapes and destructive powers
that only the most vivid imagination could conjure up.
It is probable that they had either seen or heard of
whales, which occasionally entered the Mackenzie River
and ascended it for some distance, or, as one of the monsters was described as being of huge stature bearing
enormous wings, that they may have heard rumours,
passed from tribe to tribe, of sailing ships seen by the
natives on the Pacific coast.
While these fairy tales did not impress Mackenzie,
they had a far greater effect upon his Indians, who,
already weary of the long voyage, the long hours of toil,
readily seized upon the opportunity to add their contribution to the Jeremiads of the natives. They told
their leader that there were very few animals in the
country ahead of them, and they would starve if he
persisted in going on, and that would probably be the
least of the evils that might befall them! With infinite
patience and tact Mackenzie succeeded in showing them
how foolish were their fears, and he even induced them
to persuade one of the natives to accompany the expedition in " consideration of a small kettle, an axe, a
knife, and some other articles," but when the hour of
re-embarkation arrived, the new recruit was loth to
fulfil his bargain. Mackenzie, however, was equal to
the occasion, for he naively observes, " we may be said,
after the delay of an hour, to have compelled him to
embark." Before taking his place in the canoe the
recruit cut off a lock of his hair, fastened a part of it to
that of his wife, blowing on it three times with " the
utmost violence in his power." The same ceremony
he observed in the case of his two children, but the meaning of this rite Mackenzie could not discover. That
the explorer had made a favourable impression on these
people may be gathered from the fact that, during their
short stay with them, they danced and sang for the
entertainment of their visitors. At four o'clock in the
afternoon Mackenzie resumed his journey after extracting a promise from the natives that they would remain
at that place till the autumn, pending the possible return
of the travellers and their kinsman.
Mackenzie describes them as being " a meagre, ugly,
ill-made people, particularly about the legs, which are
very clumsy and covered with scabs. The latter circumstance proceeds from their habitually roasting them
before the fire. Many of them appeared to be in a very
unhealthy state, which is owing, as I imagine, from
their natural filthiness. They are of a moderate stature,
and as far as could be discovered, through the coat of
dirt and grease that covers them, are of a fairer complexion than the generality of Indians who are the natives
of warmer climates."
I Some of them have their hair of a great length;
while others suffer a long tress to fall behind, and the rest
of the hair is cut so short as to expose their ears, but
no other attention whatever is paid to it. The beards
of some of the old men were long, afhd the rest had them
pulled out by the roots so that not a hair could be seen
on their chins. The men have two double lines, either
black or blue, tattooed upon each cheek from the ear
to the nose. The gristle of the latter is perforated so as
to admit a goose-quill or a small piece of wood to be
passed through the orifice. Their clothing is made of
the dressed skins of the rein or moose deer, though more
commonly of the former. These they prepare in the
hair for winter, and make shirts of both, which reach to
the middle of their thighs. Some of them are decorated
with an embroidery of very neat workmanship, with
porcupine quills and the hair of the moose coloured red,
black, yellow, and white. Their upper garments are
sufficiently large to cover the whole body with a fringe
around the bottom, and are used both when sleeping and
awake. Their leggings come half-way up the thigh,
and are sewed to the shoes; they are embroidered round
the ancle and upon every seam. The dress of the women
is the same as that of the men."
Bracelets and anklets made of horn, bone, or wood,
and belts, garters, and head-bands of strips of leather
embroidered with stained porcupine quills and bear claws,
formed their ornaments. Their weapons consisted of
bows and arrows, spears, daggers, and clubs. The arrows
were thirty inches long, and barbed with bone, horn,
flint, copper, or iron. Their canoes are small, pointed
at both ends, somewhat resembling those used on the
Columbia River, and generally carry but one person,
seldom more than two.
Beyond the brief mention of having observed the
smoke on the shore, Mackenzie passes over the incident.
He may have been of the opinion that it came from
wood fires, but he seems not to have taken any steps
at that time to ascertain what caused it. Upon his
return journey, however, he ascertained the true reason.
The smoke came from the burning lignite that for over
a century has never been extinguished, the " boucans,"
a vast tertiary deposit of alternate layers of friable schist,
hgnite, pipe-clay, and vegetable mould. The schists
are in a state of combustion winter and summer, but
the subterranean fire, which shows itself on the surface
through smoke - holes " stinking of bitumen," is
After proceeding about six miles they passed the mouth
of Great Bear River, which empties out of Great Bear
Lake. This tributary is from two to three hundred yards
•wide at its mouth, according to the season. Mackenzie
gave its width as one hundred yards. Its water is a
beautiful greenish-blue colour. Six miles beyond Great
Bear River a wind-storm, accompanied by rain, compelled
them to make a landing and camp for the night.
Their new guide malingered in the hope of being sent
back to his people. In this he was disappointed. In
place of letting him go, a guard was set over him to
prevent him making off during the night.
On Monday, July 6th, they were afloat again at three
o'clock in the morning, and made, according to Mackenzie, seventy miles before camping at seven-thirty
in the evening. Mackenzie records having observed a
river flowing into the Mackenzie from the west, and " I
also discovered a strong rippling current or rapid which
ran close under a steep precipice of the hilL" The rapids
he mentions are the San Sault, and within the distance
of seven miles above them two rivers empty into the
Mackenzie from the west—the Carcajou, ninety miles
below Great Bear River, and Mountain River, five
miles farther down-stream from the Carcajou. Accompanied by one of the hunters Mackenzie began the ascent
of the hill, but before they got half-way they were almost
suffocated by clouds of mosquitoes, and were compelled
to give up the attempt and return to their camp. The
place where Mackenzie camped that night must have
been close to the San Sault Rapids, and instead of having
travelled seventy miles that day, they had made at least
ten miles more.
The following morning the canoes crossed to the opposite
side of the river to avoid the rapid, which is confined to
the east side only; " but," says the explorer, " we might
have spared ourselves this trouble, as there would have
been no danger in continuing our course, and yet this
was one of the two formidable impassable falls they
had been threatened with by the companions of their
new guide ! The San Sault Rapids are caused by a ledge
of rock that extends one-third of the way across the river
—which at that point is a mile and a quarter wide—
and which at low-water is barely covered. At flood
of the river the rapids make a considerable amount of
noise, but offer no obstacle to river steamers.
Continuing down-stream for seventeen miles from the
San Sault Rapids they came to the mouth of a river
that flowed from the eastward, and there they landed
at "an encampment of four fires, all the inhabitants
of which ran off with the utmost speed, except an old
man and an old woman." The guide called out to the
fugitives, begging them to remain, but without effect.
The old man, however, walked towards them without
hesitation, stating that he was too old to be anxious
to escape death; " at the same time he pulled his grey
hair from his head by handfuls to distribute among us,
and implored our favour for himself and his relations."
Surely a pathetic exhibition of unselfish regard for the
safety of his people that none could have resisted!
Amicable relations, however, were soon established
between the strangers and the eighteen people at the
encampment, and the usual presents successfully relieved
their alarms.   The natives, in return, provided the visitors
with a meal of boiled fish. The guide, once more in touch
with people who spoke his own tongue and followed
customs like his own, was again seized with nostalgia,
and was so eager to return to his own people that Mac-
kenae was under the necessity of forcing him into the
The natives told Mackenzie of the existence of another
great rapid a short distance down-stream, and, in their
turn, recounted such a tale of difficulties and dangers
to be faced as might have daunted a less determined man.
Seeing he was not to be persuaded, four canoes, with a
man in each, followed Mackenrie to' point out to liim
the safe channels through the rapids. Two miles took
them to where " the river appeared to be enclosed, as
it were, with lofty, perpendicular, white rocks, which
did not raff ord us a very agreeable prospect." Mackenzie
landed in order to examine the rapid, but they failed to
observe anything worthy the name. Although the
Indians still spoke in exaggerated terms of the dangers
of the alleged rapids, they descended the stream, and,
when Mackenzie followed, admitted that there was no
other rapid excepting that they were then navigating.
Here again is another instance of Mackenzie's underestimation of distances. He gives that from San Sault
Rapids to the rapids just mentioned, at the head of
the canon known as the Ramparts, as nineteen miles.
The actual distance is tlurty-nine miles. While Mackenzie notes the Indian encampment near a river flowing
from the eastward, he fails to mention two streams,
the Beaver River and a smaller tributary, that enter
from the west a short distance above the last rapids.
The explorer states that the river at the Ramparts is
" not above three hundred yards in breadth," but on
sounding gave a depth of fifty fathoms. More recent
observers give the width of the river at that point at
various figures, ranging from five hundred yards to half
a mile.    Notwithstanding the narrowing of the river
the current is not perceptibly increased, this being
accounted for by the great depth of three hundred feet,
the current running at a rate not exceeding four to five
miles an hour. This canon, bounded by rocky ramparts
of limestone rising to two hundred and fifty feet above
the river, continues for seven miles (Mackenzie says
three miles), the width of the river increasing to a mile
and a half at the lower end. Ice jams are prone to occur
in the canon, and it is related that on one occasion a
derelict canoe was lifted by the ice and deposited upon
the top of the cliff above.
At the head of the Ramparts they encountered more
natives, six families, who presented them with a quantity
of fish, white fish and poisson inconnu, and another of
unnamed variety of a greenish colour, probably the grayling.1 Mackenzie gave them a few presents and left
them, the men following in fifteen canoes. Six miles
farther down they came to another Indian encampment
" of three or more families, containing twenty-two persons," which was situated on the bank of a river of a
considerable appearance, which came from the eastward.
This is Hare Indian River, which is two hundred yards
wide at its mouth, and which has its rise in the range
of hills north-west of Great Bear Lake. Two miles above
Hare Indian River is the present Fort Good Hope, which
is just under the Arctic Circle. From the natives at
this encampment on the Hare Indian River, Mackenzie
received gifts of hares and partridges. In return he made
them the usual presents, and they undertook to have
skins there for him upon his return journey.
Resuming the voyage, five miles farther on they fell
in with a small native camp and landed.    From them
1 Mackenzie describes the colour as greenish, which may be sufficiently accurate to apply to the grayling, which is often called bluefish in
the north, the colour being a bluish-green or greenish-blue. It is the
shape of a trout, takes the fly, and is excellent eating. It occurs
throughout the region from Peace River to the Arctic Ocean.
Mackenzie obtained two dozen hares. Four miles lower
down Mackenzie camped at nine at night, two of the men
from the native camp following them in canoes. The
'guide renewed his complaints, now expressing his apprehensions of the Esquimaux who would be met when
they neared the sea, and whom he represented as very
wicked people who would kill them all. The following
morning they embarked at half-past two and soon saw
more Indians, to whom they gave presents but did not
land, and a short distance below, observing several
smokes on the shore, the travellers landed. Upon their
approach the natives fled, but the Indians accompanying
Mackenzie persuaded them to return to their fires. Some
of them were clad in hare skins and belonged to the Hare
tribe, so called because their diet consists almost wholly
of hares and fish. They numbered twenty-five, all of
whom received presents from Mackenzie. Here the
disgruntled guide was given his liberty. He had become
a perfect nuisance, having to be guarded every moment
they were ashore. One of the Hares agreed to go in his
place, but repented his bargain and tried to get out of
it, but Mackenzie compelled him to embark.
At noon a small native camp consisting of three men,
as many women, and two children was observed. Mackenzie landed and found they had just returned from a
hunting expedition with some venison, which was in
such a bad state that the explorer declined a present of
a portion of it. These people told marvellous tales of
dangers ahead, and warned them that behind an island
opposite the camp there was a Manitoe or spirit in the
river, that swallowed every person that approached it.
Mackenzie did not care to waste the time necessary to
test the truth of the story, and after making presents
continued his course, fog prevailing the greater part of
the day.    They were now well within the Arctic Circle.
Thursday morning, July 9th, revealed the desertion
of their new guide.   The two Indians who had followed
them from the encampment a short distance below
Hare Indian River had continued to keep in their company, and Mackenzie pressed one of them, much against
his will, into the service to fill the breach. At half-past
three the voyage was resumed, and soon a smoke on the
east bank informed them of another native camp. As
the canoes neared the shore the guide called out to the
natives, but what he said none of the travellers understood. He told Mackenzie that they were wicked cruel
people, but that did not deter the explorer from his
purpose. The native women and children took to the
woods, but the men stood their ground, and, from their
shouting, appeared to be in a state of anger. The guide,
however, pacified them, Mackenzie gave them presents,
and soon the fugitives joined the party. Mackenzie
noticed that the language spoken was not the same as
that of the Hares, and that they were of a more pleasing
appearance, full-bodied and healthy-looking, and clean
in their persons. English Chief could understand them,
but was himself not understood by them. They were
probably of the Loocheux tribe, inhabiting the district
intervening between the Hares and the Esquimaux.
From the latter, their hereditary foes, they obtained
iron and other articles. Legend says that the Loocheux
forced the Esquimaux north. If that be correct, they
rendered the latter a good service, for their country is
superior to that occupied by the Loocheux. From time
immemorial there has been bad blood between the two,
and fighting took place frequently. In the '6o's, in a
pitched battle, the last that took place, only two Loocheux
escaped alive, while not one Esquimaux was killed.
The Hudson Bay trader at Fort Macpherson paid the
blood price of the slain Loocheux, and thus prevented a
Their arms and utensils differed but little from those
seen at other camps. Their shirts, instead of being cut
square at the bottom, tapered to a point from the belt
down to the knee, and were embellished with a fringe.
Their leggings, unusually long, were fastened by a cord
round the waist. One of the men was dressed in a garment
made of the skins of the musk-rat. " Their peculiar
mode of tying the hair is as follows," describes Mackenzie : " that which grows on the temples or the forepart
of the skull is formed into two queues, hanging down
before the ears; that of the scalp or crown is fashioned
in the same manner to the back of the neck, and is then
tied with the rest of the hair at some distance from the
head. A thin cord is employed for these purposes, and
very neatly worked with hair, artificially coloured. The
women, and indeed some of the men, let their hair hang
loose on their shoulders, whether it be long or short."
From these people Mackenzie and his men purchased
moose skins and buckskin shirts.
One of the Loocheux consented to go with them as a
guide, but when Mackenzie's men fired a volley of powder
only, he would have withdrawn had not the explorer
explained that it was merely a signal of friendship. Those
people had never before heard the report of a gun. He
insisted, however, in going in his own canoe, but soon
asked to be taken in with the travellers, inspired thereto
by the songs of two of his brothers who followed in their
canoes. " On our putting to shore," says Mackenzie,
" in order to leave his canoe, he informed us that on the
opposite hill the Esquimaux, three winters before, killed
his grandfather."
At four o'clock in the afternoon another smoke sent
the canoes to the west shore. The natives made " a
most terrible uproar, talking with great vociferation,
and running about as if they were deprived of their
senses, while the greater part of the women, with the
children, fled away." Mackenzie believed that " if we
had been without people to introduce us, they would
have attempted some violence against us, for when the
Indians send away their women and children it is always
with a hostile design." They were, however, soon pacified,
and presents put them all on a friendly footing. The
encampment consisted of forty people in all. Mackenzie
names them Deguthes Dinees or Quarrellers. Doubtless
they also were Loocheux. As Mackenzie was about to
re-embark the guide expressed a wish to remain behind,
giving as his excuse that he feared they would not return,
and also that the Esquimaux might kill all hands. These
objections were overruled, and in the end he consented
to go on and gave no further trouble. Eight canoes
followed the expedition as they resumed the voyage.
That night camp was made on the east side of the river,
and, from natives found there, Mackenzie learned that
from the encampment he had visited that morning the
distance overland on the east side to the sea was not
long, and that from his present camp by proceeding
westward it was still shorter. At that place Mackenzie
observed "a large quantity of wild flax, the growth of
last year, laying on the ground, and the new plants were
sprouting up through it," and this be it remembered
well within the Arctic Circle.
Embarking at four o'clock on the morning of the 10th,
they noticed that the river banks were very low and
the land in general low-lying, except the mountains whose
bases were ten miles distant. A short distance below
the starting-point the river widened considerably, " and
runs through various channels formed by islands."
Mackenzie had arrived at the delta of the river. The
delta is one hundred miles long from north to south,
and seventy wide at its broadest point. Which channel
to follow was the question then to be decided. The
guide naturally enough gave preference to the easternmost channel, inasmuch as it was the farthest removed
from the Esquimaux, the hereditary enemies of his
people. Mackenzie, however, chose the middle channel.
That day he took an observation and records the latitude
as 670 47' N.   This surprised him, since it gave his position
farther north and more to the east than he had expected,
from which he deduced the river must empty " into the
.Hyperborean Sea; and," he adds resolutely, " though
it was probable that, from want of provision, we could
not return to Athabasca in the course of the season, I
nevertheless determined to penetrate to the discharge
of them."
The new guide now in his turn began to weary of his
position, and exerted himself to dissuade the two Indian
hunters from proceeding farther, and to such good purpose that, Mackenzie states, the hunters became so
disheartened " that I was confident they would have
left me if it had been in their power." He was obliged
to placate them by promising he would turn back in seven
days more if they did not reach the sea then. The natives
who had followed them in their own canoes on the previous day returned to their homes that morning.
On Saturday, nth, Mackenzie sat up all night to
observe the sun, and at half an hour after midnight
awakened one of his men to view a spectacle he had
never seen before—the midnight sun. The man, thinking
the day far advanced, began calling his companions,
and Mackenzie had some ado to persuade them that
it was but a short time past midnight. At a quarter
before four they embarked, and at noon landed at a
place where some Esquimaux had recently camped.
They counted where fifty or sixty fires had burned.
Scattered about were pieces of whalebone, burned leather,
and other indications of the presence of man, " and
there was the singular appearance of a spruce fir, stripped
of its branches to the top like an English May-Pole."
This peculiarly trimmed tree, with a tuft left at the top,
is known as a lob-stick, which may be described as a
sort of memorial erected in honour of some one who had
passed that way, and whose companions salute it whenever they again visit that locality. At Point Separation,
the place where Sir John Franklin and Dr Richardson
parted on July 3rd, 1826, two lobsticks were prepared
to mark the occasion. Twenty-two years subsequently
Richardson again visited Point Separation, and he
records under date July 30th, 1848: " In compliance
with my instructions, a case of pemmican was buried at
this tree on the Point, and placed in it, along with the
pemmican, a bottle containing a memorandum of the
Expedition, and such information respecting the Company's post as I judged would be useful to the boat
party should they reach this river. The lower branches
of the tree were lopped off, a part of its trunk denuded
of bark, and a broad arrow painted thereon with red
paint. In performing these duties at this place, I could
not but recall to mind the evening of July 3rd, 1826,
passed on the very same spot with Sir John Franklin.
We were then full of joyous anticipation." It may be
observed that in 1849 two boats of the Plover visited
the spot and duly found the pemmican. In whose honour
the lobstick observed by Mackenzie had been prepared
is unknown.
Continuing down the channel the river widened for
a distance of about five miles, and then flowed in a
number of narrow meandering streams between low-
lying islands. At four in the afternoon they landed
at a place where there were three native huts, in some
measure resembling the keekwillie houses formerly used
by the Indians in Southern British Columbia. There,
too, they found whalebone, floats of poplar bark for nets,
sledge runners, and posts upon which the Esquimaux
hung their nets to dry. Embarking again, they did not
camp for the night until eight o'clock, having travelled
fifty-four miles that day. They had not seen a single
Esquimaux, although fresh footprints indicated some
had been in that neighbourhood recently. Again the
discontent of his men broke out owing to the tales told
them by the guide. He asserted that another day would
take them to a large lake—the Arctic,—although neither
he nor his friends had ever seen that particular part of
it. He told also of whales, polar bears, and another
large animal—probably the walrus. The gift of a capote
to English Chief and of a moose skin" to the guide pacified
the one and silenced the other. These bribes kept them
quiet for the nonce.
Next day, Sunday, 12th, they again embarked and
proceeded on the same meandering course as on the
previous day, landing at ten o'clock where stood four
huts, the same as those seen the day before, and beside
them runners of sledges were laid together as though in
readiness for the return of their owners. A large stone
kettle, pieces of nets made of sinews, and other articles
were also seen. Mackenzie says in his journal of that date:
" When we had satisfied our curiosity we re-embarked,
but were at a loss what course to steer, as our guide
seemed to be as ignorant of this country as ourselves.
Though the current was very strong, we appeared to
have come to the entrance of the lake." He took an
observation, which gave his position as 690 1/ N. Continuing the same course for fifteen miles to the most
westerly point of a high island, they found that " the
lake was quite open to us to the westward, and out of
the channel of the river there was not more than four
feet of water, and in some places the depth did not exceed
one foot. From the shallowness of the water it was
impossible to coast to the westward. At five o'clock
we arrived at the island, and during the last fifteen miles
five feet was the deepest water. The lake now appeared
to be covered with ice for about two leagues' distance,
and no land ahead, so that we were prevented from
proceeding in this direction by the ice and the shallowness of the water along the shore. We landed at the
boundary of our voyage in this direction." Accompanied
by English Chief, Mackenzie ascended to the highest
part of the island, and from that vantage-point surveyed
all around.   Solid ice extended from the south-west to
the eastward; to the south-west a chain of mountains
loomed dimly in the distance, stretching to the north
beyond the edge of the ice.
Mackenzie was indeed nearly at the end of his journey.
