Hard Travel: Alex MacKenzie from Canada by land, 22 July 1793

Friday, 26 February 2021 online via Zoom

Speaker: Dr. Richard Van Loon

Lecture title: Hard Travel: Alex MacKenzie from Canada by land, 22 July 1793

Lecture Summary

In this talk we will move much farther west and forward in time by nearly 100 years to travel with Alexander MacKenzie as he becomes the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean by land across North America, in 1793. MacKenzie’s epic travels depended on predecessor traders and explorers of the NorthWest Company and even more on the First Nations which inhabited, knew and understood all of the territory over which the Europeans travelled and traded as they moved west. We will meet both some earlier traders and the First Nation across whose land they travelled.

Bio: Richard Van Loon

Richard Van Loon is past president of Carleton University and past chair of the Council of Ontario Universities. He holds a BSc in chemistry and an MA in political science from Carleton and a PhD in political studies from Queen’s University.

He joined Carleton in 1970 as assistant professor of political science and has held faculty positions in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton where he is now professor emeritus and in the Faculty of Administration at the University of Ottawa. He was associate deputy minister of Health Canada and of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and held several assistant deputy minister positions in the Canadian federal government. He was the first Carleton alumnus to become president of the university.

Dr. Van Loon’s current research interests include federal-provincial relations, particularly related to post-secondary education, quality assurance and institutional structure in post-secondary education as well as the history of the Ottawa River and of First Nation/fur trader relations.

Notes for further reading:

1) Peter Pond was a fascinating character but one who has elicited not much biography since his own journals were incomplete and obscure. There is one good source:Barry Gough, The Elusive Mr. Pond, Douglas and McIntyre, 2013. It is available at Amazon

2) Barry Gough also did a biography of MacKenzie: First Across the Continent, MacLellan and Stuart, 1997. Also available at Amazon. There is one copy in the Ottawa Library. This is probably the best, somewhat critical account of MacKenzie.

3) Derek Hayes, First Crossing, Douglas and McIntyre, 2001. It is harder to find but may, I hope be in the library. It features great pictures and Hayes followed much of MacKenzie’s trail. I got it from a used bookseller. 

4) MacKenzie’s own Voyages from Montreal on the River St Lawrence through the Continent of North America… is quite readable. There are two volumes. The first describes the fur trade in great detail. The second describes his voyages and is the source of the quotes I used. It is easily findable online free.

5) The best shorter general source for all the explorers and also the First Nation leaders who worked with them is The Dictionary of Candian Biography, a terrific online free resource. There may be enough there to satisfy many readers.

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