Alexander Mackenzie, His Expedition Across North America, and the Opening of the ContinentBook - 2003
First Crossing recounts an adventure of epic proportions -- in equal parts romantic, historically significant and compelling. It is the story of Canada's most famous explorer, Alexander Mackenzie, who in 1793 became the first person to cross the continent of North America north of Mexico. With a mix of wonderfully readable text, historical and contemporary photographs, and archival maps and illustrations, here is fresh insight into what drove Mackenzie to undertake his dramatic and dangerous quest for the Pacific Ocean, and how his daring secured Canada's legacy.
Those "heroes" of American exploration literature and legend, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, have received much more attention, yet Mackenzie was first, and his accomplishments greater. A tough native Scot, Alexander Mackenzie was a fur trader with the North West Company constantly in search of territorial advantage over the larger rival enterprise, the Hudson's Bay Company. After studying maps drawn by veteran trader Peter Pond, he was convinced that there was a new route, via a large river, to the Pacific, from where ships could sail for Europe or China. Discovering it would give the North West Company a huge advantage.
Finding the right river proved difficult. On his second attempt, Mackenzie ascended the Peace River and managed to find a way over the great barrier of the Rocky Mountains, arriving at Pacific tidewater in July 1793. The story of his "voyages," as he called them, is an amazing tale of hardship, singlemindedness and perseverance that rank among the great tales of exploration from an age which spawned many.
First Crossing leaves no doubt in the reader's mind about the scale of Mackenzie's achievements. The book concludes with succinct accounts of the explorers who followed Mackenzie, including Sir John Franklin to the Arctic Ocean; and David Thompson, Lewis and Clark, and Simon Fraser to the Pacific. Derek Hayes tells more than a great story and the saga of one explorer. This account reminds us again of the great drama of Canadian history, and the larger-than-life characters who defied the odds to build this country.