It has been remarked by some who have followed the
records of his daring exploit, that he did not express
any regret at failing to reach the sea. He did, however,
indirectly voice that regret, if only to assert the loyalty
of those he calls " my people," by whom he surely must
have meant only his Canadians, for the Indians would
have been only too happy had he cut short his expedition
long before he began the return voyage. " My people
could not at this time refrain from expressions of real
concern," he wrote, " that they were obliged to return
without reaching the sea; indeed, the hope of attaining
this object encouraged them to bear, without repining,
the hardships of our unremitting voyage. For some time
past their spirits were animated by the expectation
that another day would bring them to the Mer d'ouest;
and even in our present situation they declared their
readiness to follow me wherever I should be pleased to
lead them."
That night the rising water, the incoming tide, obliged
them to rise from their beds on mother earth and remove
the baggage to drier ground. At noon on the 13th Mackenzie took another observation and found their position
to be 690 14' N. That afternoon he again climbed to the
highest point of the island to reconnoitre. A heavy
wind that had been blowing since noon had not moved
the ice. Far away to the north-west he could just distinguish two small islands in the ice. It continued to
blow that evening, and was still blowing when the camp
stirred the following morning. As he had not retired
until three o'clock in the morning he did not rise until
nine, when he was aroused to decide what strange animals
were those his men saw disporting in the water. They
were whales, and he at once embarked with his crew in
the canoe and set off in pursuit of the huge creatures.
They failed to overtake them, which in calmer moments
Mackenzie considered most fortunate, "as a stroke from
the tail of one of these enormous fish would have dashed
the canoe to pieces." The whales were the Beluga or
White Whale, one of the chief articles of food of the
Arctic Esquimaux.
The fog lifting at noon, Mackenzie embarked to make
an inspection of the ice, but after being not more than an
hour on the water a high wind sprang up which compelled
them to hasten to land, narrowly escaping disaster.
Continuing their way in the shelter of some islands,
Mackenzie sought in vain for Esquimaux, whom he was
anxious to fall in with in order to obtain information
from them. At eight o'clock they landed on the eastern
end of the island they had left in the earlier part of the
day, and which Mackenae had named Whale Island,
a long narrow island. That morning he had caused a
post to be erected near their camp at the western end
of the island, and on it he carved his name, the latitude,
690 14' N., the number of men with him, and the duration
of their stay there.
At four o'clock on Wednesday morning, 15th, Mackenzie perceived that the water had again invaded their
baggage. When they had seen the rise and fall of the
water at the western end of the island, they had at the
time attributed it to the wind, but as the wind had not
changed on this second occasion it was necessary to find
another and the real cause of the occurrence, and Mackenzie decided that the tide was responsible. An observation taken at noon gave their position as 690 7' N.
The following day Mackenzie observed the rise and fall
of the tide more closely, and found that it varied from
sixteen to eighteen inches only. At some parts of the
Arctic coast—e.g., that part between the Mackenzie
River and Point Barrow, the rise is from eight to fifteen
inches; farther east, the rise increases to as much as
three or four feet.
On the 16th, Thursday, they again embarked about
seven o'clock and steered under sail for the islands,
Mackenzie still hoping to fall in with some Esquimaux,
but in this he was disappointed. The guide asserted
that they had probably gone to their distant hunting
and fishing grounds, and none would likely be met with
1 unless at a small river that falls into the great one
(Mackenzie) from the eastwards, at a considerable distance from our immediate situation. We accordingly
made for the river and stemmed the current."
In those last ten words Mackenzie announces the
beginning of the return journey. There were excellent
reasons why he should not delay in retracing his steps.
Their reserve provisions had run so low, only five hundred
pounds in weight remaining, that there was barely
sufficient to last fifteen people, the strength of the expedition at that time, twelve days without contributions
by the hunters. Hemmed in by ice, any material advance
was out of the question, and the season of the year, together with the discontent of the Indians with him,
made it hazardous to defer the departure for the south.
Mackenzie accepted the situation and set his face homewards to Fort Chipewyan.
It has been asserted that Mackenzie did not actually
reach the Arctic Ocean, but only penetrated as far as the
delta of the great river that bears his name. It is pointed
out in support of this contention that Mackenzie himself,
in his published voyages, states that his men were concerned " because they were obliged to return without
reaching the sea; indeed, the hope of attaining this
object encouraged them to bear, without repining, the
hardships of our unremitting voyage. For some time
past their spirits were animated by the expectation
that another day would bring them to the Mer d'ouest;
and even in our present situation they declared their
readiness to follow me where I should be pleased to lead
them." This is taken to be irrefutable infernal evidence
that Mackenzie had failed in his prime object.
There is, however, another meaning to be read into
those words. His men, and he himself without doubt,
had hoped to reach, by the river they had followed,
the western sea, the Mer d'ouest, and sail upon its surface.
Instead, they had arrived at the Arctic Ocean and found
further progress barred by the ice, thus preventing them
continuing the voyage to the goal of their cherished
hopes, the Mer d'ouest. From Whale Island Mackenzie
had scanned the horizon in every direction. Close at hand
lay a stretch of open water, that in which they had
pursued the Beluga whales. Enclosing that space a
barrier of ice extended far in the distance, and beyond
its gleaming surface lay the open sea. These conditions
are frequently found at the mouth of the Mackenzie.
Had the wind shifted the ice—as Mackenzie hoped it
would—he and his men would have been enabled to
sail at will upon the frozen ocean, and, if so disposed,
follow the coast to Point Barrow and through Behring
Strait into the Pacific Ocean, the western sea of their
dreams. In the northerly offing Mackenzie discerned,
dimly, two small islands; elsewhere nothing but ice
and water, conclusive evidence that they had emerged
from the delta of the river and had reached the sea itself,
as a glance at the accompanying map will show.
The words " stemmed the current " are interpreted by
some to indicate that Mackenzie was still in the river
and could not have reached the sea for that reason, a
conclusion that is not sustained by the facts. It might
be said with equal truth that Simon Fraser did not reach
the Pacific when he descended the Fraser River, because
he did not cross the Gulf of Georgia, navigate the strait
of Juan de Fuca, and enter the Pacific off Cape Flattery.
Between him and the full expanse of ocean lay the archi-
Whale Island, marked with a x , Alex. Mackenzie's Farthest North Land.
pelago in the Gulf of Georgia and the larger Vancouver
Island. No one would have the temerity, however, to
deliberately assert that Fraser did not reach the Pacific.
In the same way it might be said of Mackenzie himself
that on his second great journey across the Rocky
Mountains to the waters of Bentinck Inlet, he did not
reach the Pacific because he was only on an arm of the
sea many miles distant from open water, with islands
intervening. Splitting of hairs is a puerile pursuit, and
leads nowhere.
It is stated, in support of the contention that Mackenzie
did not actually reach the Arctic, that he was still in the
current of the river, and that when he began his homeward journey he " stemmed the current." This is quite
true ; he did stem the current, but he also said, first, " we
made for the river," showing his belief that he had reached
the sea.
It is not uncommon for river currents to reach far into
the body of water that receives them. Taking the Fraser
River as an instance of this, it will recur to those who
have read Captain Vancouver's journals that while still
a considerable distance from land they felt the current
and observed floating debris, indicating the proximity
of a river of considerable volume, but neither he nor the
Spanish navigators, Galiano and Valdez, actually saw
the river, and ultimately went away convinced that
there was none there, notwithstanding the evidence
of their senses and the shallowness of the water indicating
alluvial deposits brought down from the Hinterland by
some river. So it is with the Mackenzie. The pouring of
that vast volume of water into the Arctic is attended by
a strong current reaching far into the sea.
It has been remarked that Mackenzie does not say
anything in his journal to show disappointment at the
result of his journey; perhaps this abstention from
complaint may be accounted for by his knowledge that
he had done what he set out to do, to descend the river
to its mouth. Those who maintain that Mackenzie did
not reach the sea further quote, in support of their position, the following passage from Mackenzie's journal,
under date of August 13th, while on the voyage upstream : " The English Chief was very much displeased
at my reproaches, and expressed himself to me in person
to that effect. This was the very opportunity which
I wanted, to make him acquainted with my dissatisfaction for some time past. I stated to him that I had come
a great way, at a very considerable expense, without
having completed the object of my wishes." Can any one
state positively what the complete object of Mackenzie's
wishes was, if not to reach the Western Sea ? It is possible, but not likely, that he may have made the statement to English Chief to impress upon him the extent
of his displeasure with that somewhat rascally individual. The North-West Passage was still an alluring
bait to explorers; and if Mackenzie could have succeeded in rounding Alaska and reaching some of the
Russian posts on the north-west coast, he would have
accomplished something material towards the solution of
the question.
Mackenzie's observations, which are reasonably accurate,
prove that he did enter the Arctic Ocean, even if his
ignorance of the fact at the time is admitted. He gives
the latitudevof the west end of Whale Island, his most
northerly landing, as 69° 14' N., and the position of his
camp at the eastern end of the same island as 690 7' N.,
which are substantially correct. Both those points tally
with recent observations of the position of Whale Island,
which cartographers place well clear of the delta in the
open sea. It is quite clear, therefore, that Mackenzie
fulfilled his determination " to penetrate to the discharge "
of the river into the Hyperborean Sea, even though he
may not have accomplished all he had hoped to do.
Turning his back on the Arctic Ocean, Mackenzie began
the ascent of the Grand River on July 16th, keeping to
the easterly side. In the afternoon the water was everywhere so shallow that they could touch bottom with
the paddles. Camping at seven in the evening they
set the nets as usual, and the Indian hunters killed two
geese, two cranes, and a white owl. The writer does not
know whether white owl makes a delectable dish or
not, but can vouch for the delicacy of their eggs. Once
within shelter of the river they found an amelioration
of the climate. " Since we entered the river," says
Mackenzie—and here is additional testimony to his
having been out of it—" we experienced a very agreeable change in the temperature in the air; but this
pleasant circumstance was not without inconvenience,
as it subjected us to the persecution of the mosquitoes."
It is remarkable what myriads of these pests infest
the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Throughout the
northern country, no sooner does the heat of the sun
begin to melt the ice and snow than clouds of mosquitoes
seem to spring out of the very ice itself. And not only
are these winged torments present in countless millions,
but enormous hosts of other flies assail the unprotected
human. One traveller says of them: " We thought
we had met mosquitoes on the Athabasca. The Athabasca mosquito is gentle, ineffective, compared with his
cousin of Smith's Portage. Dr Sussex sits on the waggon
seat behind and explains the mosquito. He tells us
that they are of the ' order Diptera' (sub-order Nemo-
cera), * and chiefly of the family Culicidse,' and he also
goes so far as to tell us that they ' annoy man.' As
we bump along in the muskeg and the creatures surround
us in a smother, he ventures to assert that ' the life of
the adult insect is very short,' and that it is the female
who stings. The doctor is a born instructor. We learn
that ' the natural food of the mosquito is a drop or
two of the juice of a plant.' We suspect the doctor
of fagging up on mosquito out of some convent dictionary
while we have been at Fond du Lac. He is like the
parson introduced by his friend of the cloth. ' Brother
Jones will now give an address on Satan. I bespeak
for him your courteous attention, as the reverend gentleman has been preparing this address for weeks, and
comes to you full of his subject.'
1 The adult mosquito may have a short life, but it is a
life crammed full of interest; if the natural food of the
mosquito is the sweet juice of a pretty flower, then a
lot of them in this latitude are imperilling their digestion
on an unnatural commissariat. And if the female mosquitoes do all the fine work, there is a great scarcity of
male mosquitoes on Smith's Portage, and once more in
the North the suffragette comes into her own." 1
On taking up the nets on Friday morning, 17th, they
found only six fish, a mere aggravation to the appetites
of the ravenously hungry men. Embarking at four
o'clock in the morning, they passed four encampments
which appeared to have been recently inhabited. They
landed on a small island near the eastern shore, which
Mackenzie believed to be possessed " somewhat of a
sacred character," the top being covered with graves.
About the graves they found various dishes and other
utensils, as well as a canoe and sledges, which had been
1 Cameron's 'The New North.'
the property in life of those who could now use them
no more. The frame of the canoe was fastened with
whalebone. The sledges, four to eight feet in length,
had wooden runners two inches thick, shod with small
pieces of horn fastened with wooden pegs.
Early in the afternoon they came to the first spruce
tree they had seen for some time. " There are very few
of them on the mainland, and they are very small,"
comments Mackenzie. "Those are larger which are
found on the islands, where they grow in patches, close
together. It is, indeed, very extraordinary that there
should be any wood whatever in a country where the
ground never thaws above five inches from the surface."
Going into camp for the night at seven in the evening,
the explorer ascended to the highest point in the vicinity,
and obtained " a delightful view of the river, dividing
into innumerable streams, meandering through islands,
some of which were covered with wood, others with
grass. The mountains that formed the opposite horizon
were at the distance of forty miles. The inland view was
neither so extensive nor agreeable, being terminated by
a near range of bleak barren hills, between which are
small lakes or ponds, while the surrounding country is
covered with tufts of moss, without the shade of a single
tree. Along the hills is a kind of fence made with branches,
where the natives had set snares to catch white partridges." 1
The hunters, who had been on shore all day foraging,
only brought in two crane and one goose.
Hauling in the nets on the morning of the 18th, they
were found to be empty—not a very promising outlook
for the day's provender. At 3 a.m. they resumed the
journey against the current, passing several deserted
camping grounds, where, however, the footprints of
human beings were very fresh in the sand, and must have
been made very recently.    Mackenzie's expectations of
meeting some of these natives at the tributary river to
which the guide was now conducting them ran very high.
He also observed during the day a number of " lob-
sticks " in several places, and explains that they denote
the immediate abode of the natives, and probably serve
for signals to direct each other to their respective winter
quarters. In the valleys and low lands near the river
they found abundance of cranberries, the fruit of two
seasons being picked off the same plant. Mackenzie
was no botanist, and remarks that he saw " a great
variety of other plants and herbs, whose names and
properties are unknown to me."
That day the hunters met with better success, killing
two reindeer and eight geese, and the well-supplied larder
came as a welcome relief, for the mouldy pemmican which
had formed the major part of their diet when game or
fish was scarce was not provocative of either appetite or
Mackenzie did not sit in the canoe all day while his
men laboured at the paddle. Frequently he landed,
and, accompanied by one or more of the party, walked
along the banks, taking note of whatever appealed to
him as of interest. Walking on this day with English
Chief, he found it very disagreeable and fatiguing, the
country being one continual morass except on the barren
hills. He observed that the face of the high land towards
the river was in some places rocky, and in others a mixture of sand and stone, veined with a kind of red earth
with which the natives bedaub themselves.
When they embarked on the morning of Sunday, 19th,
they discovered that their guide, the Loocheux, had
disappeared, leaving behind him his bow and arrows and
also the moose robe Mackenzie had furnished him with,
" and went off in his shirt, though the weather was very
cold." Mackenzie questioned the Indian hunters whether
they knew why the Loocheux had deserted them, but
they could only attribute it to fear:  first, lest he should
be enslaved; and second, because of his alarm when he
had seen how easily they had killed the two deer the
previous day. That day they killed twenty-two young
geese. " They were of a small kind," remarks Mackenzie
That evening they made their camp near an abandoned
Indian camping-ground, about which were strewn pieces
of bone, horn, &c, showing that the natives had been
engaged while there in making arms and other requisites.
Embarking at three in the morning of the 20th, they
passed in the forenoon the tributary where Mackenzie
had hoped to see some Esquimaux, but there were no
signs of any to be seen, much to his disappointment.
Rain fell all morning, and early in the afternoon it fell
so heavily, accompanied by high wind, that they were
driven to make camp at two o'clock. Notwithstanding
the inclemency of the weather, they succeeded in killing
fifteen geese and four swans. Mackenzie noticed that the
hills near at hand were clothed with spruce and small
birch trees to their very summits.
On the 21st they embarked at the early hour of half-
past one in the morning, and at ten were clear of the
delta, passing the last of the islands between which the
numerous channels meandered at that hour. Once more
in the main stream, recourse was had to tracking—i.e.,
hauling the canoes along by means of a line—this method
proving more expeditious than the paddles alone. At
half-past eight that evening they landed at the same
spot where they had camped on the 9th inst., where they
had observed the wild flax growing. An hour after
making camp some of the natives appeared, among
them the brother of their runaway guide. Mackenzie's
explanation of the desertion did not satisfy this man,
but he expressed his readiness to believe anything the
explorer would tell him if he were given a few beads !
Instead of complying with this modest request, Mackenzie
gave the fellow his brother's bow and arrows which had
been left behind when he deserted. At this place Mackenzie saw the sun set for the first time since his former
visit there. He observed that the river had gone down
three feet since that time.
Breaking camp the next morning, the men tracking,
Mackenzie walked with the Indians to their encampment.
It took three hours of hard walking to reach the huts.
There being a large quantity of fish hung up to dry,
Mackenzie purchased as many as could be stowed in the
canoe, paying a few strings of beads for them. From
these people they learned that the Esquimaux had told
them that they had seen " large canoes full of white
men to the westward eight or ten winters ago, from
whom they obtained iron in exchange for leather." These
were probably Russian or British ships on the Pacific or
the Behring Sea.
Resuming the ascent of the river on the 23rd, they
found progress difficult owing to the nature of the beach.
At five in the afternoon the Indians put ashore in order
to camp, but, to their disgust and annoyance, Mackenzie
pushed on, making his camp at the same site as on the
Sth on the downward voyage. At ten o'clock the Indians
rejoined him there in a sulky mood. During the past
six days they had not touched any of their reserve store
of provisions. In that period they had eaten two reindeer,
four swans, forty-five geese, and a considerable quantity
of fish. " But it is to be considered," remarks Mackenzie,
" that we were ten men and four women. I have always
observed that the north men possessed very hearty
appetites, but they were very much exceeded by those
with me since we entered this river. I should really have
thought it absolute gluttony in my people if my own
appetite had not increased in sinular proportion."
Embarking at 5 a.m. on Friday, 24th, they were obliged
to resort to the line soon after starting; it was impossible
to make any progress against the current with the paddles.
Later on an aft wind enabled them to hoist a sail, which
gave them considerable relief, for the men re-embarked
and enjoyed a rest. At one place, where the Indians resort
for flints, they found " pieces of petroleum which bears a
resemblance to yellow wax, but is more friable." English
Chief told Mackenzie that rocks of a similar kind are
found at the back of Great Slave Lake, where the Chipe-
wyan get their copper. At noon they landed near a
native lodge, the women and children hiding in the
woods as usual, leaving three men with* drawn bows to
resist the intruders. The usual conference followed, and
goodwill obtained by giving presents. One of Mackenzie's
Indians having broken a paddle, attempted to take a
good one by force from one of the natives. Mackenzie
interposed and prevented this being done, much to the
gratification of the owner, who must have been surprised
at this act of clemency on the part of a body of men
so superior in numbers. That night the travellers camped
at seven o'clock, and were visited by an Indian they
had seen before, who remained with them until nine,
when he returned to his own lodge.
At a quarter past three the journey was resumed on
the 25th, and as the force of the current had abated
they could use the paddles again. They passed several
native encampments they had not observed on their
way down. At seven o'clock a thunder-storm broke,
and although they landed and unloaded the canoes and
erected the tents as quickly as possible, it struck them
with so much violence as to threaten to sweep everything
away. The ridge-pole of Mackenzie's tent, a stout timber
three inches in diameter, was snapped in two, and the
men were obliged to He flat upon the ground to escape
injury from the stones that were hurled through the air
by the wind like so much sand. On Sunday morning,
26th, they embarked at four o'clock, and at eight landed
at an Indian camp of three lodges, whose occupants were
asleep, and were greatly alarmed when awakened by
the visitors, though most of them had seen the party on
the downward journey. From these people, in return
for some beads and other trifles, a large quantity of fresh-
caught poisson inconnu was obtained.
Among the natives at this encampment was a Dog-rib
Indian, an exile from his own country, whom English
Chief understood as readily as if they were fellow-countrymen, who stated that he had learned from the Hare
Indians, among whom he now lived, that on the other
side of the mountains to the south-west is a river which
falls into the White Man's Lake—in this instance the
Pacific Ocean—very much larger than the one they
were then on, and that the natives there are very wicked,
and kill ordinary men with a glance from their eyes—
the evil eye with a vengeance ! The Hare Indians apparently settled the North-West Passage question easily
enough, according to the Dog-rib, who stated that as
there is no known communication by water with this
river, the natives who saw it went over the mountains.
Filled as he was with thought for the needs and safety
of his party and the mission upon which they were
engaged, Mackenzie did not forget, as has already been
pointed out, his r61e of fur-trader. The Dog-rib having
said that there were some beavers in the country, Mackenzie improved the occasion. " I told him," he writes,
" to hunt it, and desire the others to do the same, as
well as martens, foxes, beaver-eater or wolverine, &c,
which they might carry to barter for iron with his own
nation, who are supplied with goods by us near their
country." At this same place Mackenzie had to exercise
the utmost vigilance to prevent his Indians abducting a
Hare Indian woman to whom they had taken a fancy,
and in this connection he states that the Indians with him
were ever ready to take what they could from the natives
without payment or any return.
