July 22, 1793: Alexander Mackenzie becomes the first recorded person to make a transcontinental crossing of Canada. He was born in Scotland in 1764 and came to America in 1774 when his mother died. His father and an uncle were already there and had joined the King’s Royal Regiment of New York as lieutenants (since they had prior experience). By 1778, Alexander was sent to Montreal to escape the hardships of war and he was given an apprenticeship with Finlay, Gregory & Co. – one the most influential fur trading companies in the city. The company merged with the North West Company in 1787.
On their behalf, Mackenzie traveled to Lake Athabasca in 1788. He learned that the First Nations people knew much about the local rivers and based on information gleaned from this source, he set out on July 10, 1789 to find the source of the Dehcho River (now Mackenzie River) hoping to find the mysterious Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of finding the Pacific, he wound up on what he called Disappointment River at the Arctic Ocean instead. The river did not lead to Cook Inlet in Alaska as expected and hoped for. He left Canada in 1791 to return to Great Britain to learn about advances in measurement of longitude and returned the next year determined to find a way to reach the Pacific.
On this trip, he was accompanied by two native guides, his cousin Alexander, six Canadian voyageurs, and a dog. They left from Fort Chipewyan on October 10, 1792 and sailed up the Pine River to the Peace River. On November 1, they stopped, built a shelter which became known as Fort Fork, and wintered there. On May 9, 1793, they set out once again and followed the Peace River. They crossed the Great Divide and found the headwaters of the Fraser River. They were warned that the upriver canyon was unnavigable and filled with belligerent natives. He was directed to take a route following the West Road River, cross the Coast Mountains, and then descend via the Bella Coola River. He did so and arrived at Bella Coola, British Columbia. This is situated on North Bentinck Arm, an inlet of the Pacific.
He missed meeting George Vancouver at Bella Coola by just 48 days. Mackenzie was hoping to continue westward but was stopped by the Heiltsuck people in war canoes who hemmed the entourage in. While holed up, he inscribed his feat on a rock at the water’s edge of Dean Channel. The words were later inscribed permanently by surveyors and is now a National Historic Site. In 1801 he published journals of his exploratory journeys and he was knighted for his efforts. He severed in the Legislature and eventually (1812) returned to Scotland. He married 14-year-old Geddes, an heiress. He died in London in 1820 at the age of 56.
I always wanted to be an explorer, but – it seemed I was doomed to be nothing more than a very silly person. – Michael Palin
It’s important for the explorer to be willing to be led astray. – Roger von Oech
You will not accept credit that is due to another, or harbor jealousy of an explorer who is more fortunate. – Abbott L. Lowell
The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart. – Julien Green
Also on this day: Public Enemy #1 – In 1934, John Dillinger met his end – maybe.
Cleaveland – In 1796, Cleveland, Ohio was named for the leader of the surveying party.
Falkirk – In 1298, the Battle of Falkirk took place.
And They’re Off – In 1894, the first motorized vehicle race was held.