The exact date of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s birth is not accurately known, although it is supposed he was born at Inverness, Scotland, about 1755. He came to North America at an early age and obtained employment in the counting-house of Messrs. Gregory and Co., a connexion of the North-West Fur Company. It was while he was with this company that he obtained the experience and knowledge necessary to his profession of a fur-trader, long before he undertook his arduous and dangerous expeditions to the far North. He was soon to distinguish himself. His firm gave him a small venture to Detroit on condition that he penetrate to the back country, which was then almost entirely unexplored, and open up trade with the Indians. He carried out his task in his usual thorough manner, but not without a severe struggle with a party of European traders, who had already obtained a foothold on the margin of this district, and who resented any interference with their monopoly by outside parties. However, finally the intruders were permitted to remain and share in the trade with the first comers. For many years after this, Mr. Mackenzie was occupied in trading and exploring in various parts of the continent, but of these operations we have, unfortunately, little or no record. After the amalgamation of the North-West Company with the older Hudson’s-Bay Company, Mr. Mackenzie appears to have resided in Canada, where he became a member of the provincial parliament, representing Huntingdon County. He married in 1812, and afterwards bought an estate at Avoch, Ross-shire, Scotland, where he resided until his death in March, 1820.
It is as an explorer of the vast and lonely wilds of the North that Mackenzie’s fame chiefly rests. The bravery and hardihood which carried him thousands of miles over the prairie and muskegs of the illimitable plains, down the rapids of great unknown rivers, over the ranges of almost impassable mountains, will always command the admiration of all who care for noble deeds. With a small party of Canadian voyageurs and Indians, in birch-bark canoes, Mr. Mackenzie started to explore the unknown regions of the North. Skirting the Great Slave Lake, he finally entered the Mackenzie River, and then began that long, deep plunge into the wilderness, which lasted many months, until he finally emerged on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, in Latitude 69. North. Here he set up a post with his name and date of visit. The return voyage was fraught with many dangers and vicissitudes, but he finally arrived safely at Fort Chippewayan in September, 1789.
Mr. Mackenzie’s next expedition was even more dangerous and difficult than the former. He started from Fort Chippewayan on the 10th of July, 1792, with the object of reaching the Pacific Coast, an enterprise never before attempted by a European. After more than nine months of perilous travel he achieved his ambition and reached the Great Western Ocean near Cape Menzies on the 22nd June, 1793. He is said to have inscribed on the face of a rock the date of his visit, and here it was that he was nearly murdered by the natives before setting out on his return.
The results of Mr. Mackenzie’s voyages to the far North have not been meagre. The opening of the territory to the west of the Rocky Mountains, followed quickly after; and the great Hudson’s-Bay Company immediately started to stud the whole northern country with small trading posts, whence have been drawn since incalculable riches in the furs of the North.
All this is easy enough to write down, but the tale is still far from being told in full. What of the long days of gloom and loneliness, days of peril and uncertainty, days when hope had almost reached the vanishing point? Who shall speak? It is a fascinating record which has placed the name of this indomitable Scotchman beside the names of the world’s greatest explorers.