At noon that same day they passed a river which the
natives called the Winter Road River, coming in from the
eastward.   They were again enabled to use the sail, and
did not camp until half-past seven in the evening. On
the morrow, Monday, 27th, they embarked at half-past
two in the morning, and at seven landed at the native
camp near the Rampart rapids which they had visited
on the 7th. Although these people had on the former
occasion promised to have a stock of furs, &c, brought
from a distant lake by the time of Mackenzie's return,
he found they had done nothing. From them, however, he tried to obtain some information about the
river the Dog-rib had told him of, and which evidently
interested him extremely. One of them said he had been
told by Indians of other tribes that the river beyond the
mountains flowed into " the great lake," and that at its
mouth was a White Man's Fort. With this information
as a basis, Mackenzie attempted to solve the problem of
the geography of that sea and river. He says: " This
I took to be Unalascha Fort, and consequently the river
to the west to be Cook's River, and that the body of water
or sea into which this river discharges itself at Whale
Island communicates with Norton Sound." The western
river was not, however, Cook's River, as he surmised,
but the Yukon. That the mouth of the Mackenzie communicates with Norton Sound was a better founded supposition, but the distance between the two was evidently
a great deal longer than Mackenzie imagined. Even at
that date there was little known about the geography
of the north-west coast. In the map published in
' Beechey's Voyages,' on which is shown the course of
H.M.S. Blossom in 1825-6, there is no indication of the
existence of the Yukon River. The Mackenzie is marked
by a short line only.    (Note C.)
As the natives at this camp informed Mackenzie that a
short distance farther up the river there were some people
who inhabited the region of " the opposite mountains,"
the Rockies, he proceeded thither, arriving at ten in the
forenoon. He had not arrived a moment too soon. His
own Indians had preceded him, and in some unexplained
manner had succeeded in arousing the hostility of the
people Mackenzie wished to interview, who had seized
the canoe of the visiting Indians, and in the struggle
that ensued the frail craft was broken. Mackenzie's
men were about to revenge the insult when he reached
the spot and threw oil on the troubled waters. But
although Mackenzie remained there until the following
morning, he did not succeed in extracting from them
any more definite information about the western river
about which his curiosity was aroused than what he
had already gathered from the natives farther downstream. They recounted many absurd tales of the wonderful powers of the people living in that distant region.
Mackenzie, however, formed the opinion that they knew
more than they were willing to divulge. He bluntly
told them so, and threatened that if they did not frankly
disclose what they knew, he would compel one of their
number to guide him to the mysterious river. This threat
alarmed them so much that they told him they would
surely die if he took any of them away. At the same time
they tried to persuade English Chief to remain with
them, telling him that he would be killed if he continued
with Mackenzie, and, strange to say, these arguments
almost prevailed. As an illustration of the masterful
way Mackenzie had in dealing with Indians, an incident
that occurred at this camp may be mentioned. One of
the native dogs would persist in sniffing around the
explorer's baggage, doubtless incited by the scent of the
reserve store of pemmican, &c, and in vain had the
animal been driven off time and again, and the natives
told to keep their dogs away. Mackenzie deliberately
shot the creature. The report of the pistol, and the
instantaneous death of the dog as a result, so alarmed the
natives that the women took their children on their backs
and fled to the woods, and the woman to whom the
dog belonged declared in the deepest woe that the loss
of her five children the preceding winter had not affected
her so much as did the death of her dog. The gift of a
few beads, however, speedily removed the weight of woe.
From these people Mackenzie obtained a supply of dry
and fresh fish and a quantity of whortleberries, for which
they received payment in kind—awls, beads, knives, &c.
Leaving this camp at four o'clock the following morning,
July 28th, they visited the fishing-nets set by their hosts,
and, at their invitation, helped themselves to what fish
they found caught in them. Ascending the Rampart
rapids without any trouble, they visited some native
lodges where was much fish but no people. Some of
Mackenzie's Indians appropriated certain articles they
found in the lodges, but he would not permit them to
take them without payment being made by leaving beads
and other articles in lieu of the things taken. Mackenzie
himself took a net, and left a large knife in payment for
it. Continuing the voyage, at one o'clock at noon they
landed again where a fire was burning, but the natives
who had kindled it were in hiding. The hunters soon
found them and two hundred geese they had killed, most
of the birds being in an advanced state of decompostjl^*
Mackenzie picked out thirty-six that were eatable, and
paid for them in the usual manner, and then departed,
camping for the night at eight o'clock. Shortly afterwards a violent storm blew down the tents and deluged
their camp with rain.
On Wednesday, 29th, embarking at four, with an aft
wind that sent them along at a lively rate, they reached
the San Sault rapids at ten o'clock, and were obliged
to use the line to get up, the current being much stronger
than when they went down. The water had fallen five
feet in the interval. The next day they were able to use
the sail a good part of the day, and they camped in the
evening at seven o'clock. On Friday, the last day of
July, after a rainy night, they resumed the journey at
nine, and continued until a quarter before eight, killing
seven geese en route.    Shoals and sand-banks prevented
Mackenzie from travelling along the west bank, which
he desired to explore, particularly to ascertain what
rivers came in from that direction. He had to cross over
to the east side and ascend along that shore.
In the afternoon of the first day of August, which
fell on a Saturday, Mackenzie landed at the Indian
encampment six miles below the mouth of Great Bear
River, and camped on the same ground he had occupied
on July 5th. From the natives there he sought to obtain
further information about the western river, but his
interpreter, English Chief, seemed unwilling to ask the
questions dictated by Mackenzie, who formed the opinion
that this reluctance sprang from a fear lest, if satisfactory
answers were received, another expedition would be at
once undertaken, and the return to Athabasca postponed
indefinitely. Mackenzie makes a note of the interesting
fact that " This is the first night since our departure
from Athabasca when it was sufficiently dark to render
the stars visible."
The following morning progress was resumed, the men
tracking as before. Mackenzie walked with the Indians,
who advanced more rapidly than the men with the
heavier canoes, because he suspected they wished to
arrive at the next, native settlement before him. Crossing
Bear River in the Indians' small canoe, they continued
walking until five in the afternoon, when they noticed
several smokes ahead. Thinking they were approaching
a camp of the natives, they hurried forward, but were
not so engrossed as to overlook the strong sulphurous
smell then prevailing, and at length they " discovered
that the whole bank was on fire for a very considerable
distance. It proved to be a coal mine, to which the fire
had been communicated from an old Indian encampment.
The beach was covered with coals." This was the same
place Mackenzie had visited on the morning of July 5th,
and had failed at that time to discover the origin of the
smoke that had induced him to land there.
Ever since Mackenzie's journey on the " Grand River,"
as it was sometimes called, when he first noted the burning
beds of coal and the salt deposits along its banks, the
interest of geologists and prospectors has been aroused
in its possibilities as a mineral-producing region. Its
remoteness, the question of cheap transportation, and the
labour problem have militated against its development,
and its resources have been only cursorily investigated.
What little is known of the potentialities of the district
is the fruit of surveys made under the direction of the
Geological Survey of Canada and the Topographical
Surveys. Writing in his report of the information he
had obtained respecting the economic minerals found in
the Mackenzie Valley, Mr William Ogilvie, D.L.S., referring
to the burning coal seen by Mackenzie, says: " About
three and a half miles above Fort Norman, on the east
bank of the river, two extensive exposures of Kgnite
crop out. The upper one is overlaid by about fifty feet
of clay and a few feet of friable sandstone, and is about
fifteen feet thick. The other seam is probably forty feet
below this. When I was there it was nearly all under
water. It is said to be as thick as, if not thicker than,
the upper one.
" The upper seam has been on fire for over one hundred
years, as it was burning when Sir Alexander Mackenzie
passed in 1789. The place is locally known as le Boucan.
The fire extends at present about two miles along the
river, not continuously but at intervals. When I passed
it was burning in three or four places. After it has burned
a certain distance into the seam the overlying mass of
clay falls down, and to some extent suppresses the fire.
This clay is in time baked into a red-coloured rock, in
which are found innumerable impressions of leaves of
plants. . . . Traces of this red rock were noticed on the
bank fourteen miles below Fort Norman, but no trace
of lignite was seen near it, having probably been all
I The burning seam appears to be of poor quality,
containing much shale and sand, which is converted by
heat into scoriae. It did not appear to me that it would
be difficult to cut off all the burning places, and thus
stop the further advance of the fire, which is destroying
what yet may be of use. In order to find if the combustion could be checked I took a shovel at one place,
and soon had all the burning coal for a short distance
cut off completely, so that the fire ceased for a time
at that spot. It is a pity that at least an attempt to put
out the fire is not made. Many persons in that district
have an idea that it is subterraneous, and that the seat
of it cannot be reached. This is a mistake, as at the
point mentioned I cleaned off the fire from the face of
the seam to its base, and found underneath no sign of
burning. The lower seam appears to be of better
quality. . . ."
Arriving at the lodges they found them vacant. Well-
beaten tracks a short distance away, and certain signs
left by the natives, indicated they had gone in that
direction, and Mackenzie sent one of the French Canadians
and two Indians to see if they could find them. English
Chief declined to go when requested, the first instance
of refusing to do as the explorer desired. At a later hour
the search party returned empty-handed, and the following
morning the journey was resumed, but, beyond passing
other native camps, the day's journey was without incident. On the 4th, 5th, and 6th their progress was much
the same, tracking the first two days as before; but
on the 6th a favourable aft wind enabled them to hoist
the sail, and, with the aid of the paddles, much better
headway was made.
Embarking at half-past three a.m. on Friday, 7th,
they shot a reindeer that had apparently been attacked
by wolves. The next day Mackenzie sent the hunters out
for meat, but, after being absent all day, they returned
without having secured anything.   The forenoon of the
ioth took them to a place opposite the mountains on
which they had seen the patches of snow, taken for Spirit
Stones by the Indians, on July 2nd. Mackenzie landed,
and with one Indian set out to ascend one of the hills.
Forcing a way through a thick forest growth of spruce,
birch, and poplar, they came to more open ground covered
with small pines, and this was succeeded by muskeg,
in which Mackenzie sank up to his armpits. The marsh
being impassable, he had to return to the river camp,
reacliing it at midnight, worn out with fatigue and without accomplishing his purpose.
As they had left their hunters on the other side of
the river the day before, a traverse was made on the
nth to pick them up. When the men rejoined the canoes
it was to bring a lean bag: they had killed only one
beaver and a few hares. Having picked up bis men,
Mackenzie wished to return to the opposite side, with
the hope of meeting with the natives whose tracks had
been seen near their former camp. He desired English
Chief to accompany him, but that worthy again proved
reluctant, and for the same reason—viz., that Mackenzie
might learn something that would send him off on a
new exploration and they should be obliged to go with
him. One of the Canadians told Mackenzie confidentially
that English Chief, his wives, and followers intended to
desert the party when they approached Great Slave
Lake, in order to go to the country of the Beaver Indians.
Notwithstanding English Chief's backwardness, the river
was recrossed, but no sign of the Indians was found
other than their tracks, and camp was made in the
evening after they had added fifteen young geese to their
On the 12th, Wednesday, renewed attempts were made
to get in touch with the natives, but without any better
success, although English Chief was again pressed into
service by Mackenzie, and again showed the same hesitation to comply.    This attitude of the fellow aroused
Mackenzie's ire, and the following day, August 13th,
matters came to a head, an open rupture being narrowly
averted. That morning they had passed several more
recent camping-places of the natives, but of the people
nothing whatever was seen. It may be that Mackenzie's
opinion, that the natives deliberately avoided his party,
was well founded. At seven in the morning they came
to the island below Liard River where two bags of
pemmican had been cached on the downward trip. This
was recovered, and proved very acceptable. Shortly
afterwards the smoke of an Indian camp was seen, and
Mackenzie ordered a landing to be made as quickly as
possible. Some of his men pursuing a flock of geese fired
at the birds, and the reports so alarmed the natives that
they hauled their canoes on shore and concealed themselves in the woods. It was found they had not only
left their canoes, four in number, but other articles as
well, which Mackenzie's Indians immediately proceeded
to appropriate. Mackenzie rebuked English Chief for
permitting the theft. That rebuke was the last straw.
English Chief resented it, and told Mackenzie so in unmistakable terms. " This was the very opportunity
which I wanted," declares the explorer, " to make him
acquainted with my dissatisfaction for some time past."
The vials of wrath were uncorked, and the contents
poured out without stint. English Chief was told that
he had concealed information that should have been
disclosed to him, and that he had not looked after the
natives as he should have done, and much more to the
same purpose, all of which irritated the English Chief,
who, after denying the charges levelled against him,
expressed his determination not to accompany Mackenzie
any farther, and that, though without ammunition, he
could subsist as did the natives, and he would remain
with them. This dispute set all his people agog with
excitement. Lamentations loud and bitter filled the air.
For two hours they indulged in this form of grief, and
then Mackenzie, who admits he could not well have
done without them, soothed their sorrow, induced the
chief to change his intention of abandoning him, and
peace again prevailed. To remove any discontent,
Mackenzie permitted his Indians to take most of the
articles the natives had left behind in their flight, but
in payment he left some cloth, several knives, and other
articles. English Chief, still on his dignity, would not
accept any of the things he and his fellows had coveted
before the quarrel with Mackenzie. That night, however,
after making camp near Liard River, Mackenzie invited
English Chief to sup with him, and treated him to a
" dram or two," which effectually dispelled the remnant
of his heart-burning, and he took the precaution to present
him with a further supply of spirits to carry to his lodge
to prevent a recurrence of his chagrin.
During the two days following good progress was made,
and on the third day, August 16th, they found the current
so moderate that they advanced almost as rapidly as
upon still water. Everything appeared to be running
smoothly. Since the flare-up on the 13th there had been
no further difficulty with any of the Indians, and every
day's voyage was accomplished without dissension. On
the 22nd, Saturday, the entrance to Great Slave Lake
was reached, and the next day they entered it. Following
the north-east shore, with the intention of visiting the
spot where Mackenzie had left Le Roux, who had been
instructed to remain there until the fall, on the afternoon
of the 24th they encountered Le Roux himself, accompanied by an Indian and his family, in a canoe: they
had been out for twenty-five days on a hunting excursion.
Le Roux reported that he had visited Lac la Martre—
a considerable sheet of water lying between Great Bear
Lake and Great Slave Lake, and which is connected by
a river flowing into the north arm of Great Slave Lake—
and had there secured a quantity of skins from the Indians
he had met there.   High winds and rough seas rendered
progress slow and hazardous, and so alarmed the Indians
that they announced their intention of not accompanying
Mackenzie any farther. They nevertheless followed him
to " M. Le Roux's house," later known as Fort Rae,
where they all arrived on the afternoon of Sunday, 30th,
one week after entering the lake. From the stores there
Mackenzie paid the Indians who had been his fellow-
voyagers with " a plentiful equipment of iron-ware,
ammunition, tobacco, &c," as a recompense for their
services. He requested English Chief to visit the Beaver
Indians and influence them to carry their furs to M. Le
Roux, who would winter in the country at his post on the
north shore of the lake.
After sitting up all night making arrangements for
continuing the journey the next morning and preparing
instructions for the guidance of M. Le Roux, farewells
were exchanged at five o'clock a.m. on Monday, and
Mackenzie set out to cross the lake to the south shore.
Fort Resolution was reached at seven o'clock in the
evening of Wednesday, September 2nd, Slave River the
next day, and, in the afternoon of the 8th, the Portage
des Noyes, where they camped. The following day they
cleared the rapids, and repaired the canoe, which had
been damaged in the process of portaging and ascending
the river, the entire day being consumed in passing this
dangerous place.
Falling in with a small party of Indians returning from
a war expedition into a hostile country, one of whom
was sick, Mackenzie had an opportunity to exercise his
skill as a physician. " This man had conceived an idea,"
explains Mackenzie, " that the people with whom he had
been at war had thrown medicine at him, which had
caused his present complaint, and that he despaired of
recovery. The natives are so superstitious that this
idea alone was sufficient to kill him, Of this weakness I
took advantage, and assured him that if he would never
go to war with 9uch poor defenceless people I would
cure him. To this proposition he readily consented, and
on my giving him medicine, which consisted of Turlington's balsam mixed with water, I declared that it would
lose its effect if he was not sincere in the promise that
he made me. In short, he actually recovered, was true
to his engagements, and on all occasions manifested his
gratitude to me." It was by such means as this that
Mackenzie paved the way for a good understanding with
the Indians he encountered, and fostered amicable relations between them and the company he represented.
On September i:2th Mackenzie entered the Lake of
the Hills, and, a favourable wind enabling them to hoist
sail, at three o'clock in the afternoon they reached Fort
Chipewyan, where they found M'Leod, with five men,
busily employed in building a new house. " Here," says
Mackenzie—and there must have been a great sense of
relief and satisfaction in his thoughts as well as his words
—" here, then, we concluded this voyage, which had
occupied the considerable space of one hundred and two
days "—modest words, indeed, in which to chronicle the
achievement that placed him in the front rank of explorers
and discoverers, entitled to a niche in the hall of fame
along with La Salle, Verendrye, Mungo Park, and the
rest of the intrepid crew of discoverers.
In that one hundred and two days he had journeyed,
from Fort Chipewyan to Whale Island and return, a
distance of 2990 miles by canoe. The river from Fort
Providence to Whale Island had never been explored
before by a white man, nor had any individual native
ever made the complete journey. Mackenzie River is
one of the longest and broadest streams in the world,
and drains an area of over six hundred and seventy
thousand square miles. It is unique in that a large part
of its basin is situated on the farther side of a great mountain chain, the Rockies, which traverse it for one thousand
three hundred miles nearly. Two of its principal tributaries, the Liard and Peace Rivers, arise west of the
Rocky Mountains, which they pierce on their way to
join the main stream. A third tributary, the Athabasca,
the Elk River of the old traders, has its source and
basin wholly east of the mountain range. Of these three
tributaries the Peace is the longest and largest, whose
principal branch, the Finlay, has its source in Lake
Thudade in British Columbia. From Great Slave Lake,
where Mackenzie's voyage of discovery really began, to
the sea the Mackenzie is a noble imposing river, with an
average width of one mile, with occasional expansions
for long distances of twice that breadth. Clusters of
islands occur in its channel at intervals all the way down,
while the Rocky Mountains and other ranges that are
spurs of the central series run parallel for part of its
course. Its current in average stages of water has a
velocity of four miles an hour, which is materially increased at the numerous rapids that mark its course.
The journey was one not to be lightly undertaken,
and Mackenzie fully realised the dangers that lurked
everywhere along the route and dogged his every footstep. There were not only the dangers provided by the
river itself—rapids, shoals, submerged rocks, and snags,—
but there were the territories of several tribes of Indians
to be traversed—Indians who had never seen a white
man, and some of them hostile to the natives he necessarily took with him as hunters and interpreters. There
were dangers on shore from wild animals, and there was
always the haunting spectre that has brought ruin and
disaster to so many expeditions of discovery, starvation,
to be provided against, not always an easy matter, even
in a country where game is abundant. But all these
dangers he faced and overcame. His treatment of the
natives he encountered was most commendable. His
great object was to make friends, to establish peaceful
relations between the fur-traders and those who could
furnish a continuous supply of furs, the commodity
Mackenzie and his associates in business were desirous
of acquiring. That the river he had thus explored to its
mouth, to the Arctic Sea itself, should be named after
him—not by himself but by others who recognised the
great service he had done to geographical knowledge—
was only a fitting testimony to the value placed upon his
achievement; and yet the task he so successfully accomplished in 1789 possessed only a tithe of the importance
of what he had yet to perform—a task he had already
set himself, to discover that western river that would
carry him to the western sea.
When Mackenzie arrived at Fort Chipewyan it was to
find its affairs had been well administered by his cousin,
Roderick, who had during his absence been to headquarters at Grande Portage. He had not heard anything
said there in commendation of Alexander's expedition
down the great river. The majority of the partners
thought it a waste of time and energy that could have
been better expended in promoting trade along the
beaten channels. In short, they considered he was not
acting loyally by his associates in thus indulging a desire
to penetrate a region whence they did not expect any
profit to come. Mackenzie felt this condemnation of his
journey as only a sensitive earnest man can when he
knows in his own conscience that he is not blameworthy.
Perhaps some of the antagonism shown towards his
exploit had its foundation in sheer jealousy. This unfriendly attitude towards his achievement in no wise
deterred Mackenzie, however, from indulging in dreaming
of future conquests of a similar character. There was
always in his mind that western river of whose existence
he had learned from the natives far down the Mackenzie.
Something was known at that time of the exploits of
Captain James Cook and of the Spaniards, but Captain
Gray had not yet poked his inquisitive nose into the
Columbia River; and of the streams that flowed into
the Pacific Ocean, few had been discovered, and of those
few, little was known. Subconsciously Mackenzie was
determined to search for that western river that would
take him to the western sea.
In the spring of 1790 Alexander Mackenzie attended
the gathering of partners at Grande Portage, Simon
M'Tavish, sarcastically nicknamed " Le Marquis" and
" Le Premier " by the traders because of his haughty
dominating manner, complained of the insufficient number
of furs sent down from the Athabasca district, thereby
indulging in a fling at Mackenzie. No love was lost between the two men, and as time passed the antagonism
became more pronounced, to end in open rupture in later
years. Mackenzie did not stand alone in the feeling of
,ai[J||pathy towards M'Tavish, and he soon discovered
that in that regard he was not lacking in support. He
received no encouragement to prosecute further explorations, and his associates sought to cool his ardour and
to gratify their envy by practically ignoring his voyage
to the Arctic Ocean. Writing from Grande Portage on
July 16th, 1790, to Roderick at Athabasca, he said:
" My expedition was hardly spoken of, but that is what
I expected." It seems difficult to comprehend such
insufferable indifference to an exploit of such magnitude,
but who can fathom the hidden workings of the human
mind when jealousy and envy rule it!
