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First Across The Continent
     

First Across The Continent

by Barry Gough
 

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Seeking the Northwest Passage and the fabled like to Russia, Japan, and Cathay, Alexander Mackenzie drove himself and his men relentlessly, by canoe and portage, across the uncharted rivers, valleys, and mountains of North America. Mackenzie's 1789 journey to the Arctic Ocean and his arduous journey to the Pacific in 1793 predate the Lewis and Clark expedition. By

Overview

Seeking the Northwest Passage and the fabled like to Russia, Japan, and Cathay, Alexander Mackenzie drove himself and his men relentlessly, by canoe and portage, across the uncharted rivers, valleys, and mountains of North America. Mackenzie's 1789 journey to the Arctic Ocean and his arduous journey to the Pacific in 1793 predate the Lewis and Clark expedition. By the age of thirty-one Alexander Mackenzie had become the first man to cross North America from the northwestern hub of the interior trade, Lake Athabasca in present-day northern Alberta, to the Pacific Ocean. He had opened the continent to trade and exploration.

Mackenzie was a man of enormous ego and overpowering ambition. He left Scotland in search of opportunity in the North American fur trade and achieved success through a combination of bold exploits, grim determination, and business acumen. Mackenzie returned to his homeland late in life to be knighted, marry, and live a more genteel life, leaving behind a Métis family in North America. His celebrated book Voyages from Montreal remains an enduring classic of world travel literature.

In his research, Barry Gough traveled from Mackenzie's birthplace to his tomb and from Montreal to the Arctic Ocean and to the Pacific. He takes the reader along with Mackenzie on his hazardous travels and voyages, using contemporary accounts to bring to life the problems and perils faced by the young explorer.

First Across the Continent reveals the international impact of Sir Alexander Mackenzie's expeditions and places him among the elite of New World explorers, illuminating his vital role in the history of the fur trade and the American West.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A well-crafted biography of a little-remembered explorer of the Far North who helped open the frontier to trade and settlement.

Gough (History/Wilfrid Laurier Univ., Ontario) charts the life of Scottish-born explorer Alexander Mackenzie, who from 1789 to 1793 worked his way along the rivers and mountain ranges of Canada in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. He did not find that geographical chimera, but he did locate the vast river that now bears his name, map the lower reaches of the western Canadian Arctic, and eventually reach the Pacific Ocean—a full decade, Gough patriotically remarks, before Lewis and Clark made their famous crossing of North America. Mackenzie, whom Gough calls "a northern Sinbad," did not strictly have the interests of the British Crown in mind when he undertook his mission; driven from Scotland by poverty, he organized a fur-trading company whose itinerant employees expanded our knowledge of remote places and people—but who viewed these newfound territories as "important peripheries of business relationships tied to the banking and warehousing interests of Montreal and New York." These early global capitalists were less tied to national loyalties than they were to their companies, Gough writes, and they fought bitterly among themselves. Mackenzie's chief rival was another Scot, Thomas Douglas, the fifth earl of Selkirk, who sought to break the hold of the fur traders and introduce a farming economy in the Canadian north. Selkirk eventually carried the day. Broken in business, Mackenzie returned to Scotland, where he was knighted for his labors and died in 1820 of chronic nephritis. He is remembered in Canadian history largely through the many places that bear his name.

Gough's careful biography affords readers of North American history a detailed and welcome view of this important and too often overlooked explorer.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780806130026
Publisher:
University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
09/05/2000
Series:
Oklahoma Western Biographies Series
Pages:
260
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.59(d)

Meet the Author

Barry Gough, Professor of History, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, is the author of a dozen books and many articles on American, British, and Canadian frontiers and exploration, including The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade, and Discoveries to 1812.

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