Late 1780s North America
Alexander Mackenzie was not a scientist or an explorer at heart. He was a trader. A young man born to the hardships of a small island in the north of Scotland. He travelled to North America to seek a different path in life. The fur trade in the northern regions had been booming for several years. Alexander’s first employment in his new world landed him in a fur trading company’s small accounting office. He learned the monetary value of the fur trade. His interests were not limited to the daily tally of traded wealth. Young Mackenzie was determined to re-invent the way trade possibilities grew in this vast region.
For centuries, map making combined science, art, data and information. The unknowns in ancient maps were depicted by renderings of dragons and foretold of impending danger and sorrows. “Here be dragons” was a phrase taken to heart by those that chose an explorer’s journey. To the north and west, a vast unexplored land was depicted on maps as Alexander was keeping ledgers.
Alexander expanded his knowledge of the fur trade. As a clerk he met the exotic and colorful mix of souls that made up the fur trade business. He did not attend a Harvard or Oxford university. He embraced the “school of hard knocks”, a university of life. The tools of the fur trade were more than just traps. He learned communication and cooperation with peoples of many countries and native origins. The orientation of the stars and the use of a sextant he added to his toolbox. Harshness of territory, he understood. Growing up in the frozen north of Scotland taught him Mother Nature’s harsh moods.
Each year Alex acquired the skills and contacts he would need for his life’s adventure. The fur trade was no longer growing at the rate of prior years. Getting pelts to market required an expanding network of water and land-based transportation routes. Beyond fur, other trade goods were on the horizon as the dragons of the maps were slain. An explorer and map maker Peter Pond theorized that the waters of the north flowed directly to the distant ocean on a north and westerly heading. Alex, in 1789, with the intention of opening trade routes, began his first major journey. In three months, he travelled three thousand wilderness miles. He did not find Pond’s westerly route to the Pacific Ocean. Instead his group found themselves in the northern latitudes at the waters of the Artic Ocean. He was not successful in opening new trade routes on this journey.
Four years later, Alexander Mackenzie, with a small group of traders and natives, ventured towards the northwest on a journey that would take them to the Pacific Ocean. His efforts did not directly open new trade routes but created the horizon of possibility that others followed. After his Pacific quest, he continued to be a business leader, was Knighted, entered politics and returned home to Scotland.
Alexander Mackenzie’s feat was driven by a business desire to open markets and enhance trade. His expedition was not funded by a government. Alexander accomplished his feats of exploration 12 years prior to US President Thomas Jefferson commissioning Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Lewis and Clark used Mackenzie’s 1801 narrative as an exploration model.
Exploration by driven individuals with a desire to expand trade continues into the future. The motto, emerges “Whatever we dare, we can do.”
Based upon the true story of Alexander Mackenzie.