Returning to Fort Chipewyan, he sent Roderick to
Great Slave Lake. His own journey thither had convinced him of several things. One was the advisability
of instituting some sort of tribal government under a
ruling chief, the object of this being to organise that
people under his nominee with a view to securing the
whole of their catch of furs. He did not approve of the
site selected by Le Roux on the northern arm of the
lake, giving a preference for another on Mackenzie River,
below the outlet of Great Slave Lake, at the mouth of
Yellow Knife River. This fort was established in accordance with a promise he had given to the Yellow Knives
the previous year. Writing to Roderick Mackenzie on
March 2nd, 1791, he said: "I hope you will make all
possible enquiry regarding the country of the Beaver
Indians as well as of the country of the Slaves, and more
particularly regarding a great river which is reported
to run parallel with and falls into the sea westward of
the River in which I voyaged, and commit such information to paper." He still harboured the intention
of one day setting out to find that river, even as Kim's
old lama had always in mind the river he sought so
diligently. Meanwhile he exerted himself to place his
district on a sound business basis, and directed his
energies to increase the sale of furs despatched to Lac
la Pluie, for his own pecuniary recompense depended
upon the revenue of the company, and the higher the
returns the greater his share of the profits, and already
he thought of the day when he would be able to withdraw
from active service and enjoy the fruits of his industry.
A prophet hath no honour in his own country, it is
said. Nor had Mackenzie received any honour in his
own company for his long journey of discovery. What
his associates failed to do, his rivals in trade acknowledged and determined to improve upon. The Hudson's
Bay Company decided to emulate the example set by
Mackenzie, and explore on their own account. All that
was known of the Far West at that time was derived
from the reports of Peter Pond and from the map he had
prepared of the country. It was a map full of gross errors,
but as it was the only map in existence showing the
western region, it was accepted as reasonably accurate.
So far from being so, it was misleading. It showed the
distance between Hudson's Bay and Lake Athabasca as
much greater than it is, and, with Captain Cook's observations giving the position of the north-west coast
of the Pacific, and the position of Hudson's Bay being
already known, the result was an impression that the
distance between Lake Athabasca and the Pacific was
very short, less than two hundred miles. The Hudson's
Bay Company determined to forestall any attempt on
the part of Mackenzie or any other Nor'-Wester to traverse
the intervening space, and thus open up to their own
trade the unknown western country. To this end they
sent out from England Philip Turner to conduct the
expedition to the Pacific. (Note D.) In this undertaking the Hudson's Bay Company had the endorsation
of the British Government, then feeling some faint desire
to acquire information respecting the boundaries of their
possessions in North America. The mode of travel, the
mode of living, and everything connected with such an
expedition as Turner was deputed to undertake, were
new to him. He experienced difficulty at every step,
and when he reached Fort Chipewyan in 1791 he no
doubt rejoiced to find that the observations he took there
precluded the necessity of his proceeding farther for the
purpose of settling the question of its geographical position.
Alexander Mackenzie was on his way east when he heard
of this expedition, and he promptly wrote to Roderick
Mackenzie at Fort Chipewyan, bidding him to extend
hospitality to the members of the expedition. Later he
fell in with Turner in person, and again writing to his
cousin he informed him that " I find the intention of the
expedition is discoveries only. I also find the party
ill-prepared for the undertaking." He had nothing to
fear in that quarter. None knew better than he the need
for preparedness. He knew some, at least, of his own
shortcomings in that respect, and wished to remedy
Mackenzie had felt, while on the journey down the
Mackenzie River and the return voyage, his lack of
astronomical knowledge, and the want of reliable instruments for taking observations. He realised the importance of being able to state in precise terms the geographical
position of any point he might visit. He had been hampered on his northern expedition because of his ina|||||^i
to make his records come up to the standard he desired
them to possess, and he determined to so prepare himself
for his next excursion that there would be no further
grounds for reproach on that score. Not that he had
altogether failed in ascertaining his position with fair
accuracy. It would be better to say, perhaps, that,
considering his lack of proper training, he had made his
observations with remarkable ability. Nevertheless he
was not content with his performance.
It was while journeying towards Grande Portage that
he fell in with Turner. Continuing to the portage, after
a short sojourn there he pushed on to Montreal. Writing
to Roderick from Fort Vauligny on August 10th, 1791,
he told his cousin that " I have some idea of crossing
the ocean, but this I cannot determine at present. However, it is my determination, if I live and be in health,
to meet you next spring at Lac la Pluie. Though my
absence may be short, I can assure you that I leave my
friends in this country with much pain."
It is not difficult to glean from those words that he
had fully made up his mind to go to England unless
some unforeseen circumstance forbade it. A man of his
disposition does not lightly relinquish an idea once it
has become fixed in his mind. He received no encouragement from his business associates. Doubtless they threw
cold water upon his proposal to cross the ocean for the
purpose he had in view. They were more concerned in
making money through the medium of furs than interested in accuracy of observations to ascertain latitude
and longitude. In spite of everything, Mackenzie made
the voyage across the Atlantic. Sinking his natural pride,
laying aside for the time being bis r61e of leader, he
became a learner, a pupil, and set himself the task of
acquiring the knowledge in which he was at his own
valuation deficient. Applying his energies to learn a
sufficient amount of astronomy and mathematics, he
soon absorbed all that was requisite.    He purchased
instruments, and practised their use until he became
proficient in handling them. Then, when he had done
this to his own satisfaction, in the spring of 1792 he took
ship bound for Montreal, and hastened back to his post
at Fort Chipewyan.
During the winter of 1791-92, perhaps before he sailed
for England, he had sent word to Roderick at Lake
Athabasca to despatch men up the Peace River to cut
and prepare timber for the erection there of a house
in which Mackenzie intended to spend the following
winter, his intention being to make that the base from
which he would set out on his next exploration, for he
had never for one moment abandoned the hope of searching for and finding that great river west of the Rocky
Mountains. All that summer of 1792 at Fort Chipewyan
he made his preparations, but never neglecting the business of the trader and bourgeois. Early in October
everything was ready, and on the 10th he bade Roderick
Mackenzie good-bye, and left the fort for the Peace
River. In the modest language in which his journals
are couched, he refers to his departure and purpose in
the following characteristic sentences: " Having made
every necessary preparation, I left Fort Chipewyan to
proceed up the Peace River. I had resolved to go as far
as our most distant settlement, which would occupy
the remaining part of the season, it being the route by
which I proposed to attempt my next discovery, across
the mountains from the source of that river; for whatever distance I could reach this fall would be a proportionate advancement of my voyage."
He took with him, in addition to his own canoe, two
canoes laden with supplies, and an unstated number of
men. Several days in advance of this party, James
Finlay the younger had departed from Fort Chipewyan
with men and goods for the new establishment, which
had been placed under his care and was situated farther
up the  Peace  River than  the   old  establishment  to
which Mackenzie had despatched Boyer four years
Entering Peace River by one of its several outlets,
which he names Pine River, and which others call Quatre
Fourches River, on October 12th, 1792, the ascent of that
stream was begun. Between Embarras River, one of
the mouths of the Athabasca River emptying into Athabasca Lake, and the northerly mouth of the Peace where
it flows into Peace River, lies an extensive delta, including
Lake Claire (Clear Water Lake) and Lake Mamawa (Mackenzie's Lake Vassieu) and the marshes bordering thereon,
and all that part of the Peace River valley below Peace
Point. The delta is composed of alluvial soil washed
down by the rivers into Lake Athabasca, which at that
westerly end has been thus silted up. The river, or more
correctly rivers, known as the Quatre Fourches, the
Four Forks or Branches, comprise one discharging from
Lake Claire into Lake Athabasca, one from Lake Athabasca to Slave River, one from Peace River into Slave
River, and the fourth, between Athabasca Lake and
Peace River, either discharging into Peace River from
the lake, or, in the spring, flowing from Peace River into
the lake. It was presumably up the latter that Mackenzie
ascended to reach Peace River.
On the 13th he reached Peace Point, where the Beaver
Indians were wont to hold peace parleys with their
enemies, and from which circumstance the river derives
its name. Passing Boulder Rapids, or Rapid Bouille,
without finding it worthy of mention, Mackenzie reached
the Chutes, two miles above Little Red River, the one
obstacle in an otherwise navigable waterway for a distance of nine hundred miles from the mouth of Peace
River to Rocky Mountain Portage. From the camp fires
observed at the portage past the falls and rapids of the
Chutes, Mackenzie concluded that the Finlay party could
not be far in advance.   That night it snowed.
Having made the portages, the first of eight hundred
yards, and the second, a mile father up-stream, about
five hundred yards, on the preceding afternoon, on the
18th the journey was resumed. Loon (Wabiskaw) River
was passed before noon, and that night they camped
at Grand Isle. Leaving there at three o'clock in the
morning of the 19th, five hours' paddling against the
current took them to " Old Establishment," established
by Boyer in 1788. This site is near the present Fort
Vermilion. " Our people ahead slept here last night, and
from their carelessness," he writes, "the fire was communicated to and burned down the large house, and
was proceeding fast to the smaller buildings when we
arrived to extinguish it."
As the route up to that point, Old Establishment, had
been surveyed by M. Vaudrieul, or Vaudreuil, formerly
in the service of the North-West Company, and who was
at Fort Chipewyan in 1789, Mackenzie does not enlarge
upon it in his notes. After putting out the fire and
travelling a further thirty-six miles, they came upon
" Mr Finlay with his canoes, who was encamped near the
fort of which he was going to take charge during the
ensuing winter, and made every necessary preparative
for a becoming appearance on our arrival the following
morning. Although I had been since 1787 in the Athabasca
country, I had never yet seen a native of that part of it
which we had now reached.
" At six o'clock in the morning of the 20th we landed
before the house amidst the rejoicing and firing of the
people, who were animated with the prospect of again
indulging themselves in the luxury of rum, of which
they had been deprived since the beginning of May, as
it is the practice throughout the North-West neither to
sell or give any rum to the natives during the summer.
... As they very soon expressed their desire of the
expected regale, I called them together, to the number
of forty-two hunters, or men capable of bearing arms,
to offer some advice, which would be equally advantageous
to them and to us, and I strengthened my admonition
with a nine-gallon cask of reduced rum and a quantity
of tobacco. At the same time I observed that, as I should
not'-often visit them, I had instanced a greater degree
of liberality than they had been accustomed to." And
yet they say the Scots have no sense of humour !
The nights were so cold, and ice formed on the river
to such an extent and thickness, that his men began to
fear they might not be able to continue the journey,
and Mackenzie realised that he could not afford to tarry
by the wayside. Accordingly he sent the laden canoes
on ahead, and on the 23rd, two days later, he followed.
Arriving at the junction of the Smoky River and the
Peace, they continued along the latter for six miles, and
landed on November ist at the place which had been
selected for the site of their winter quarters, the men
being thoroughly exhausted by their exertions in forcing
a passage through the fast-forming ice. " Nor," says
Mackenzie in his journal, " were their labours at an end,
for there was not a single hut to receive us. It was,
however, now in my power to feed and sustain them in a
more comfortable manner."
The two men who had been sent there in the early
part of the season were on hand with about seventy
Indians to receive the travellers, which they did with
repeated volleys and manifestations of joy. No sooner
was his tent pitched than Mackenzie proceeded to lecture
the natives, after he had first taken the precaution to
give each of them " about four inches of Brazil tobacco,
a dram of spirits, and lighted the pipe." He told them he
would treat them with kindness if they behaved themselves, but, as he had heard how troublesome they had
been to his predecessor, he would deal severely with them
if they failed of their duty to him. A gift of rum and
more tobacco, as a token of peace, ended the ceremony.
Mackenzie found that the men despatched for the purpose had prepared all the timber for the house, and the
palisades for the stockade, eighteen feet long and seven
inches in diameter, to enclose a square of a hundred and
twenty feet. Occupied in settling matters with the Indians,
fitting them out for the winter hunt, it was not until
November 7th that Mackenae could devote time to house-
^mlr|ing. On that date he set all hands to work on the
house, store-houses, and stockade.
On the 22nd the Peace River froze over, the Smoky
having already been frozen about a week, and on the
28th the temperature dropped to sixteen degrees below
zero. The house-building proceeded daily despite the
severity of the weather, and on December 23rd Mackenzie
left his tent and took up his abode in the house. He
then set the men at building their own quarters, materials
for five cabins, seventeen by twelve feet, being already
collected. Mackenzie found the Indians wholly lacking
in the knowledge of the medicinal properties of the plant
fife with which they were surrounded, and he reports
how he was called upon to assume the r61e of physician
and surgeon. One of his patients was a native woman
with an inflamed breast, which had been treated by
lacerating it with flints. Mackenzie effected a cure by
deanliness, poulticing, and the application of a healing
salve. One of his men injured his thumb, lymphangitis
followed, and septicaemia threatened. Mackenzie saved
his life by a timely letting of blood. Still another case
he successfully managed was that of a young Indian
whose hand had been badly injured by the bursting of a
gun. The wound was in an offensive state from neglect,
and part of it was sloughing. Mackenzie cleansed it and
applied a poultice of spruce bark. He wished to cut
away the thumb, which was hanging by a shred of flesh,
but the patient would not consent, and Mackenzie applied
" vitriol" (probably blue stone, sulphate of copper) to
it until it shrivelled to a thread, and was easily got rid
of. The application of a salve made of Canada balsam,
wax, and tallow dropped from a burning candle into
water, healed the sore, much to the delight of the young
New Year's Day, 1793, was ushered in at this remote
post in conformity with the usual custom of the traders.
Mackenzie was aroused from sleep by the discharge of
firearms at daybreak, and the customary expressions of
goodwill were exchanged. In return they were treated
with plenty of spirits and cakes, as so many of the traders
were Scots; but little attention was paid to Christmas
Day at the various trading posts, in conformity with the
rule that obtains in Scotland, where it is not uncommon
to find business carried on, on the festival of the Nativity,
much the same as on any other day, while on New Year's
Day a general holiday prevails, and the occasion is one
of rejoicing. Mackenzie makes no mention of Christmas
whatever, but does not neglect the first day of January.
Among those who were gathered about the new fort
were two " Rocky Mountain Indians," who informed
Mackenzie that " that part of the river that intervenes
between this place and the mountains bear much the
same appearance as that around us . . . but that the
course of the latter (the river) is interrupted, near and
in the mountains, by successive rapids and considerable
falls," and this information the explorer found in due
course to be absolutely correct. " These men also informed
me that there is another great river towards the mid-day
sun, whose current runs in that direction, and that the
distance from it is not great across the mountains."
From these men, therefore, Mackenzie received the first
inkling of the existence of the Fraser River.
The weather, which had been quite bearable until
then, became extremely cold with the advent of February
—so cold was it on the night of the 2nd of that month
that Mackenzie's watch stopped, " a circumstance which
had never happened to this watch since my residence in the
country." The cold continued unabated until March 16th,
when a Chinook wind brought with it milder weather,
and on April ist the hunters shot five wild geese. By
the 5th the snow had entirely disappeared, and on the
20th mosquitoes began to annoy. The river, however,
was still ice-bound, and Mr Mackay gathered a bouquet
of pink flowers.   On the 25th the river was free of ice.
During the winter an Indian, rejoicing in the name
of White Partridge, was murdered by one of Mackenzie's
native hunters; the cause confirmed the accuracy of
the belief held in some quarters that to discover the
reason for a crime of that sort, cherchez la femme. The
murderer and his victim had been close friends for several
years. The former had three wives, and White Partridge
becoming enamoured of one of them, his friend very
generously resigned her to him. After three years had
gone by the husband suddenly became jealous, and the
relations between the woman and White Partridge were
publicly suspended, but the couple met clandestinely.
The affair ended in the killing of White Partridge. The
important phase of this occurrence was that for a time
it threatened to wreck all Mackenzie's plans.
Now a sober Indian would feel degraded if he indulged
in tears, but if drunk he may do so without any qualms
of conscience. White Partridge's friends sent to Mackenzie
for rum, upon which to attain that state of intoxication
that would permit them to give proper expression to their
grief for the deceased. Mackenzie promptly refused,
whereupon they threatened to go to war. Had they done
so, Mackenzie would have been deprived of assistance
upon which he had relied, and the company would have
been deprived of a number of hunters and trappers, and
have suffered a diminution in the pack of furs from that
quarter. There was nothing for Mackenzie to do, therefore, " from motives of interest as well as humanity,"
as he candidly stated, but to capitulate when a second
deputation of " persons of some weight among those
people" came to repeat the request. He stipulated,
however, " that they would continue peaceably at home."
During the month of April, Mackenzie had been occupied
in trading with the Indians, and, in preparation for his
own western journey and the despatch of a part of his
men to Fort Chipewyan with the furs he had purchased,
he had caused the old canoes to be repaired and four
new ones constructed. He had also engaged his hunters,
and when all these matters had been satisfactorily set
in train, he devoted himself to writing his business and
private correspondence. On May 8th he sent six canoes,
loaded with furs and carrying letters, to Chipewyan.
On January ioth, 1793, he wrote a letter to Roderick,
but whether he sent it then or deferred doing so until
May is not clear. A portion of it has reference to his
prospective voyage of discovery in the following terms:
" I have not been able to obtain any certain information
thus far respecting the country behind this. I was thinking that if Mackay could be spared, he would be of great
service to me should I undertake the opening of a route
by Lac des Carriboux; I would take Finlay, but he is
of a weak constitution."
Now that he was despatching a brigade to Lake Athabasca, he again wrote to his cousin :—
" Forks Peace River,
Sth May 1793.
" Dear Rory,—I have been so vexed and disturbed of
late that I cannot sit down to anything steadily. The Indians
in general have disappointed me in their hunt. I have had
great trouble to procure young men to accompany me in my
expedition ; none of them like it. I at last prevailed on three.
A fourth was desirous to go, but I would not take him, and,
to be revenged, he induced my -guide to run away, and both
have disappeared last evening. The two remaining Indians
know no more of the country than I do myself, and it may
be that they are on the eve of following the example of the
others, for no dependence can be put on the promise of any
of these people.  Without Indians I have little hopes of succe'ss.
" The guide who deserted me was acquainted with another
large river to the westward of this, at the distance of two days'
march, but the difficulty is to find that river out. At any
rate, we are too far advanced in the undertaking not to make
the attempt. ... I never was so undecided in my intentions
as this year regarding my going to the Portage or remaining
inland. I weighed ever^hing in my mind over and over
again, and cannot find that my opponents there can do me
any injury without running the risk of impairing their own
interest; therefore I ought to fear nothing on that score.
... With this weight on my mind, and my desire to mix
in the business at Gr;and Portage, I would not have remained
inland had I any intention of continuing in the country beyond
the ensuing winter.
" Should I be successful, I shall retire with great advantage ; if not, I cannot be worse off than I am at present. I
begin to think it is the height of folly in a man to reside in a
country of this kind, deprived of every comfort that can
render life agreeable, especially when he has a competency
to enjoy life in a tivilised society, which ought to be the case
with me."
On the 9th, the day after the above was written, he
wrote this significant sentence to Roderick: "I send
you a couple of guineas; the rest I take with me to
traffic with the Russians." It is apparent from this that
Mackenzie expected to reach the Russian trading post
which the Hare and Dog-rib Indians had told him, in
1789, existed at the mouth of the great river of the west.
It would appear, therefore, that Mackenzie's quest was
for that river, which he believed to be Cook's River (in
reality the Yukon), when he left the quarters near Smoky
River on May 9th, 1793, the day after he had despatched
the canoes laden with furs for Fort Chipewyan.
It was the custom of the fur-traders to begin a journey
towards the close rather than the beginning of the day,
and it is probable that the laden canoes that set out on
the 8th did not leave the post until late in the afternoon.
They would descend the river for a few miles and then
encamp, the object being to gradually separate themselves from the neighbourhood of their friends and
associates; while apart from them, they were still
within measurable distance and easy reach. Doubtless,
Mackenzie sent his letter dated the 9th by special courier
to overtake the homeward-bound party at their first
camping-place, which would perhaps not be more than
five or six miles distant.
At seven o'clock in the evening of Thursday, May 9th,
1793, Alexander Mackenzie left Forks Fort, and began
the memorable voyage which took him to the Pacific
Ocean. After proceeding up the Peace River for less
than three miles, camp was made for the night. The
expedition consisted of ten men, including himself. His
companions were Alexander Mackay, his lieutenant, an
experienced capable man, who had arrived at Fort
Chipewyan a few weeks before Mackenzie left there for
the Peace River; two Indians as hunters and interpreters ; and six French-Canadians—Joseph Landry,
Charles Ducette, Francois Beaulieux, Baptist Bisson,
Francois Courtois, and Jacques Beauchamp. The two
first-named, Landry and Ducette, had accompanied him
on his voyage down the Mackenzie to the Arctic Ocean.
They took with them provisions, goods for presents,
arms, ammunition, and baggage to the amount of three
thousand pounds in weight—and a dog. The craft in
which the ten men and the freight were bestowed was a
birch bark canoe twenty-five feet long, four feet nine
inches beam, and twenty-six inches deep—so light that
two men could carry it on a good trail three or four miles
without having to stop to rest. To take care of the fort
and supply the Indians with ammunition during the
summer, he left two men, who shed tears in anticipation
of the dangers their friends were about to encounter,
while Mackenzie's companions offered up their prayers
for a safe return.
It seems odd that Mackenzie should have taken a dog
with him on this expedition, considering the necessity
of carefully husbanding their food-supply; and a dog
requires a good deal of food. There is, however, a good
deal to be said for the companionship of a dog. Captain
Butler found it so when he followed in Mackenzie's footsteps eighty years afterwards, across the Rocky Mountains and as far as the forks of the Peace River. It does
not transpire that Mackenzie's dog served any particular
purpose, either for hunting or as guardian during the
watches of the night, and it is possible that the animal
was a pet, and nothing more, that Mackenzie did not
care to leave behind.
