Sir Alexander Mackenzie

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Alexander Mackenzie

Birthplace: Luskentyre House, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Ross-shire, Scotland
Death: Died in Dunked, Scotland
Cause of death: Bright's Disease, nephritis - a kidney disease
Place of Burial: Avoch, Black Isle, County Ross & Cromarty, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Son of Kenneth Mackenzie and Isabelle Mackenzie
Husband of Marie (Inuit) and Geddes Mackenzie
Father of Julie McKenzie; Geddes Margaret Mackenzie; Alexander George Mackenzie of Avoch and George Alexander Mackenzie

Managed by: Private User
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About Sir Alexander Mackenzie

Sir Alexander Mackenzie (or MacKenzie, Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacCoinnich, 1764 – March 12, 1820) was a Scottish explorer. Mackenzie was born in Stornoway on the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. In 1774, his family moved to New York and then to Montreal in 1776 during the American Revolution. In 1779 he worked for Finley and Gregory, a fur trading Company later administered by Normand Macleod. In 1779, Mackenzie obtained a job with the North West Company on whose behalf he traveled to Lake Athabasca and founded Fort Chipewyan in 1788. He was 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 July 10, 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, it is conjectured that he named the river "Disappointment River" as it did not lead to Cook Inlet in Alaska as he had expected. The river was later renamed the Mackenzie River in his honor.

In 1791, he 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 native guides, French voyageurs and a dog called "Our Dog", Mackenzie left Fort Fork following the route of the Peace River. He crossed the continental divide and found the upper reaches of the Fraser River but was warned by the local natives that the Fraser Canyon to the south was unnavigable and populated by belligerent tribes. He was instead directed to follow a grease trail by ascending the West Road River, crossing over the Coast Mountains and descending the Bella Coola River to the sea. He followed this advice and reached the Pacific coast on July 20, 1793 at Bella Coola, British Columbia, on North Bentinck Arm, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Thus, he completed the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico. He had unknowingly missed meeting George Vancouver at Bella Coola by 48 days. He had wanted to continue westward out of a desire to encounter the open ocean but was turned back by the hostility of the Heiltsuk nation. At his westernmost point on Dean Channel, (on July 22, 1793), hemmed in by Heiltsuk war canoes, he inscribed "Alex MacKenzie / from Canada / by land / 22d July 1793" on a rock using a reddish paint made of vermilion and bear grease and turned around to return to "Canada". The rock, near the water's edge in Dean Channel, still bears these words which were permanently inscribed later by surveyors. The site is now Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park.

In 1801 the journals of his exploratory journeys were published. He was knighted for his efforts in the following year and served in the Legislature of Lower Canada from 1804 to 1808. In 1812, he married and returned to Scotland. Mackenzie died in 1820 of Bright's disease aged 56. He is buried in Avoch, on the Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty.


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

Many others have set out to replicate his famous crossing of Canada by canoe.

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Sir Alexander Mackenzie's Timeline

Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Ross-shire, Scotland
Age 42
June 17, 1816
Age 52
Avoch, County Ross & Cromarty, Scotland
March 12, 1820
Age 56
Dunked, Scotland
Avoch, Black Isle, County Ross & Cromarty, Scotland