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Kirkus ReviewsA 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.