During his sojourn at his winter residence Mackenzie
had taken several observations to ascertain the position
of the fort, which he found to be 560 9' N. latitude and
1170 35' 15" W. longitude. More recent observations
give the latitude as 560 30' and longitude 1190 15'. In
1802 David Thompson visited " The Forks " fort, and
gave its latitude identical with that given by Mackenzie.
On Friday, the 10th—perhaps Mackenzie started on
Thursday to avoid the calamities that beginning a journey
on a Friday is alleged to entail—the westward-bound
travellers embarked at a quarter-past three in the morning,
the morning being bright, clear, and sharp; but about
noon a landing had to be made to gum the canoe, which
had sprung a leak owing to the heavy load. Mackenzie
took advantage of the delay to make an observation,
and fixed his position as latitude 550 58' 48*. Upon
resuming the journey, they had not gone more than a
mile and a half when Mackenzie dropped his pocket
compass overboard.
Mackenzie was most favourably impressed by the
country through which the river runs above Smoky River,
and he committed his impressions to paper.   " From the
place which we quitted this morning (10th), the west
side of the river displayed a succession of the most beautiful scenery I had ever beheld. The ground rises at
intervals to a considerable height, and stretching inwards
to a considerable distance. At every interval or pause
in the rise there is a very gently ascending space or lawn,
which is alternate with abrupt precipices to the summit
of the whole, or, at least, as far as the eye could distinguish. This magnificent theatre of nature has all the
decorations which the trees and animals of the country
can afford it. Groves of poplars in every shape vary the
scene, and the intervals are enlivened with vast herds
of elks and buffaloes, the former choosing the steeps and
uplands, and the latter preferring the plains. At this
time the buffaloes were attended with their young ones,
who were frisking about them ; and it appeared that the
elks would soon exhibit the same enlivening circumstance.
The whole country displayed an exuberant verdure: the
trees that bear a blossom were advancing fast to that
delightful appearance, and the velvet rind of their
branches reflecting the oblique rays of a rising or setting
sun, added a splendid gaiety to the scene, which no expressions of mine are qualified to describe." This vivid
word-picture of the passing scene shows that, besides
being a good man of business, he was gifted with a poetic
sense that must have served him well during his lonely
The Peace was rising, beginning to respond to the
spring freshet, and the current so gained in strength
that poling served their advance better than the paddles.
On the nth, facing a head wind, they embarked again
at four o'clock a.m., and, to hghten the overladen canoe,
all the fresh meat that their hunters had secured the
evening before, the flesh of an elk, was left behind, save
that already put in the pot. After proceeding between
six and seven miles, Mackenzie took an observation, and
found his position to be 550 55' 3" N. latitude.
Three miles beyond the whole prairie was on fire,
and the ilead wind so violent, filling the canoe, that
the party landed for a respite. A short distance farther
on they fell in with a Beaver chief and companions on
a hunting expedition. Mackenae, with seasonable discretion, did not camp there, fearing that his Indians
might be discouraged from continuing with him. Fate
was unkind to him on this occasion, for several of the
Beavers, running along the river banks to keep up with
the canoe, maintained a conversation with his men,
who became so absorbed in the verbal exchange that
they ran the canoe on a rock, necessitating a landing for
repairs, and camp was made for the night. Mackemrie's
two hunters paid a visit to the camp of the Beavers,
whose chief, accompanied by another man, came to
Mackenzie and told a bad luck story of a shortage of
tobacco and ammunition. The trader promptly referred
them to the fort near Smoky River, where they could
obtain an abundance of either, or both, " if they were
active and industrious" in obtaining furs. The chief
suggested that Mackenzie should allow him the use of
the canoe to carry himself and family across the river.
As this was not altogether to Mackenzie's liking, he
was momentarily at a loss to know what excuse to make
without giving offence, and happily ventured the opinion
that inasmuch as the canoe was destined to carry him
and his men on a voyage of much consequence, no woman
could be permitted to enter it. The chief immediately
concurred in this, and returned to his own camp, quite
satisfied with a present of tobacco. It was this resourcefulness in dealing with the natives that enabled Mackenzie
to maintain amicable relations with them under trying
conditions. Some of the chief's party spent the night
in Mackensrie's camp, and from them he learned that it
would take ten days to reach the mountains. Mackenzie's
hunters returned to his camp on Sunday, T2th, morning,
but when they dressed themselves in the clothing given
to them before leaving the Forks, he feared that they
had I some latent design," probably desertion.
That day they killed an elk, and when they camped
for the night on an island they were again visited by
Indians, the greater part of whom were what Mackenzie
called Rocky Mountain Indians.
He sought to obtain some useful information from
them, but they all pleaded ignorance of the country
lying beyond the first mountain, but this ignorance did
not hinder them from alleging that the rapids would
prevent the travellers from attaining their object. Mackenzie had expected to find with this band of natives
an old man who had on a previous occasion given him
some information about the country they were about
to enter, and who had advised the trader to take the
southern branch of the river when he came to the forks
beyond the mountains, and from which a portage of a
day's march would take him to another large river; and
to show his good faith he promised that his son, who had
accompanied him to the river referred to, should go with
him as guide. This son was the guide who had deserted
from the fort at the Forks on the eve of the departure of
the expedition. Mackenzie now asked about this old
man, but to his disappointment learned that he was
absent, and not likely to return for a month.
On Monday morning, 13th, to Mackenzie's surprise,
the Indian who had induced the proposed guide to desert
at the Forks now presented himself, and offered to go in
his place. His offer was not accepted, because he knew
nothing whatever of the distant country. Mackenzie
would have liked nothing better than to have administered a sound chastisement to the rascal, but feared
that should he do so it might result in his two hunters
being seduced from their allegiance, and they were too
essential to him to run the risk of losing them. As quickly
as he could get the camp moving, the journey was resumed, much to the chagrin of his hunters, who had
urged him to spend the day there. In the course of the
afternoon an observation gave their position as 560 17'
44* N. On the 14th he again took an altitude, and worked
out the position as 560 1' 19" N. Two and a half miles
beyond the spot where he made the observation he
passed what he terms Bear River, which " falls in from
the east."   This is the present Beatton River.
On Thursday, 16th, he observed " a considerable river
which discharged itself by several streams," called Sinew
River, which is now named Pine River. It is one hundred
yards wide in its lower part. Mackenzie remarks : " This
spot would be an excellent situation for a fort or factory,
as there is plenty of wood, and every reason to believe
that the country abounds in beaver." A few years later,
at the junction of the Peace and Pine, Fort St John was
originally placed, and there remained until 1874, when
a new fort was built on the south bank of Peace River,
fifteen miles above the confluence with Pine River.
When David Thompson ascended the Peace from Smoky
River in 1804 he visited Fort St John, which he called
Rocky Mountain House, which is not to be confused
with the Rocky Mountain House at Hudson's Hope,
established by Simon Fraser in 1805. In 1823 the Sekenais
Indians attacked the original Fort St John, and killed
several men engaged there. This caused the abandonment
of the fort for fifty years, when it was rebuilt in the new
position. Still later it was again moved, this time to
the north bank of the Peace, its present situation.
That night, 16th, they camped at seven o'clock. " The
land above the spot where we encamped spreads into an
extensive plain," remarks Mackenzie. " The country is
so crowded with animals as to have the appearance, in
some places, of a stall-yard." Under such conditions of
abundant game, Mackay and one of the men killed two
elk and mortally wounded a buffalo.
It froze that night, and the air was quite sharp when
they embarked on the 17th.   At two in the afternoon
the Rocky Mountains came" into view, their summits
covered with snow, and that day they ascended several
rapids.   That night it again froze hard.
Embarking at four o'clock in the morning of the 18th,
they had not gone two hundred yards before they had to
put to shore again to repair damage to the canoe, and
later in the afternoon they ran on a snag, necessitating
a further landing for repairs, two hours being lost on that
occasion. Then a storm broke, and compelled them to
make camp for the night at six o'clock. The current
during the day increased in velocity; so strong was it
that the following, Mackenzie, Mackay, and the two
hunters, landed in order to lighten the canoe. Climbing
the hills, they soon found a beaten path made by deer
and buffalo which ford the river thereabouts. They
soon fell in with a herd of buffalo, but Mackenzie would
not allow the hunters to shoot them lest the report of
firearms might alarm any Indians who might be in the
vicinity, some of whom he daily expected to encounter.
" Our dog," however, was sent after them, and brought
down a calf. While the hunters were sldnning the animal
two gun reports were heard, and Mackenzie immediately
answered by a similar signal. This was followed by
another report, and Mackenzie and his companions
hastened down to the river, where they learned that the
canoe was at the foot of a strong rapid with falls beyond,
and that a portage would be necessary. These were the
first rapids of which the Indians had warned Mackenzie.
The voyageurs wanted to make a portage, but Mackenzie,
with the daring that formed part of bis nature, decided
otherwise, and how the passage was effected cannot be
better related than by quoting his own words: " The
account which had been given me of the rapids was
perfectly correct, though by crossing to the other side,
I must acknowledge with some risk in such a heavy-
laden canoe, the river appeared to me to be practicable
as far as we could see;   the traverse, therefore, was
attempted, and proved successful. We now towed the
canoe along an island, and proceeded without any considerable difficulty till we reached the extremity of it,
when the line could no longer be employed; and in
endeavouring to clear the point of the island, the canoe
was driven with such violence on a stony shore as to
receive considerable injury. We now employed every
exertion in our power to repair the breach that had been
made, as well as to dry such articles of our loading as more
immediately required it. We then transported the whole
across the point, when we reloaded, and continued our
course about three-quarters of a mile. We could now
proceed no farther on this side of the water, and the
traverse was rendered extremely dangerous, not only
from the strength of the current but by the cascades just
below us, which, if we got among them, would have
involved us and the canoe in one common destruction.
We had no other alternative than to return by the same
course we came, or to hazard the traverse, the river on
this side being bounded by a range of steep overhanging
rocks, beneath which the current was driven on with
resistless impetuosity from the cascades. Here are
several small islands of solid rock, covered with a small
portion of verdure, which have been worn away by the
constant force of the current, and occasionally, as I
presume, of ice at the water's edge, so as to be reduced
in that part to one-fourth the extent of the upper surface,
presenting, as it were, so many large tables, each of
which was supported by a pedestal of a more circumscribed projection. . . . By crossing from one to the
other of these islands we came at length to the main
traverse, on which we ventured, and were successful in
our passage. Mr Mackay and the Indians, who observed
our manoeuvres from the top of a rock, were in continual
alarm for our safety." It is noteworthy that Mackenzie
and the voyageurs alone risked their lives in this undertaking.   The Indians, for whose safety the explorer was
always more concerned than for his own, were sent out
of danger's way. He never sent his men to do anything
that he would not undertake himself.
Difficult and dangerous as had been this proceeding,
as bad and worse still confronted them. Using a sixty-
fathom line, the canoe was towed up the swift water on
the west side until farther progress was impossible, and
a portage of a hundred and twenty paces had to be made.
When the canoe was reloaded, Mackenzie and some of
the men ascended the river bank and watched the
voyageurs toiling below them. f. My present situation,"
says Mackenzie, "was so elevated that the men, who
were coming up a strong point, could not hear me,
though I called to them with the utmost strength of my
voice to lighten the canoe of part of its lading. And here
I could not but reflect, with infinite anxiety, on the
hazard of my enterprise. One false step of those attached
to the line, or the breaking of the line itself, would have
at once consigned the canoe, and everything it contained,
to instant destruction. It, however, ascended the rapid
in perfect security, but new dangers immediately presented themselves, for stones, both small and great, were
continually rolling from the bank, so as to render the
situation of those who were dragging the canoe beneath
it extremely perilous; besides, they were at every step
in danger, from the steepness of the ground, of falling
into the water ; nor was my solicitude oUminished by my
being necessarily removed at times from the sight of
Travelling through the forest, Mackenzie came to an
enclosure made by the Indians for the capture of elk.
Reaching the river again after tramping for some hours,
he was perturbed by not seeing any sign of the canoe.
He sent Mackay back to ascertain the reason of the
delay, while he continued on for a mile and a half to
examine the river still farther ahead, and " came to a
part where the river washes the feet of lofty precipices,
and presented, in the form of rapids and cascades, a
succession of difficulties to our navigation." As the
canoe still did not come, Mackenzie retraced his steps
to where he had parted from Mackay, and then to his
satisfaction saw his men carrying the canoe over a rocky
point. " Their difficulties had been great indeed, 3and
the canoe had been broken; but they had persevered
with success, and, having passed the carrying-place, we
proceeded with the line as far as I had already been."
A man sent forward to make an examination of the
river returned at nightfall with the report that it would
be impracticable to pass several points. The following
morning, however, they set out, and " with infinite
difficulty passed along the foot of a rock, which, fortunately, was not a hard stone, so that we were enabled
to cut steps in it for the distance of twenty feet, from
which, at the hazard of my life, I leaped," says Mackenzie,
"on a small rock below, where I received those who
followed me on my shoulders. In this manner four of us
passed and dragged up the canoe, in which attempt we
broke her."
A dry tree provided fuel for a fire, over which they
melted the pitch for the repair of the canoe, and, to
prepare for future needs, two men were sent to procure
a further supply of birch bark. When the canoe was
ready the journey was resumed, progress being made by
poling and towing. A traverse being found necess3ary
at a place where the water was very rapid, some of the
men stripped to their shirts that they might be better
prepared for swimming in case of accident, but the
crossing was made without other mishap than that of
shipping of water. Mackenzie took an observation, and
found the latitude to be 560 N., which, he remarks in his
journal, " has since been proved to be tolerably correct."
Continuing up-stream, the velocity of the current increased, and in two miles they had to unload and portage
four times, and at five o'clock in the afternoon they
came to where the river was one continuous rapid. Again
unloading, the canoe was towed with much difficulty
and danger until, a wave striking the bow, the fine
parted, the canoe swept away, and the men in it faced
what all thought certain death. For a moment it seemed
that the expedition would come to an abortive end then
and there, but another wave drove the frail craft into
an eddy, where it was seized upon by eager hands and
taken ashore. As far as could be seen ahead of them, the
river was one white sheet of foaming water.
*The perils and dangers they had met with, and the
toil and labour of overcoming almost insurmountable
obstacles, did not fail to affect the spirits of the men.
They began to murmur, to whisper among themselves
that it was useless to proceed, that they would be obliged
to return to their starting-point. Mackenzie dealt with
the malcontents in a way peculiarly his own: he bade
them exert themselves in climbing the high river-bank
and camp there for the night. While they were thus engaged, he, accompanied by an Indian, proceeded upstream until the fight failed. Everywhere he saw a succession of rapids and falls, and he came to the conclusion
that farther progress by water was impossible. Had the
water been at a higher stage, as it would be in the course
of a week or two, he would not have been able to ascend
to the point he had already attained. There the river is
not more than fifty yards wide, and flows between
stupendous rocks. From the precipices above great
fragments of rock fell and strewed the edge of the river,
and along the face of the cliffs Mackenzie observed a
seam of " bituminous substance which resembles coal."
Mackay and the Indians, who journeyed by land, passed
" several chasms in the earth that emitted heat and
smoke, which diffused a strong sulphureous stench."
They had departed from the Forks Fort on May 9th,
and, after a strenuous journey lasting eleven days, had
reached the eastern boundary of the great canon, a dis-
tance of one hundred and forty-eight miles, according to
Mackenzie, from the starting-point.1 Before they could
again resume the voyage by water, they must first pass
the formidable Rocky Mountain Portage, an arduous
undertaking over a mountain trail of twelve miles. The
trail cuts across country, forming the base of an isosceles
triangle, whose apex points to the south. The two sides
of the triangle, formed by the Peace River canon, measure
over twenty miles. In that distance the water descends
270 feet. Above the river tower precipices, which sometimes attained 1000 feet in height. The Peace itself,
tearing wildly through the deep narrow gorge, tumbling
over falls, rushing impetuously down rocky rapids, lashed
everywhere into seething white water, presents a spectacle
awful in its grandeur.
On Wednesday, May 22nd, the task of carrying everything they possessed over the twelve-mile portage was
commenced. First the canoe, and afterwards the baggage*
provisions, &c, were conveyed with infinite toil, and no
little danger, from the river below to the camping ground
on the heights above, " a very perilous undertaking, as
one false step of any of the people concerned in it would
have been instantly followed by falling headlong into
the water." Men were set to work cutting a road, others
following with the goods and the canoe. Mackenzie
was everywhere, superintending, lending a hand with the
canoe, using an axe to fell trees with the trail-makers.
All Thursday they worked, always inspired by the example
and cheerfulness of the leader. Deep ravines and steep
ascents were encountered, but they and all obstacles
were overcome by Mackenzie's indomitable will. On the
third day, Friday, the descent to the river began, and
at four o'clock in the afternoon it was reached, a short
distance above the head of the rapids, at the place visited
by Mackay on the 21st.   Two hundred yards below, the
1 Selwyn made the distance 152 miles; Dawson gave it as 208
river plunged at a terrific velocity between perpendicular
rocks only thirty-five yards apart.
All of the next day, Saturday, 25th, was occupied in
making poles, putting the canoe in order, and preparing
for the next stage of the journey. It was near this spot
that at a later date the Hudson's Bay Company established
Cust's House. At the foot of the rapids, where the
portage began, Simon Fraser built Rocky Mountain.
House in 1805. The name of the place was later changed
to Hudson's Hope, which it still retains.
Before leaving that camp at five o'clock, Saturday
afternoon, to resume the journey, Mackenzie erected a
pole, to which he attached a knife, flint and steel, beads,
&c., as a token of amity to the Indians, and to this collection one of his hunters added a small piece of wood,
chewed at one end into a sort of brush, to denote abundance of game in that locality. They then embarked, and
after proceeding a mile and three-quarters, with high
hills all around them, Mackenzie observed and noted
one on the south side that towered above all the rest.
This was the Buffalo's Head, the view from whose summit
is so graphically described by Captain Butler in the
' Wild North Land.' From there, in April 1872, Butler
gazed upon " a mass of yellow grass and blue anemones."
Mackenzie, however, passed it by, and after making about
four miles against a stiff current and a rising stream,
camped for the night.
Although near the end of May, the men complained
much of the cold in their fingers, and on Sunday, when
the voyage was resumed, they were obliged to use poles
instead of paddles on that account. The passing of a
" small river . . . from the north " on that day is noted.
This was Eight Mile Creek, it being that distance above
Cust's House. Sixteen miles were made that day, camp
being made at seven p.m. On Monday the hunters killed
a stag, the second deer they had secured since leaving
the head of the portage.    Passing Carbon River they
encountered several rapids, but did not have to make
a portage until the following day, at the Rapids qui ne
a misnomer, inasmuch as the noise made is
heard for quite a distance. Mackenzie does not note
having passed the Na-bes-che or Otter-tail River, just
before coming to the rapids.
To keep his men contented and in good humour, Mackenzie would give them a " regale," or treat, generally
of grog or a tot of rum, after an arduous day's work, or
some special exertion or occasion. These repeated libations
made great inroads in the supply of liquor, and the last
of a keg of the spirit was consumed on Wednesday, May
29th. Mackenzie thereupon conceived the idea of writing
an account of the journey from the Forks, placing the
written paper in the keg and turning it adrift on the river.
With the thought came execution. The story was written,
the sheet of paper thrust into the keg through the bung-
hole, which was then closed securely, and he " consigned
this epistolary cargo to the mercy of the current." Needless to say, nothing more was ever heard of either keg or
letter: it probably came to grief in the passage through
the canon.
The following day they passed Clearwater River, which
flows from the south, and on Friday morning passed the
mouth of Barnard River, a mountain torrent by which
they " were very much endangered." So cold were the
men at nine in the forenoon that a landing was made and
a fire lighted. The heat thus generated and a " regale "
of rum soon restored them to a more comfortable condition, and they again embarked. They passed mountain
after mountain, one of which now bears the name of
Mount Serwyn, and on proceeding a few miles farther
they " arrived at the fork, one branch running west-
north-west, and the other south-south-east." The first
or northerly branch, the largest and longest, was afterwards ascended in 1798 by James Finlay, left in charge
of the New Establishment in 1793, and bears his name.
The southerly branch is the Parsnip River. Which of
the two to follow Mackenzie did not know. His own
inclination was to take the northerly fork, " as it appeared
to me to be the most likely to bring us nearest to the
part where I wished to fall upon the Pacific Ocean,"
from which it is evident he still entertained the hope of
finding the river of whose existence he had been told by
the Dog-rib and Hare Indians of the Mackenzie, and
which he thought must be Cook's River. But he remembered the advice he had received at Smoky River from
the old Beaver Indian, who had frequently visited Peace
River district on war expeditions against the Sekenais,
and who had warned him, Mackenzie, not on any account
to follow it, as it was " lost in various branches among
the mountains, and there was not any great river near
it," which would indicate that the old man knew that
part of the country quite well. On the contrary, Mackenzie
was urged by the old warrior to follow the south branch,
by which they would reach a carrying-place which would
take them to another large river.
Fortunately for the outcome of the expedition, Mackenzie set aside his own wishes and resolved to take the
advice of one who had first-hand knowledge. His men
expressed their wish that he should ascend the Finlay,
mainly because the Parsnip was the more rapid stream.
Mack||feie, however, having fully decided what to do,
ordered the steersman to stem the current of the Parsnip.
