Monday, October 1, 2012

Alexander Mackenzie

Photo: PBS.org

"Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-three."

The inscription was painted in a mixture of vermilion, a natural pigment, and grease on a rock near Bella Bella.

Arriving at the Pacific Ocean was a triumph for this Scottish-born explorer. While others sought the elusive Northwest Passage to the orient through the Arctic Ocean, Mackenzie remained determined to find the "Western Sea." In 1793, with a North West Company partner and native guides, he achieved that ambition.

The English king, George III, knighted Mackenzie, out of recognition that he was the first European explorer to reach the Pacific Ocean by an overland route -- at least the first one to do so north of Mexico.

By the time the Americans Lewis and Clark duplicated his feat in 1805, arriving at the Pacific near Portland, Oregon, our protagonist had been Sir Alexander Mackenzie for three years. The Mackenzie River and the town of Mackenzie, BC, bear his name. Several schools have also been named after him, in Vancouver and  Hagensborg, BC, and Cochrane, Alberta. Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in Inuvik, which opened in 1959, closed this past June, along with another school named after explorer and naturalist Samuel Hearne. The two will be replaced by a larger, more modern facility.

Alexander Mackenzie was also the name of Canada's second Prime Minister, a Liberal, but that Mackenzie was not born until 1822, long after our fur-trading explorer had accomplished his most memorable feats. His memory continues to be honoured by BC Grizzly Tours.

Photo: Mackenzie's inscription, from Beyond the map.

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