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Alexander Mackenzie (explorer)

Sir Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander Mackenzie painted by Thomas Lawrence (c.1800), courtesy National Gallery of Canada
Born 1764
Stornoway, Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Died 12 March 1820 (aged 55–56)
near Dunkeld, Scotland, United Kingdom
Cause of death Bright's Disease
Occupation Explorer

Sir Alexander Mackenzie (or MacKenzie, Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacCoinnich, 1764 – 12 March 1820) was a Scottish explorer. He is known for his overland crossing of what is now Canada to reach the Pacific Ocean in 1793. This was the first east to west crossing of North America north of Mexico and preceded the Lewis and Clark expedition by 10 years.


  • Early life 1
  • Explorations 2
    • 1789 Mackenzie River expedition to the Arctic Ocean 2.1
    • 1792–93 Peace River expedition to the Pacific Ocean 2.2
  • Later life and family 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

In 1764, Alex Mackenzie was born at Luskentyre House in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.[1][2] He was the third of the four children born to Kenneth 'Corc' Mackenzie (1731–1780) and his wife Isabella MacIver, from another prominent mercantile family in Stornoway.[3] When only fourteen years old, Mackenzie's father served as an ensign to protect Stornoway during the Jacobite rising of 1745. He later became a merchant and held the tack of Melbost; his grandfather being a younger brother of Murdoch Mackenzie, 6th Laird of Fairburn.[4][5]

Educated at the same school as Colin Mackenzie, he sailed to New York City with his father to join an uncle, John Mackenzie, in 1774, after his mother died in Scotland.[6] In 1776, during the American War of Independence, his father and uncle resumed their military duties and joined the King's Royal Regiment of New York as lieutenants. By 1778, for his safety as a son of loyalists, young Mackenzie was either sent, or accompanied by two aunts, to Montreal.[4] By 1779 (a year before his father's death at Carleton Island), Mackenzie had a secured apprenticeship with FifFvy, Gregory & Co., one of the most influential fur trading companies at Montreal, which was later administered by Archibald Norman McLeod. In 1787, the company merged with the North West Company.


1789 Mackenzie River expedition to the Arctic Ocean

On behalf of the North West Company Mackenzie travelled to Lake Athabasca where, in 1788, he was one of the founders of Fort Chipewyan. He had been sent to replace Peter Pond, a partner in the North West Company. From Pond, he learned that the First Nations people understood that the local rivers flowed to the northwest. Acting on this information, he set out by canoe on the river known to the local Dene First Nations people as the Dehcho, (Mackenzie River) on 10 July 1789 following it to its mouth in the hope of finding the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. As he ended up reaching the Arctic Ocean on 14 July,[7][8] it is conjectured that he named the river "Disappointment River" as it did not lead to Cook Inlet in Alaska as he had expected.[3] The river was later renamed the Mackenzie River in his honour.

1792–93 Peace River expedition to the Pacific Ocean

Inscription on a stone at the end of Alexander Mackenzie's 1792–1793 Canada crossing from the Peace River to the Pacific Ocean coast; located at [9]

In 1791, Mackenzie returned to Great Britain to study the new advance in the measurement of longitude. Upon his return in 1792, he set out once again to find a route to the Pacific. Accompanied by two native guides (one named Cancre), his cousin Alexander MacKay, and six Canadian voyageurs (Joseph Landry, Charles Ducette, Francois Beaulieux, Baptiste Bisson, Francois Courtois, and Jacques Beauchamp) and a dog simply called "Our Dog". Mackenzie left from Fort Chipewyan on 10 October 1792 and travelled via the Slave River to the Peace River. From there he travelled to a fork on the Peace River arriving 1 November where he and his cohorts built a fortification that they resided in over the winter. This later became known as Fort Fork.[10]

Mackenzie left Fort Fork on 9 May 1793 following the route of the George Vancouver at Bella Coola by 48 days.

He had wanted to continue westward out of a desire to reach the open ocean, but was stopped by the hostility of the Heiltsuk people. Hemmed in by Heiltsuk war canoes, he wrote a message on a rock near the water's edge of Dean Channel, using a reddish paint made of vermilion and bear grease, and turned back east. The inscription read: "Alex MacKenzie / from Canada / by land / 22d July 1793" (at the time the name Canada was an informal term for the former French territory in what is now southern Quebec).[13]:418 The words were later inscribed permanently by surveyors. The site is now Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park and is designated a National Historic Site of Canada.[14]

In his journal Mackenzie recorded the Carrier language for the first time.[15]

Later life and family

In 1801 the journals of his exploratory journeys were published.[16][17] He was knighted for his efforts in the following year and served in the Legislature of Lower Canada from 1804 to 1808.

In 1812, Mackenzie returned to Hudson's Bay Company. Alexander and Geddes lived between Avoch and London. He died in 1820 of Bright's disease, at an age of 56 (his exact date of birth unknown). He is buried near Avoch on the Black Isle.


The Alexander Mackenzie rose (explorer series), developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour.[18]

The Mackenzie River is named for him.

There are schools in Saint Albert, Alberta, and Toronto, Ontario, named after him.[19]


  1. ^ Thompson, Frank G. "Alexander Mackenzie from Stornoway to the Pacific". Stornoway Historical Society. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Sir Alexander Mackenzie". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Lamb, W. Kaye (1983). "MACKENZIE, Sir ALEXANDER". In Halpenny, Francess G.  
  4. ^ a b Gough, Barry M. (1997). First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander MacKenzie. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Exploring" a relationship""". Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Mackenzie". Avoch Heritage Association. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Timeline". Crowsnest Highway. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Alexander Mackenzie Becomes the First European to Cross the Continent of North America at Its Widest Part". Science and its Times. Gale. 2000.  
  9. ^ "Alex MacKenzie From Canada by Land 22d July 1793". John Harvey Photo. August 8, 2001. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Mackenzie, Alexander (2001). The Journals of Alexander Mackenzie: Exploring Across Canada in 1789 & 1793. Santa Barbara, California: Narrative Press. p. 198ff.  
  11. ^ "Sir Alexander Mackenzie". Bella Coola Grizzly Tours. Mackenzie Heritage Trail, British Columbia. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  12. ^ Hayes, Derek (2009). First Crossing: Alexander Mackenzie, His Expedition Across North America, and the Opening of the Continent. D&M Publishers. pp. 211–224.  
  13. ^ Morton, Arthur Silver; (Lewis G Thomas) (1973) [1939]. A History of the Canadian West to 1870–71 (2nd ed.). Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press.  
  14. ^ First Crossing of North America. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  15. ^ Poser, William J. (2004). "The first record of the Carrier language". In Holt, Gary; Tuttle, Siri. Working Papers in Athabaskan Languages. Working Papers #4. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center. 
  16. ^ Mackenzie, Alexander (1902). Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in 1789 and 1793. Vol. I. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  17. ^ Mackenzie, Alexander (1903). Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in 1789 and 1793. Vol. II. New York: A. S. Barnes & Company. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "Alexander Mackenzie rose". 
  19. ^ "Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School". St. Albert Public Schools. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 


  •  Chichester, Henry Manners (1893). "Mackenzie, Alexander (1755?-1820)". In  
  • "Biography of Alexander Mackenzie". Dictionnaire des parlementaires du Québec de 1792 à nos jours (in French).  

External links

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