So great was the resistance offered their progress by the
velocity of the river that'it took the whole afternoon
to ascend three miles. This circumstance, and the hardships they had hitherto endured, aroused the discontent
of the men, who freely cursed the Parsnip and the whole «
excursion. Mackenzie was obliged again to exercise his
tact and diplomacy in handling a delicate situation, and
this he did to such good purpose that he convinced them
of his deteirnination to proceed despite every obstacle
and untoward condition.
Day after day they toiled against the rushing tide.
Day after day the volume and velocity of the river increased, augmenting their labour. Mention is made of
passing a large river on the right, Nation River, but the
mouth of Pack River leading to M'Leod Lake seems to
have been unobserved. This may be accounted for by
the explorer's custom of occasionally taking a nap while
en route. From Monday, May 27th, until June 4th his
journal fails to show the courses of the voyage. He
candidly explains the omission thus: " From this day
to the 4th of June the courses of my voyage are omitted.
I lost the book that contained them. I was in the habit
of sometimes indulging myself with a short doze in the
canoe, and I imagine that the branches of the trees brushed
the book from me when I was in such a situation." The
same reason may explain several other omissions as well.
On June 5th, Mackenzie, Mackay, and the two Indian
hunters landed with the intention of ascending a hill
to make a reconnaissance, the voyageurs being instructed
to continue the journey and to give certain signals by
gun-fire if necessary. The reconnaissance was duly made,
and, proceeding in the direction of up-stream, the river
was in due time regained. Gun-shot signals were given
without any answer being received. Whether the canoe
was below or above them was a question none could
answer. Mackay and one Indian went down-stream,
while Mackenrie and the other hunter took the opposite
direction. Mackenzie blamed himself for his imprudence
in leaving his people, " an act of incliKsretion which
might have put an end to the voyage I had so much at
heart." They were tired and hungry. No game was
seen all that day. Mackenzie and his companion gave up
the search, and were in the act of preparing couches of
branches of evergreens whereon to pass the night when
they heard the discharge of firearms from down-stream.
Weary as they were they struggled to rejoin their comrades, and it was almost dark when they reached the
camp. The voyageurs excused their slow progress by
alleging the canoe had broken. Mackenzie professed to
believe them, and consoled them with the comforting
" regale." On the 7th he took observations to learn his
position, which he found to be 550 2' 51" N. latitude and
1220 35' 50" W. longitude.
They flow began to be anxious about the " carrying-
place " of which they had been told, and their only hope
of obtaining any information about it was in falling in
with some natives, of whom they had as yet not seen
any. On Sunday, June 9th, however, after a long day's
travel, the smell of wood smoke assailed their nostrils—
the smell of a camp fire,—and they heard the noise of
people moving confusedly in the woods, from which
signs they knew they had disturbed a party of Indians
at their encampment, who had observed their approach
while themselves remained unseen. No less unprepared
for possible hostilities were the travellers, and Mackenzie
ordered the canoe to be paddled to the opposite side of
the river. Before half the distance had been accomplished two men appeared on the bank, brandishing their
spears, displaying their bows and arrows, and accompanying their hostile gestures with loud cries. Despite
the overtures of peace held out to them for acceptance,
they declared they would discharge their arrows at the
white men if they attempted to make a landing before
they were fully satisfied of their peaceful intentions. Ultimately this was done to their satisfaction. They laid
aside their weapons, and Mackenzie landed and took each
of them by the hand, whereupon one of them tremulously
drew his knife from his sleeve and presented it to the
explorer as a sign of his submission. " They examined
us," says Mackenzie, " and everything about us with a
minute and suspicious attention. They had heard,
indeed, of white men, but this was the first time that
they had ever seen a human being of a complexion different
from their own."   One of the men was sent to fetch back
L. U,
the others of the party, who had fled for safety, and who
now returned. The entire party of Indians when all were
assembled consisted of three men, three women, and
seven or eight children, of the Sekenais tribe.
Mackenzie determined to camp near them until they
became quite accustomed to his presence, and intended
asking them for all the information they could give about
the rivers and the country in general. Had he not fallen
in with any natives, it had been his intention to land at
what he considered a favourable place for finding the
" carrying-place," and then sending parties out in several
directions to search for another river. If this failed, he
would return down the Parsnip and ascend the Finlay.
Mackenzie landed at three in the afternoon, and two
hours later the fugitive women and children came in,
with scratched legs and bleeding feet, for in their haste
of flight they had left their moccasins and leggings behind
them. To console them for their discomfort and to gain
their good opinion, Mackenzie gave them presents of
beads and other articles, and some pemmican. Their
confidence thus restored, the explorer began to question
them, but his inquiries did not elicit much information
from them beyond that a moon's travel to the west
there were "other tribes, who five in houses . . . and
. . . extend their journies to the sea coast, or, to use
their expression, the Stinking Lake, where they trade
with people like us, that come there in vessels as big as
islands." But all inquiries about a great river met with
nothing but professions of ignorance of the existence of
such a stream. In vain did Mackenzie promise to bring
ships laden with goods to the mouth of it if they would
but show it to him or tell him where to find it; in vain
did he promise to furnish them with everything they
might want, and to make peace between them and the
Beaver Indians, if they would, on his return, accompany
him across the Rocky Mountains. None of these undertakings advanced the object of his inquiries.   Nor did he
meet with any better success next day when he again
renewed his questioning. All he could extract from them
was a repetition of what they had already told him, with
the addition that they had themselves just come from
another stream, which they declared to be a branch of
that they were then on.
This negative state of affairs greatly perturbed Mac-
kenzie, and he almost decided to abandon the canoe and
go overland, but further reflection soon convinced him
of the futility of such a course, because of the inability
to carry sufficient provision and presents to ensure their
safety. To continue the journey up the Parsnip seemed
useless; to abandon the enterprise altogether was a
thought too painful to indulge in. In the midst of this
state of perplexity and anxious solicitude came unexpected relief. One of the Indians remaining by the
camp fire, apart from his companions, began conversing
with the interpreters about a great river, and Mackenzie
speedily learned that he knew of a large stream flowing
towards the mid-day sun, a branch of which ran not far
from the stream they were then navigating. Mackenzie
induced him to draw the course of the great river on a
piece of bark, the result of the interview being the resurrection of hope and confidence. This unlooked-for
information did not come to fight until the second day
after falling in with the Indians. Within an hour after
receiving it Mackenzie bade the Sekenais good-bye, and,
after an exchange of gifts and other courtesies, with one
of their nuihber as guide resumed his journey up the
Three days later, on Wednesday, 12th June, after
following a narrow meandering stream, they arrived at
a small lake about two miles long, which Mackenzie
considered as the highest and southernmost source of the
Peace River, and whose position he found to be 540 24' N.
latitude and 1210 W. longitude. There they landed and
unloaded the canoe. A portage of eight hundred and
seventeen paces by a well-beaten path led over a low
ridge, the summit of the water-shed separating the affluents
of the Parsnip, whose waters ultimately empty into the
Arctic Ocean through the Mackenzie River from the
sources of the Fraser River, which flows into the Pacific.
At the beginning of the portage they found several canoes
left there by the natives, together with baskets containing
various articles hanging on the trees. In the baskets
were nets, hooks, traps, &c. Some of these Mackenzie
took, leaving in exchange a knife, h>eads, awls, &c, as
was his custom.
The portage conducted them to another small lake, on
which they embarked. Traversing this, they descended
a short stream into still another lake, out of which ran
Bad River, now named James Creek, which took them
into the Fraser. Mackenzie had intended walking part
of the distance along Bad River, but his men, apprehensive of what lay before them, expressed a wish that he
should go in the canoe with them, so that if they were
lost he would perish with them. To placate them he did
as they requested. It soon became evident that their
fears were not without foundation. After making a portage
past a rapid the canoe was reladen, and the journey resumed. Almost immediately the canoe struck, and the
force of the current drove it sideways down the river.
They all jumped out to remedy this disaster, but coming
to deep water were obliged to scramble on board again
with the utmost haste, one man being left on the bar.
The others had barely regained their places when the
canoe drove against a rock, which shattered the stern so
that the steersman could not keep his place; and while
this new trouble was still engaging their care, the current
forced the canoe against the shore and smashed the
bow, and, as if this did not sufficiently discommode
them, they encountered a cascade, and suffered several
punctures in the bottom of the canoe, and all the supporting bars or thwarts were started, so that the vessel
lay flat upon the water, and it was only after the severest
exertions that they reached shore with the remnants of
the wreck and such of the cargo that had not gona t©
the bottom, the most important loss being their entire
stock of bullets, which was lost beyond recovery. Fortunately the powder escaped a wetting, but most of the
other things were soaked, and had to be spread out to dry.
The men were much downcast by this accident, and
gave free vent to their misgivings. Mackenzie paid no
attention to their complaints until their panic passed
and they were warmed and comforted by a hearty meal,
not omitting " rum enough to raise their *^>irits." Then,
and not until then, he harangued them, pointing out
that the danger they had just encountered arose from
their ignorance of the river and not from any danger
to navigation. They would in future profit by the lesson
learned from the occurrence. He urged upon them " the
honour of conquering disasters," and the disgrace that
would attend them-:^should they return home without
having attained the object of the expedition. He reminded them of the courage and resolution which was
the peculiar boast of the north men, and that he looked
to them to sustain the reputation enjoyed by men of their
breed and calling. As for the loss of the bullets, had they
not abundance of shot out of which a further supply could
be made ?
This address had the desired effect. The men proposed
to abandon the wrecked canoe and carry their goods to
the river, which the guide said was not far distant. But
this plan did not receive the approval of their leader.
Instead, he sent two of the Canadians and an Indian
to obtain a supply of birch bark, and to proceed as far
as the river itself if they could do so within the day.
Night fell, and as they did not return Mackenzie became
uneasy. To his intense relief about ten o'clock he heard
a shout, and shortly afterwards the Indian entered the
camp, his clothes torn to rags, bringing a small quantity
of inferior bark. He had parted with the two Canadians
at sunset. Of the river or creek upon which they then
were he gave a discouraging account, describing it as a
succession of rapids and falls and snags.
While this reconnaissance was being made, Mackenzie
and the others spent the day in patching up the badly
used canoe. That day also, says Mackenzie in his journal,
" we had an escape which I must add to the many
instances of good-fortune which I experienced in this
perilous expedition. The powder had been spread out,
to the amount of eighty pounds, to receive the air; and
in this situation one of the men carelessly and composedly walked across it with a lighted pipe in his mouth,
but without any ill consequence from such an act of
criminal negligence. I need not add that one spark might
have put a period to all my anxiety and ambition."
At noon Mackenzie took an observation, and gave the
latitude as 540 23' N. He observed trees and plants
which he had not seen elsewhere north of latitude 520—
cedar, hemlock, maple, &c.
The next morning, Friday, while the work of repairing
the canoe was in progress, the two Canadian scouts came
in, hungry, cold, and ragged, with a report substantially
the same as that of the Indian. They had seen the larger
river, however, but were of the opinion it would be necessary to carry everything to it, owing to the obstacles to
navigation in the stream they had embarked on. The
canoe was patched up, and on Saturday the journey was
continued, four men in the canoe, the others carrying on
shore part of the freight. That morning Mackenzie experienced the first instance of disobedience to mar the
journey. Beauchamp flatly refused to embark in the
canoe when ordered. Under the circumstances Mackenzie I
did not deem it expedient to inflict severe punishment,
" but as he had the general character of a simple fellow
among his companions and had been frightened out of
what little sense he possessed by our late dangers,  I
rather preferred to consider him as unworthy of accompanying us, and to represent him as an object of ridicule
and contempt for his pusillanimous behaviour, though,
in fact, he was a very useful, active, and laborious man."
At the close of the day they assembled round a blazing
fire, and the entire party were enHvened by a " regale,"
while, their good spirits being restored, they enjoyed in
anticipation the pleasures of emerging from the present
difficulties and continuing the way gliding down a strong
and steady stream.
Sunday did not prove as lucky a day for them as had
Saturday, for not only was a hole broken in the canoe
bottom while descending a rapid, but a toilsome portage
through deep mud so discouraged the men that their
murmurs broke forth afresh. Four men were assigned
to the task of carrying the canoe, which, what with
patches and gum, was become so heavy that two men
could not carry it more than a hundred yards without
being relieved. The other two men and Mackenzie
followed with the cargo. The extent of their progress
that day was only two miles. So discouraged were the
men that Mackenzie found it necessary to again give
them a dram of rum. After the others had crept into
their blankets Mackenzie sat up until midnight, as he
had made a practice of doing, to keep watch over the
guide.   At twelve he awoke Mackay to relieve him.
Whether Mackay fell asleep or not is not told ; probably
he dozed during his watch. Be that as it may, the guide
escaped, as Mackenzie was informed by Mackay at three
o'clock in the morning. Immediate search was made,
but without avail, the darkness and the Indian's cunning
knowledge of woodcraft favouring the flight. The search
was abandoned, nor was any further time wasted in
renewing the chase when daylight came, all energies being
directed in pursuing the voyage.
Travelling alternately by land and water, cutting a
road through the forest growth when portaging became
necessary, at eight o'clock in the evening of Monday,
June 17th, the party arrived at the bank of the " great
river," the north branch (now called Herrick Creek) of
the North Fork (Upper M'Gregor River) of the Fraser.
To Mackenzie, the discoverer, it was an unknown unnamed
river, a stream no white man had seen before, upon which
he and his companions were the first civilised beings to
embark. Had Mackenzie observed and ascended Pack
River in place of continuing up the Parsnip, he would
have reached the Fraser a considerable distance lower
down at a saving of much time and energy.
The achievement is chronicled by Mackenzie in his
customary matter-of-fact manner; but simple as are the
few words in which he tells of it, it is easy to read the
inner delight of the man. " At length we enjoyed," he
says, " ailer all our toil and anxiety, the inexpressible
satisfaction of finding ourselves on the bank of a navigable
river on the west side of the first great range of mountains."
FROM the fraser to THE PACIFIC.
It is unfortunate that Mackenzie's notes of his voyage
down the Fraser River are not clearer and fuller than
they are. It is difficult to follow him and accurately
recognise precisely all the localities of which he makes
mention. This is rendered more difficult by his omission
of well-known landmarks. It is possible that the mists
that hung about the river in the early hours of the morning,
generally about three or four o'clock when he began the
day's travel, so obscured the shores that he may not
have seen those local characteristics that would have
made it so easy to follow his every movement. As it
is, it is more or less guesswork to attempt to define his
position from day to day. It is very evident that, after
negotiating the difficulties of Bad River (James Creek),
an affluent of Herrick Creek, the north branch of the North
Forjs of the Fraser, he camped at the junction of those
two small streams, that confluence being a few miles
from the broader North Fork itself, now named M'Gregor
Embarking in the cranky, scarcely sea-worthy canoe,
now so heavy by repeated repairs as to be no longer
" easily carried three or four miles by two men without
resting," as when the expedition departed from Fort
Forks on the Peace, the descent of the " great river," the
Fraser, began. A very short distance carried them to
M'Gregor River, and soon they entered a canon, the
current being " very strong but perfectly safe," which
bore them swiftly down-stream to its junction with the
South Fork, the main Fraser, which takes its rise in Tete
Jaune Pass. The distance covered from the point of
embarkation to the confluence is given by Mackenzie
at about thirty-seven miles, which is ten miles too much.
There they found the river, half a mile wide, with a
slack current and a depth of sixteen feet. So far all is
perfectly clear. There can be no mistake about the
place at which they had arrived. " Here was the great
fork of which our guide had informed us, and it appeared
to be the largest branch from the south-east," the explorer
notes in his journal. Then follows a detailed account of
his courses, which show that after passing the confluence
of the two main branches he travelled another thirty-two
miles before making camp for the night. In that distance
of thirty-two miles two small rivers (Toy Creek and
Salmon River) were seen flowing into the Fraser from
the right-hand (north) side, and at the last of these they
saw smoke, presumably from Indian camp fires; but
Mackenzie was unwilling to order his men to return upstream in order to visit the camp, and decided to postpone interviewing those natives until he was homeward
The following morning—foggy again—embarkation took
place at three o'clock, the murkiness of the atmosphere
being increased by smoke from forest fires, the air being
filled with the " strong odour of the gum of cypress and
spruce-fir." After travelling twenty-eight miles, Mackenzie's estimate, " the rocks contracted in such a manner
on both sides of the river as to afford the appearance of
the upper part of a fall or cataract." A landing was
made, a not very clearly defined trail followed—they
conjectured it was traced by Indians making portages at
that place; and upon examining the river before them,
the travellers decided that " the rapids were of considerable  length   and  impassable  for  a  light   canoe."
Whereupon the faintly marked Indian trail was widened
to admit the passage of the canoe, wnich was carried on
the shoulders of the men to the foot of the rapids. The
weight of the craft was such that it cracked and broke
as they carried it. The distance of the portage was
only half a mile, but it took four hours to accomplish it 1
I The labour and fatigue," declares Mackenzie, " beggars
description, when we at length conquered this afflicting
passage over a rocky and most rugged hill." While the
canoe was being repaired, Mackenzie took an observation
which gave him 53° 42' 20" N. latitude. Once more
launching their craft, a quarter of a mile took them to
another carrying-place, a rocky point about twice the
length of the canoe.
It was characteristic of Mackenzie to describe obstacles
and difficulties he encountered in the mildest and m6st
modest language. His description of this part of the
canon of the Upper Fraser is an instance of it. He says :
1 From the extremity of this point to the rocky and
almost perpendicular bank that rose on the opposite
shore is not more than forty or fifty yards. The great
body of water, at the same time tumbling in successive
cascades along the first carrying-place, rolls through this
narrow passage in a very turbid current, and full of
whirlpools." That is all. The next sentence is in such
striking contrast that it is almost amusing. " On the
banks of the river there was great plenty of wild onions,
which when mixed up with our pemmican was a great
improvement of it, though they produced a physical
effect on our appetites, which was rather inconvenient to
the state of our provisions."
What rapids are these described by Mackenzie in such,
bald fashion ? There is no doubt but that the place
referred to by the explorer is the Fort George Canon,
where the river divides into three channels, separated
by masses of rock, rocky islets standing in mid-stream,
through which the water flows at a high velocity.    In
support of this assumption the latitude given by Mackenzie,
53° 42' 20", is practically that of this situation. Setting
the question of latitude aside, however, there are other
circumstances that should be considered. Taking the
forks of the Fraser as the starting-point, the distance
travelled by Mackenzie from there to the rapids on the
18th and 19th totals sixty miles according to his journal,
an estimate that is three miles short of the actual distance
to Fort George at the mouth of the Nechaco River. As
the rapids are eighteen miles below the Nechaco, Mackenzie
underestimated the distance from the Forks of the
Fraser to the rapids by over twenty miles. It is eighty-
one miles from the Forks to Fort George Canon.
Within comparatively recent years the Dominion
Government has caused some of the obstacles to steamboat navigation of the Fraser at Fort George Canon to
be removed by blasting, so that the rapids are not to-day
identical with what they were in Mackenzie's time,
though they are still sufficiently formidable. The writer
has both run and ascended them since the " improvements "
were made, and there is nothing to deter experienced
boatmen from undertaking their passage without trepidation, although the novice may feel grave uneasiness.
Other travellers, however, ran the rapids before the
blasting was done. Four Canadians in 1862 made the
passage in a canoe without portaging, and in the diary
kept by one of them the incident is noted: " Past the
rapids, thank God, in safety, and I think with not a
great deal of trouble." And these men were not veteran
voyageurs but townsmen, whose former experience with
a canoe was paddling about the lakes in Ontario. Their
canoe was a sound one, however. Perhaps had Mackenzie
been possessed of one in like condition he would have
run the rapids, and not obliged his men to carry the heavy,
patched, and broken vessel with the lading over half a
mile portage so rough and difficult to traverse that it
occupied four long hours of unremitting labour !
After travelling for thirty-five miles below Fort George
Canon another rapid was encountered. " Here the river
narrows between steep rocks, and a rapid succeeded,
which was so violent that we did not venture to run it,"
says the journal. " I therefore ordered the loading to
be taken out of the canoe, but she was now become so
heavy that the men preferred running the rapid to the
carrying her overland. Though I did not altogether
approve of their proposition, I was unwilling to oppose
it. Four of them undertook this hazardous expedition,
and I hastened to the foot of the rapid with great anxiety
to await the event, which turned out as I expected.
The water was so strong that, although they kept clear
of the rocks, the canoe filled, and in this state they drove
half-way down the rapid, but fortunately she did not
overset; and having got her into an eddy they emptied
her, and in a half-drowned condition arrived safe on
shore. The carrying-place is about half a mile over,
with an Indian path across it." There is no doubt as to
this place: it is the Cottonwood Canon, about seventy-
five miles below the mouth of the Nechaco.
The other party already mentioned, who descended
the Fraser in 1862 in a canoe, had a similar experience
at the same place, as is told in the following extract
from a journal kept by one of them: " Had not gone
more than three or four miles when we came to the Canon.
We found it much worse than the other (Fort George
Canon)—high rocks on both sides. After hard work
clambering along rocks and in the water we got her
(the canoe) past the worst of it. We then came to a
perpendicular cliff with no beach, so that we found were
obliged to run her down what remained. We got in
her, and were carried broadside by the force of an eddy
right into the middle of the swell and very nearly filled;
but, thanks to the Almighty, though she shipped considerable water, we got to shore. We then baled her
out,  and ran down the remainder without accident."
Th|s is a better description of these rapids than that
given by Mackenzie^ The worst water occurs at the head
of the canon. In the canon itself the walls of solid rock
rise vertically from the water, the channel being very
narrow. Between the walls of rock the river whirls
and surges in eddies and whirlpools. Simon Fraser
experienced a good deal of difficulty at the same place.
The following day, June 21st, the summer solstice,
Mackenzie came to " where a large river flowed in from
the left, and a smaller one from the right." The large
river on the left is Quesnelle River, so named after Jules
Maurice Quesnelle by Simon Fraser fifteen years later.
The smaller river on the right is Puntataencut River.
Mackenzie did not halt at Quesnelle River, but, continuing the journey down-stream, at the place afterwards named Deserter's River a canoe was seen drawn
up the bank. While the travellers were taking a note of
this, a second canoe containing one Indian emerged from
a small stream. No sooner did the solitary boatman
observe the strangers bearing down upon him than he
gave a loud cry to alarm his friends. The response was
immediate : a number of men, armed with bows, arrows,
and spears, appeared on the river bank, and threatened
instant death to Mackenzie and his companions should
they attempt to land.
Since their guide deserted them at Bad River, Mackenzie had had no speech with any natives. During the
descent of the river Indian encampments had been
passed, and at one of these, after passing the rapids at
Fort George Canon, Mackenzie's hunters had overtaken
some natives, who had fled into the woods as soon as they
perceived the strangers' canoe. Notwithstanding the
efforts made to convince them of their frieiiSly intentions,
the natives refused to listen, and not only threatened
them but discharged a number of arrows, which were
only avoided by taking refuge behind trees. In their
haste the natives had left their camp fires burning and
their baskets containing fishing-tackle and other articles,
which the voyageurs examined with much curiosity.
Mackenzie naively remarks : "I prevented my men from
taking any of them; and for a few articles of mere
curiosity, which I took myself, I left such things in
exchange as would be more useful to their owners."
On the 20th, eighteen miles below their camping-place
of the night before, they had landed at a deserted native
house, the first permanent habitation they had seen west
of the mountains. It is described by Mackenzie as being
thirty feet long and twenty wide, with three doors each
measuring three feet high and a foot and a half wide.
Inside were three fireplaces, with sleeping places on
either side of them. The walls were five feet in height,
the roof being supported by a ridge pole resting on two
upright forked poles ten feet high. Poles stretched across
the building were provided for the drying and smoking
of fish. There also Mackenzie saw a large fish-trap,
cylindrical in form. Everything was in excellent condition, from which he concluded its owners intended to
return to it. Farther down the river they had seen two
houses on islands, the last signs of the country being
inhabited until they saw the Indians below Quesnelle.
On the same day, before their arrival at Cottonwood
Canon, they had passed a river, Blackwater River, on
the right. Little did the explorer dream that his way
to fame lay in the direction whence that stream flowed.
The canoe was in such a wretched condition that
Mackenzie decided it had served its purpose, and a new
one must be made as soon as possible. To this end he
sent four men into the woods to secure a supply of birch
bark, and at noon they returned with a quantity sufficient
to make the bottom of a canoe thirty feet long.
Resuming the narrative at the place—about midway
between Quesnelle mouth and Alexandria, afterwards
named Deserter's River—where the unfriendly natives
had appeared on shore brandishing their weapons and
making hostile gestures, Mackenzie instructed his interpreters to make peace overtures. These produced no
other result than threats of instant death should a landing
be attempted, the threat being emphasised by the discharge of a flight of arrows, none of which, fortunately,
did any harm. Unwilling to expose'his men needlessly
to danger, and equally unwilling to pass on without
placating the natives, Mackenzie landed on the opposite
side of the river abreast of them. In the meantime two
natives set off in a canoe down-stream to spread the
alarm to the people below, and probably with the intention of returning with reinforcements. Mackenzie comments : " This circumstance determined me to leave no
means untried that might engage us in a friendly intercourse with them before they acquired additional security
and confidence by the arrival of their relations and neighbours, to whom their situation would be shortly notified.
I therefore formed the adventurous project which was
happily crowned with success. I left the canoe and
walked by myself along the beach, in order to induce
some of the natives to come to me, which I imagined
they might be disposed to do when they saw me alone,
without any apparent possibility of receiving assistance
from my people " ; but not to expose himself unnecessarily
to undue risk, he posted one of the interpreters, armed
with two guns, in the woods, with instructions to kill
any native who might attempt to shoot him. " I had
not been long at my station," recounts Mackenzie, " and
my Indian in ambush behind me, when two of the natives
came in a canoe, but stopped when they got within a
hundred yards of me. I made signs for them to land,
and, as an inducement, displayed looking-glasses, beads,
and other alluring trinkets. At length, but with every
mark of apprehension, they approached the shore, stern
foremost, but would not venture to land. I now made
them a present of some beads, with which they were
going to push off, when I renewed my entreaties, and
after some time prevailed on them to come ashore and
sit down by me." Acting upon instructions given beforehand, the interpreter now joined them and conversed
with them. Mackenzie invited them to accompany him
to his camp, but they declined, and when they saw some
of the voyageurs approaching they requested Mackenzie
to send them back, which he prosaptry did. Soon afterwards they embarked in their canoe, recrossed the river,
and rejoined their own people, who received them with
great joy. They displayed their gifts to their friends,
and after a consultation together an invitation was
extended to Mackenzie to visit their encampment. So
promptly was the invitation acted upon, the voyageurs
displaying unusual alacrity, that the fears of the natives
were again partly aroused, but this uneasiness was soon
dispelled: trinkets were distributed among the adults,
and sugar given to the children.
Seizing the opportunity to ascertain some information
about the country, Mackenzie instructed his interpreters
to make inquiries. From the answers received the explorers learned that the river ran south, and that white
people were building houses at its mouth. In this statement they were, of course, wrong. Fraser River, as such,
had not been " discovered," and no white men had as
yet entered or visited its mouth, both Captain Vancouver
and the Spanish navigators having failed to find it. The
tales these Indians had heard, carried from tribe to tribe
from the coast to the interior, had reference to the settlement at Nootka on Vancouver Island.
Mackenzie learned also that farther down-stream the
river was absolutely impassable in three places from falls
and rapids, which were infinitely higher, more rugged
and dangerous than anything he had yet encountered.
In addition to the difficulties of navigation, there were
dangers from their neighbours, whom they represented
as a very malignant race, who lived in large subterranean recesses."  Their neighbours were the Shuswaps,
Lillooets, and Thompsons, and the subterranean recesses
were the habitations known as " Keekwillie houses,"
abodes half excavated and half superstructure, in which
they lived while at their permanent or winter quarters.
They were much concerned when the travellers told them
of their intention to continue their journey until they
arrived at the sea, and strove to dissuade them from
making the attempt, assuring them that they would be
killed by the natives, who were possessed of iron, arms,
and utensils obtained through the medium of the Indians
of the coast from white people who came in great canoes.
None of these tales discouraged Mackenzie. So far
from being dissuaded from continuing his journey, he
persuaded two of the natives to accompany him. Before
this could be carried into operation a canoe containing
three men came into view from down the river, relatives
of the people the travellers were then with, and who
had been told of the arrival of the strangers by the two
men who had hastened down-stream to spread the alarm.
So fearful were they that, although they must have
observed the amicable relations that had been established
between the white men and their relatives, they assumed
a threatening attitude. Their fears, however, were soon
removed, and they landed. One of them, who is described
as a middle-aged person, who appeared to command the
respect of his fellows, and who, upon learning the nature
of the errand of the travellers, advised them to delay
their departure until all the people among whom the
alarm was being communicated should arrive; for if
they attempted to push on, they would assuredly meet
with opposition, and that the presence of two of the
natives would not help them, doubtless because it would
be assumed they were being held as slaves, or at any
rate detained against their wills. Thinking that by further
delay he might ascertain something more about the
country, Mackenzie ordered the canoe to be unloaded
and his tent pitched.   Here, as at other places, he found
that once a footing of friendship was established the
natives became uncomfortably familiar, and he was
obliged to let them know he wished to be alone and undisturbed. From the man who appeared to be a sort of
leader among them, Mackenzie succeeded in obtaining
a rough sketch, drawn on a piece of bark, of a plan of
the course of the river.
Mackenae conversed with these people a good deal
during his sojourn amongst them. They numbered seven
families, containing eighteen men. He described them
as being clad in leather (buckskin) and handsome beaver
and rabbit-skin robes. They had come there to fish for
the winter supply, and, says the explorer, " the fish
which they take are large, and only visit this part of the
river at certain seasons." This fish is the salmon, which
run up that river and its tributaries on their way to the
spawning grounds. The Indians make a practice of
catching large numbers of them, which they split, dry
in the sun, and sometimes cure by smoking, for winter
consumption. Mackenzie thought the natives at that
camp but little, if any, different in manners, appearance,
and language from " Rocky Mountain Indians."
As none of the people expected from farther down the
river arrived at the camp, Mackenzie decided to continue
the voyage on the morning of June 22nd, which fell
on a Saturday. Before leaving he told them that if he
found what they had been told to be correct, he would
either return himself or send some other person to them
with a supply of such goods as they might wish to have.
Taking two of the natives with them—one in a small
pointed canoe with Mr Mackay, the other in the larger
canoe with Mackenzie,—a start was made at six o'clock.
The river was here bordered by the " benches " which
are characteristic of part of the valleys of the Fraser and
Thompson Rivers. After covering about eleven miles
they landed near a house " the roof of which alone appeared above ground," one of the keekwillie houses
already referred to. The house did not contain any
people, but on the bench above several men were seen,
I who displayed the same postures and menacing actions
as those we have so lately described." The two hostages,
or guides, were sent to them, but it was not until after
a prolonged discussion that one of them was persuaded
to visit the strangers. Shortly afterwards the remainder
of the party, seven in number, followed his example.
They carried their bows and arrows in their hands ready
for instant use, their garments being so arranged as to
leave the right arm uncovered and free for action. A
cord fastened a blanket or leather covering under the
right armpit, so that it hung upon the left shoulder,
and might be occasionally employed as a target that
would turn an arrow which was nearly spent. As soon
as they had recovered from their fears, ten women joined
them, but they had left their children at a distance
where they could not be harmed. A few presents and the
assurance of friendly intentions put them all on a good
understanding. The use of firearms was explained and
demonstrated. " At the same time," says Mackenzie,
" I calmed their astonishment by the assurance that,
though we could at once destroy those who did us injury,
we could equally protect those who showed us kindness."
Three miles farther on several more natives were seen
on the high ground, a landing was made, and the guides
sent to them as before; but so wUd and ferocious did
these people appear that fears were entertained for the
safety of the messengers of goodwill and peace. At
length, however, they were persuaded to adopt a more
friendly attitude and to visit the strangers, which they
did one after another, sixteen men and several women,
Mackenzie shaking hands with each, a form of salutation
they had not seen before, but which the interpreters
explained to them as a sign of friendship. The natives
invited the strangers to pass the night at their lodges,
which were not far distant, promising to send two of their
young men with them the following day to introduce
them to "the next station, who were very numerous,
and ill-disposed towards strangers."
As Mackenzie was about to embark, with the intention
of proceeding to the lodges of these natives, one of the
women spoke several words in the Knisteneaux language,
a term which Mackenzie appears to use as comprehending
almost all of the Indian inhabitants of the plains east of
the Rocky Mountains. As his interpreters understood
that tongue, they were able to repeat her tale to the
explorer. She told them that her people dwelt at the
forks of that river, what Mackenzie calls a Rocky Mountain
Indian, and that she had been taken prisoner by the Knisteneaux—probably on a war expedition—and had been
carried by them across the mountains, where she had
spent the greater part of a summer before she could make
her escape, and, having recrossed the mountains, hoped
to reach her own country and fi^jjjKds. Instead, she had
fallen into the hands of the people with whom she now
was, and who had visited her country as a war party,
and driven her friends from the river into the mountains.
She had no cause to complain of her present husband,
but expressed a strong desire to return to her own people.
Mackenzie requested her to go to him when he arrived
at the native lodges, which she promised to do, but
failed to keep her engagement, doubtless being prevented
from so doing by the man who had taken possession
of her.
Mackenzie arrived at the encampment before his hosts,
but they soon joined him, with a greater number of women
than had appeared before, but of the female prisoner he
saw nothing. There were twenty-five people at the camp,
too many to permit of a lavish distribution of gifts.
Among the men were four from the neighbouring nation,
and one Rocky Mountain Indian who had been with
them for some time. By using him as an intermediary
interpreter   Mackenzie  was   successful  in  learning   all
those people could tell him of the country and the river.
He interpreted in his own tongue what the natives replied,
and Mackenzie's own interpreters, who understood his
language, interpreted to their leader. Selecting an elderly
man from among the four inhabitants of the adjoining
country, whose countenance prepossessed him in his
favour, Mackenzie again explained the object of his
journey, and asked their assistance in giving him information. At Mackenzie's request this person drew a
sketch of the country upon a large piece of bark. He
described the river as running to the east of south, receiving many rivers, and every six or eight leagues broken
by falls and rapids, some of which were dangerous, and
six of them impracticable. The portages, he said, were
of great length, passing over hills and mountains. He
told of three other tribes who spoke different languages.
Beyond the countries they inhabited he knew nothing,
save that it was a long way to the sea; and that, as
he had heard, there was a " lake " which the natives did
not drink. Few of these people ever came to the river,
and then only at certain seasons to fish; that they procured iron, brass, copper, and trinkets from the westward, and that formerly those articles were obtained
from the lower parts of the river. A knife was produced
which had come from that quarter: its blade was ten
inches long and an inch and a half wide, with a horn
handle. It was said to have been " obtained from white
men long before they had heard that any came to the
westward." " One very old man observed," says the
journal, " that as long as he could remember, he was
told of white people to the southward; and that he had
heard, though he did not vouch for the truth of the
report, that one of them had made an attempt to come
up the river, and was destroyed." The " white people
to the southward " were, no doubt, the Spaniards who
had settled in California and Mexico. It is amazing with
what rapidity news filtered through nation after nation,
travelling immense distances and losing little of its
original import in the process.
These people told Mackenzie that the distance across
the country to the sea, the " Western Ocean," was very
short. His own opinion was that it could not exceed
five or six degrees, in which supposition he was quite
within the mark. " If the assertion of Mr Mears be
correct," comments Mackenzie, " it cannot be so far, as
the inland sea which he mentions within Nootka must
come as far east as 1260 W. longitude."
The Mr Mears here mentioned was Captain John
Meares. He had served as lieutenant in the Royal Navy
in the war between Great Britain on the one side and
Spain and France on the other. At the conclusion of the
war he took command of a merchant ship to Calcutta,
and while there decided to venture in the fur trade on
the north-west coast of the American continent. As
commander of the Nootka, a vessel of two hundred tons
he had purchased together with the Sea Otter of half the
tonnage, he sailed to Unalaska in 1786. Wintering in
northern waters, his men suffered severely from scurvy,
many of them perishing. Next year he sailed for China
after a successful summer of trading. In 1788 Meares
returned to the north-west coast with two other vessels,
the Felice and the Iphigenia, he being in personal command of the first-named, and visited Nootka. It is not
necessary in this place to enter into his activities and
difficulties there; suffice it to say that after vainly
searching down the coast for the river, which the Spaniards
alleged they had discovered and named Rio de San
Roque, he declared: " We can now with safety assert
that there is no such river as that of San Roc, as laid
down in the charts." It was, however, up that river
that Captain Gray sailed in 1792 and named the Columbia.
Having failed to find that stream, Meares sailed north
again with the intention of exploring the Strait of Juan
de Fuca, and sent his mate, Duffin, in the longboat to
penetrate the strait up which Captain Barkley had sailed
the previous year. This was the so-called " inland sea
. . . within Nootka " referred to above, but which extends
farther to the east than the position Mackenzie assigned
to it.
The natives assured Mackenzie that the road to the
sea by the way they indicated was not difficult, as they
avoided the mountains, keeping in the lowlands between
them. According to them, their trail was well-defined
from being travelled so often, and followed streams and
a chain of lakes. To reach the people with whom they
traded furs and buckskin for brass, iron, beads, &c, took
them six days. These other people were the Bella Coola
Indians, who obtained the metals, beads, &c, from
white people who " were building houses at a distance,"
by which Nootka was meant. Hoping to learn from the
female prisoner he had conversed with the previous
day, definite information of the country " beyond the
•forks of the river, as well as of the pass through the
mountains, from them/' Mackenzie made mquiries about
her, but received such evasive replies that he came to
the conclusion her guardians feared his intention was to
take her from them.
To all of this the members of the expedition had
listened with keen attention, and they decided that it
would be madness to continue journeying down the
river through so hostile a country. The murmuring of
the men, the scarcity of provisions—enough for no more
than thirty days,—the small quantity of ammunition
remaining, caused Mackenzie much perturbation, but
did not deter him from his purpose of reaching the ocean.
He decided, however, to change the manner of achieving
his object by following the route just described to him.
He was influenced in coming to this decision not only
by the attitude of his men and the other circumstances
mentioned, but because he now was of the opinion that
the river he was following would not take him to where
he wished to arrive.   " The more I heard of the river,"
he says, " the more I was convinced it would not empty
itself into the ocean to the north of what is called the
river of the west, so that with its windings the dis|js$&fc;
must be very great."
It has been supposed that by " the river of the west "
here alluded to, Mackenzie referred to the river Captain
Meares had looked for unsuccessfully, but which the
Spaniards claimed existed, and which was " discovered "
by Gray in May 1792, the Columbia. Mackenzie could
not have heard of that discovery. Captain Gray did not
return to Boston until July 1793, and it is very unlifely
that intelligence of the discovery, even if known in
London or Boston in 1792, could have reached Mackemlie
before setting out from Fort Chipewyan for Peace River.
It was not, therefore, the Columbia River Macken-zie^
had in mind when he wrote of the " river of the west,"
but of that other river of which he had learned when
ascending the Mackenzie in 1789. His observations of
latitude would give him sufficient evidence to convince
him the river he was on could not empty itself into the
ocean north of that stream, which he believed poured
its waters into or near Norton Sound. The same evidence
would tell him, if he had laiown of its existence, that the
Fraser must necessarily reach the sea to the north of the
River Oregon, that river of the west Jonathan Carver had
written about. It may, therefore, be reasonably assumed
that Mackenzie was thinking of Cook's River or the Yukon.
After a restless night, most of it spent, doubtless, in
anxious thought over the problems that confronted him,
he endeavoured to elicit further information from the
Indians, and they told him that the place where they
left the Fraser to reach the people to the westward with
whom they traded was where another river flowed into
it from that direction, and that they ascended that river
in their canoes for four days, and, beyond that, two nights
saw them at their journey's end.
Mackenzie realised that the psychological effect of a
retrograde movement upon his men would not be good,
but there seemed no help for it. Calling them together
he diplomatically commended them for their patience,
fortitude, and perseverance, telling them of the shorter
route he had decided to pursue, but at the same time
demanding of them a pledge that should this shorter
way prove unfruitful they would return with him to
the Fraser and continue the original route, and concluded by solemnly declaring that he would not abandon
his design of reaching the sea if he had to make the
attempt alone.
The result of such an address to the impressionable
emotional voyageurs was precisely what one would look
for from such people and under such circumstances—
they unanimously professed their willingness, now as
they had ever been, to abide by his decisions, and to
follow him wherever he should go. This matter satisfactorily settled, Mackenzie requested them to prepare
for immediate departure, and notified the natives of his
intention, as well as informing the one who was to accompany them as guide. Before leaving that camp, Mr
Mackay carved Mackenzie's name and the date upon a
tree. At the last moment the guide-to-be suggested that
he should proceed by land to his lodge to make preparations to go with them. His reason for proposing it was
that he would reach his abode before them, and would
be ready to embark when they arrived. Mackay and the
two interpreters went with him.
At ten in the forenoon Mackenzie embarked, and made
much faster time against the current than he anticipated
possible in such a wretched craft. Arriving at the rendezvous, their new guide announced his intention of
again going on by land, and Mackenzie could only
acquiesce. He took the precaution, however, of sending
the same companions with him.
Shortly after resuming the voyage up the river, Mac-
kenzie observed a canoe containing three men coming
down. As soon as the natives saw the travellers they
made for the shore, hauled out their canoe, and concealed themselves in the woods. The canoe was recognised as one they had seen before at the Indian houses.
Soon afterwards they passed another canoe drawn up
stern first on the shore. Camp was made that night at
nine o'clock near a native encampment of two families
whom they had seen at the houses. Mackenzie went to
their camp immediately, and sat down with them. They
gave him some roasted fish, and two of his men who had
followed him were also treated to some of their provisions. The younger of the two male natives soon
afterwards went away and did not return, and when
Mack^gjgie retired to his own tent he felt some surprise
that the other native did not accompany him; at their
former meeting when going down the river he had been
with Mackenzie day and night. Although he thought
the conduct of these two men very strange, the explorer
did not attach any great importance to it, nor suffer
any apprehension for the safety of Mackay and those
with him. Next day, however, continuing the journey,
when they came in sight of the place where they first
saw the natives, Deserter's River, about half-way between
Alexandria and Quesnelle, the travellers were much surprised and disappointed to see Mackay and the two
Indian hunters emerge alone from the shelter of a half-
ruined house. Their countenances betrayed alarm, and,
as soon as Mackenzie landed, they told him " that they
had taken refuge in that place, with the determination to
sell their lives, which they considered in the most imminent
danger, as dear as possible."
It appeared that shortly after they had set out with
the native from his house after parting with the canoe
party, they had met a party of Indians, whom they had
seen where they now were on the occasion of the downward voyage, and who appeared on this occasion to be
in a state of extreme anger and with arrows fitted to the
string and bows bent threateningly. Their guide asked
these men some questions, and upon receiving their
answers, which none of Mackay's party understood, set
off at his utmost speed. Mackay, however, followed by
his men, ran after him until he overtook him, exhausted
with running. In reply to Mackay's demand for an
explanation of his conduct, the native said that some
treachery was designed against them. Having told them
this tale, the guide again began to run, taking them
" through very bad ways " ; nor would he slacken his
pace when asked to do so, alleging his haste to rejoin
his family so that he might prepare moccasins and other
necessaries for the journey. He kept this up until ten
at night, when they all rested on the ground, cold, wet,
and hungry, afraid to fight a fire lest they should draw
the hostiles down upon them. At dawn they continued
the journey, and arrived at the lodges to find them
deserted. The guide made several trips into the woods,
calling aloud and bellowing like a madman, and wound
up by running away in the direction whence they had
come, and had not been seen since. As Mackenzie was
not at that rendezvous, Mackay feared the canoe party
had all been destroyed, and he and his companions had
already planned to take to the woods, and try to reach
Peace River by following as direct a line in that direction
as best they could—a wild scheme that could only have
resulted in disaster. The hour of noon had been fixed
upon as the limit of time they would wait for the arrival
of Mackenzie. If he failed to appear then, they would
have started on their perilous and hopeless venture.
At hearing this recital all Mackenzie's men became
panic-stricken, and were for immediately abandoning
further prosecution of the expedition. Mackenzie calmly
faced the grave situation. He totally ignored the mutter-
ings and terrors of his companions, coolly ordered them
to unload the canoe all but six packages, and when this
was done he left four men in charge of the unloaded goods ;
and embarking in the canoe with the remaining men,
returned to where he had camped the previous night,
where he hoped to find the natives whom he had seen
there. In this he was disappointed: they had flitted
away in the silence of the night, and left every article of
their property behind them, and he returned to where
he had left the cargo and four men.
These strange circumstances perplexed him. Of their
safety in case of attack he had no fear, not even if all
the natives they had encountered combined against
them. The superiority of firearms over bows and arrows
ensured their ability to successfully resist an onslaught
by much greater numbers, but he feared that the natives
might so harass and annoy as to render a continuance
of the journey to the sea impossible. That possibility
disturbed him infinitely more than the prospect of a
pitched battle. And not only had he this anxiety, but
his own followers clamoured for immediate return to the
Peace River. Mackenzie had no such intention. He was
made of stouter stuff. The very presence of danger and
difficulty seemed but to serve as a stimulus to his determination to persevere. He neither temporised nor expostulated with his timorous associates, but peremptorily
bade them unload the canoe and take it out of the water.
Upon examining the goods they found that the natives
had stolen an axe, two knives, and the hunters' medicine-
Mackenzie did not fail to realise the gravity of the
situation. He had no intention of being caught napping,
and immediately took steps to ensure their safety. He
selected a position that he considered best calculated for
defence, ordered the arms to be put in proper condition,
served out a hundred bullets—the whole remaining stock,
—and set some of the men to melt down shot to make
more. While so employed they saw an Indian come
down the river in a canoe and land at the native lodges,
which he carefully examined. Upon perceiving the white
men he stood still as if uncertain what to do. Mackenzie
took advantage of his state of mind to despatch one of
his interpreters to interview him, but no arguments
would persuade him to have confidence in the strangers;
on the contrary, he threatened he would hasten to his
friends, who would come and kill them all. He then
The canoe was in need of repair, but they had no
gum with which to patch it, nor had any of the company
sufficient courage to venture into the woods in search of
any. If they had to use it, it must be as it was, leaky
and broken. To prepare for any emergency Mackenzie
had the craft loaded again, and securely fastened to the
shore by stout pickets. A constant watch was kept day
and night, and a sentinel, who was relieved every hour,
was placed at a distance. He himself snatched sleep
when he could, always keenly alert, watchful that none
relaxed in the performance of his duty.
The next day, June 25th, Mackay told him that the
men had expressed their dissatisfaction to him without
reservation, and had declared their determination not to
follow the explorer any farther. Mackenzie, however,
ignored these additional signs of discontent among his
followers, and continued to employ his thoughts in contriving some way of reconciling the natives, without
whose assistance as guides he would not be able to proceed, " when," he says in his journal, " my darling project
would end in disappointment."
At noon that day they saw a man coming down-stream
on a raft, but as soon as he espied the strangers he landed
on the opposite shore, and instantly disappeared in the
woods. Even in the midst of such immediate danger,
unrest*, and anxiety, Mackenzie did not fail in the exercise
of his duty, for he then took an observation, and calculated his position at 520 47' 51* N. latitude. While he
was thus engaged his men prepared the canoe without
being ordered, and Mackenzie believed they had decided
to begin the return journey without waiting for his
commands. Again exercising his wonderful self-restraint,
although he must have been extremely angry with them,
he pretended not to have noticed what they were doing,
and fortunately at that moment an incident occurred that
diverted the attention of all the company. The Indian
interpreters saw some one moving at the edge of the
woods, and so reported to Mackenzie, who at once sent
them to discover who it was. They soon returned with
a young woman whom Mackenzie recognised as one of
the natives he had seen before. She explained that she
had come to take some things which she had left behind.
Mackenzie treated her with kindness, gave her food, and
a present of such articles as he thought would please
her. When she expressed a wish to leave them, she was
allowed to go, Mackenzie hoping that her reception would
be the means of inducing the natives to return to their
That night, shortly after midnight, a rustling noise in
the woods created fresh uneasiness. Upon investigation
the cause was found to be an old blind man, too infirm
to join in the general flight of the natives from that
place, who had been driven out of his hiding-place by
the pangs of hunger. Mackenzie fed him, treated him
with kindness, and so far gained his confidence that he
explained the cause of the alarm among his people. Mackenzie gathered from him that some Indians from above
had brought word that the strangers—Mackenzie's party
—were enemies, and their unexpected return up the river
had appeared to substantiate the report. Mackenzie
improved the occasion by explaining the real reason for
their return, and at the same time admitted the impossibility of proceeding with his plans unless the services
of one of the local people could be secured to guide them.
The old man protested that if he had his sight he would
willingly accompany them.
At sunrise (Wednesday, June 26th) a canoe containing
one man was seen on the opposite side of the river, and
at Mackenzie's request the blind man called to him to
come to them, but he made no reply, save to hasten on
his way down-stream. From the old fellow it was learnt
that a number of the people who had been at the place
on their former visit had gone up the river. Deeming it
useless to remain there any longer, Mackenzie decided
to continue the journey and to take the old man with him,
telling him that he depended upon him to persuade any
of his friends or refe&$ves whom they might fall in with
to act as their guide westward. The poor old man did
not relish the prospect, and begged to be excused, but
Mackenzie felt he was their one hope, and refused to
accede to his request. In view of the fact that the place
they were about to leave, and where they had encountered
such unlooked-for anxieties, was where the native who
had agreed to be their guide had deserted them, Mackenzie
named it Deserter's River or Creek. It is a stream of
some volume flowing into the Fraser from the west.
Leaving Deserter's River at seven o'clock in the morning, they were obliged to carry the blind man into the
canoe, so reluctant was he to go with them, the first act
during the expedition, states Mackenzie, " that had the
semblance of violent dealing." As they were doing this
the old man spoke in a very loud voice and in a tongue
the interpreters did not understand. He explained that
he was telling his wife, who was in hiding near the camp,
to go for him to the carrying-place, where he supposed
he would be released.
During the forenoon, at the foot of a rapid, they saw
another canoe descending the river. It contained two
men, who, as soon as they perceived the white stranger,
avoided them by directing their canoe into the very
heart of the rapids, and escaped without replying to the
words addressed them by the blind man.
At three o'clock they saw " a lodge at the entrance
of a considerable river on the right, as well as the tracks
of people in the mud at the mouth of a small river on the
left." These streams were the Quesnelle and the Punta-
taencut Rivers, which they had passed going down on
the 21st. The lodge was deserted, nor did they see any
natives at either place.
Mackenzie must have frequently felt exasperated by
the childish conduct of his men. All that day, for example, they had been in an extremely ill humour, but as
they dared not vent their feelings upon their leader they
quarrelled among themselves. When, however, about
sunset, the canoe struck a snag and tore a large hole in
the bottom, they cast aside all restraint and displayed
their ill-temper without stint. Mackenzie left them to
their own devices as soon as they landed, in a frame of
mind not difficult to conjecture, and passed the night
in an abandoned keekwillie house, a prey to anxiety,
but hopefully expectant of finding his men more docile
after a night's rest, which proved to be the case.
They embarked at half-past four the following morning,
June 27th, and, by landing at several places on the way
up-stream, succeeded in collecting sufficient bark with
which to make a new canoe, the need of which had now
become imperative. At five in the afternoon they came
to a place suitable for the construction of the craft, a
small island not thickly wooded, and on the mainland
near by an abundance of spruce for the manufacture of
the frame. The position of the island was found by
observation to be 530 3' 7" N. latitude and 1220 48' W.
longitude. It is situated a few miles below Cottonwood
Canon, near the left bank of the river, only a narrow
channel separating it from the mainland. There they
remained four days, engaged in building their new vessel.
On the second day of their sojourn Mackenzie lectured
his men and took them to task for their conduct. " The
conductor of the work, though a good man," remarks the
explorer, " was remarkable for the tardiness of his opera-
tions, whatever they might be, and more disposed to eat
than be active." The lecture was directed pointedly at
this man, though also intended for all the others, who,
of course, heard every word. He reproached this fellow
for his general inactivity, and found fault with all of
them " for their want of economy in the article of provisions." He told them that he knew they had been
grumbling among themselves, and from what he knew he
believed they wished to put an end to the voyage. If
that were the case he asked them to tell him so frankly
and explicitly, but he assured them that irrespective of
whatever they might decide to do, it was his unalterable
determination to proceed, despite every difficulty or danger
that might threaten him. The man addressed was very
much mortified at being singled out in that manner, and
protested that he did not deserve the lecture any more
than the rest of the men. Mackenzie, however, said no
more. He had made himself perfectly clear, and that
was all he had intended to do.
In the afternoon of that same day a canoe with two
Indians came to the island, and, much to Mackenzie's
surprise, one of them was the native who had promised
to guide them but had deserted them at Deserter's River.
He apologised profusely for his conduct, but asseverated
that his whole time had been occupied in searching for
his family, who had been seized with the general panic
caused by the false reports of the natives who had first
fled from the white strangers. He also told them that
the two men seen in the canoe the previous day had just
returned from trading with the people at the sea coast,
and had brought a message to the guide from his brother-
in-law, whom he expected to meet at the other end of
the carrying-place, that he had a new axe for him, and
that he had in his canoe a dressed moose-skin he was
taking to the relative in payment. While this was all
very agreeable, Mackenzie took care to set a watch over
the guide so that he might not again escape.   But not-
withstanding his precautions, he succeeded in leaving the
It came about in this way. One of the hunters told
Mackenzie that the blind man intended making his
escape that night, Sunday, and offered to sit up with
his leader. To this the explorer agreed, and, sitting in
a darkened tent, they kept an eye on the old man. About
midnight the old fellow began creeping on hands and
knees towards the river. The others followed him noiselessly to the canoe, with which he would have gone
away had he not been prevented. At first he protested
he had only gone to the water to drink, but afterwards
acknowledged the truth. The guide upbraided him for
his conduct, and boasted that he himself " was not a
woman,'' and would never run away through fear. Leaving
Mackay in charge with strict injunctions to keep alert,
Mackenzie retired to his tent to sleep. When he awoke
next morning, however, the guide and his companion
were gone. They had departed unseen by Mackay, and
had told some of the men that they had gone on to their
friends, and would wait at their camp for him.
That afternoon, July ist, the canoe was completed,
and the following morning at an early hour they embarked.
As the old man did not wish to go any farther, or be
conveyed to where he expected to find his friends, he
was given a few pounds of pemmican and left on the
island, which Mackenzie named Canoe Island. During
their stay there the sand-flies and mosquitoes had caused
them great annoyance, and, what still further displeased
the voyageurs, all hands were placed on rations, and
only two meals eaten a day. One of the meals consisted
of pounded dried fish roes, boiled in water and thickened
with flour. The roes they found in the lodges at Deserter's
River. As they were about to start, Mackenzie gave the
men a dram of rum each, which treat restored their
equanimity, a commodity so easily disturbed.
In the forenoon they reached the Cottonwood Rapids,
The foreman, who had been alarmed on descending them,
again showed signs of fear, and suggested carrying canoe
and cargo past the place. Mackenzie ridiculed his fears,
proposed taking the post of foreman himself, and pointed
out that the water having fallen four feet since their
previous visit, the force of the current was considerably
lessened. It was decided to make the ascent on the
west side, where the flow seemed less rapid, but it was
soon discovered they could not manage without the line.
Mackenzie sent two of the men with a line seventy fathoms
in length to pass above the rocky cliffs, with instructions
to attach one end of the line to a roll of bark, and let
it float down the river. This was done, and the free end
of the line attached to the canoe, which was then warped
up. This operation was repeated, a portage made at two
cascades, and the rapids thus cleared in two hours.
They had expected to fall in with some natives about
that place, where they frequently resorted for fishing.
The river seemed to be alive with salmon, which were
everywhere leaping out of the water as they made their
way against the swift current. No Indians were met
with, however. An additional disappointment was experienced also when the hunters, who had been landed
with Mackay before beginning the ascent of the rapids,
came in empty-handed.
At ten o'clock next morning, July 3rd, they came to
the river flowing in from the west which they had been
told to ascend, and to which Mackenzie gave the name
of West-Road River, marked on the maps as Blackwater
River. The guide was not there. Again confronted by a
grave situation, Mackenzie took his companions into his
confidence: he told them this was the spot whence they
were to start for the sea overland, and that he was determined to make the journey, even without the guide,
should he fail to appear, which, however, he might yet
do. To his pleasant surprise some of them at once fell
in with his plan, while others suggested they should go
a farther distance up the river in expectation of meeting
the guide or encountering some natives from whom
another might be obtained. Mackenzie immediately
agreed to the suggestion, but before leaving he sent some
of the men into the woods to reconnoitre, while he examined the river in person. He found it only navigable
for small canoes, and his men discovered a well-beaten
trail leading into the interior.
Although Mackenzie does not express in his journal
what was his state of mind at this juncture, he must have
been highly elated at the thought that he would soon
reach the Pacific Ocean. He deliberately turned his back
upon the great river, as he calls the Fraser, by following
which he had at first hoped to reach the coast (and which
would have carried him there as readily as it afterwards
did Simon Fraser had he persisted), and substituted in
its place a journey through a region of which he knew
nothing.. He trusted entirely to what the Indians told
him. They said he would reach the sea by that overland
route, and he believed it would conduct him there. When,
after ascending the Peace and its tributary, the Parsnip,
he had arrived at the large river flowing towards the
mid-day sun, he had thought that, beyond possible hostility from the natives, and such natural obstacles as
" rapids and cascades," which he was accustomed to
encounter on the waterways on the eastern slope of the
Rocky Mountains, there would be no hindrance to a
speedy realisation of the object he had set out to accomplish. But that hope having been dashed to the ground
by the information supplied him recently by the natives,
who had told him of the impassable impediments ahead
of him did he continue to journey down the great
river, he had abandoned the original route and adopted
this new one, firm in the hope and belief of imininent
He knew of the position of the San Roque River as
given by the Spaniards.   He must have realised ere this
that the route he was now pursuing would take him to
the sea south of that other and northerly river of the
west which he had set out to find in the first instance.
He must have further realised that he would not now
be likely to fall in with Russian traders, and it is not
unreasonable to presume that he expected to find'thl§
way would, if pushed to the extreme, carry him to Nootka.
Perhaps he had some hope of participating in the trade
in furs at that place, not on this voyage possibly, but
ultimately. It is not difficult to conceive that in thus so
jauntily undertaking the land journey he may have
believed he was doing much more than finding a pathway
to the Pacific Ocean ; that, indeed, lie was about to open
up a trade route with Nootka that would prove remunerative to the North-West Company.
In detailing Mackenzie's route westward from the
Fraser River, it is commonly held that he ascended the
Blackwater—his West-Road River—in his canoe. The
writer differs from that opinion. There is nothing in his
narrative to indicate that he took his canoe up that
stream. His journal entry of July 3rd makes this quite
clear if carefully read. Mackenzie's words are : "At
four in the afternoon we left this place, proceeding up
the river." They were encamped at the mouth of the
Blackwater, and the words " this place" meant that
camp, the starting-point that day. It has hitherto been
stated that the words " up the river " have reference to
the Blackwater. The writer, on the contrary, is firmly
convinced that the Fraser River is indicated, and that
Mackenzie simply contimied his journey farther up the
main stream he was then on.
When, earlier in the day, he had consulted with his
men what their next move should be, some of them
" suggested that it might be better to proceed a few
leagues farther up the river, in expectation of finding
our guide, or procuring another, and that after all we
might return thither.   This plan I agreed to, but before
I left this place< to which I gave the name of West-Road
River, I . . . went some distance up the river myself,
which I found navigable only for small canoes." Surely
this can only mean one thing—namely, that, finding the
Blackwater too shallow for their large canoe, they proposed to proceed—and did—farther up the Fraser. Mackenzie's own words must be heeded. He distinctly says
that it was proposed they should 8 proceed a few leagues
farther up the river." As they had not gone up the Black-
water, they could not go " farther " up a stream they
had not ascended. They had, however, been ascending
the Fraser, and the expression going " farther up " undoubtedly has reference to the Fraser and that only.
Furthermore, inasmuch as they were agreed to journey
westward to the sea, why, if the river they proposed to
ascend were the Blackwater, should they speak of returning " hither "—i.e., the mouth of that stream—instead
of keeping right on ? Assuming, however, that the Fraser
River is intended, the reason for their return to the
mouth of the Blackwater is readily accounted for. That
was the place of rendezvous with their guide, and it
was quite reasonable that they should return to that
point if their excursion a " few leagues farther up the
river " (the Fraser) failed to produce a guide.
Another and cogent reason against their ascending the
Blackwater is the river itself. Mackenzie described it as
" navigable only for small canoes," and his was a large
one, twenty-five to thirty feet in length, and loaded with
a cargo weighing fully a ton in addition to the weight of
ten men in it. The Blackwater takes its rise in small
lakes far to the west of its outlet into the Fraser. Its
main source is about 530 N. latitude and 1250 49' W.
longitude, approximately three degrees west of its mouth.
It receives in its course many affluents, the chief of
which is the Nazco River, which joins it forty miles west
of the Fraser, and whose own source is seventy miles
south, and the Euchiniko River which flows in from the
north, rising in Chootanli Lake at an elevation of 3600 feet
above sea-level.
At its mouth the valley of the Blackwater is gorgelike, which character it retains for a distance of twenty
miles up-stream, the river in this part of its course flowing
between perpendicular rocky cliffs more than one hundred
feet high. This portion is known as Lower Blackwater
Canon. Farther west the rugged aspect of the valley
gives place to one less severe, terraces or benches of glacial
drift and silt, characteristic of so many valleys in the
interior of British Columbia, being substituted for the
rocky precipices of the lower reaches. The very appearance of the gorge at the mouth of the Blackwater must
have warned Mackenzie against venturing too rashly
into the frowning canon. The safer and wiser plan—
and he knew he must act circumspectly to preserve the
lives of his companions and to preserve their supplies of
provisions, now reduced to a perilously small quantity
—was to keep to the Fraser until he obtained a guide.
Additional reasons for believing that Mackenzie never
ascended the Blackwater in his canoe will develop as this
narrative proceeds.
Having decided to proceed farther up the Fraser they
did so, and in less than an hour they fell in with two
canoes coming down-stream. They contained the guide
and half a dozen of his friends. They all landed, and the
guide, who was attired in a handsome painted beaver
robe that almost rendered him unrecognisable, immediately demanded an acknowledgment from Mackenzie
that he had kept his promise. The explorer thought it
politic to improve the occasion by presenting the fellow
with a jacket, a pair of trousers, and a handkerchief.
Every one being in good humour, they camped together
for the night.
The natives accompanying the guide examined the
white men with minute attention, and two of them,
belonging to the band first seen at Deserter's River on
the occasion of their journey down the Fraser, told Mackenzie that they were so terrified at that time that they
did not venture near their houses for two days afterwards, and that when they did so they found that the
greater part of their property had been destroyed by
fire, which had spread from a neglected camp fire. They
told Mackenzie that they were " Nascud Denee,"
" though," comments the explorer, " I found no difference in their language from that of the Nagailas or
Mackenzie was not familiar with the ethnology of the
natives west of the Rocky Mountains nor of their final
distribution, otherwise he would not have fallen into the
several errors that occur in his observations in this connection. In speaking of the Indians with whom he sojourned before turning back up-stream to West-Road
River, he gives a list of a few words in the languages
" of the Nagailer or Atnah tribes." It is obvious on the
face of it that the Nagailas encountered in company
of the guide and the Nagailer of lower down the river
are one and the same people, the name being differently
spelled by Mackenzie. Nagailas is a self-bestowed nickname employed by the Takelne or Carrier tribe, which
is widely distributed, extending over a territory including
Alexandria in the south and the upper end of Stuart
Lake in the north. This explains why Mackenzie could
detect no difference in the language of the natives he was
then with : they were all of the same tribe, but of separate
bands or subdivisions, all speaking the same tongue.
The word " Dene," sometimes spelled " tinneh or
tenne," and by Mackenzie given as Dinais, is not the
name of a tribe. It means " people." Thus the term