Born in Scotland around 1755, Alexander Mackenzie left his native country for Canada in 1779. He settled in Montreal, which had grown into a flourishing city, and joined the fur-trading business.
Nine years later, Mackenzie moved westward into the Canadian wilderness, where he established a trading post on the shore of Lake Athabasca in northern Alberta. Indian traders told him that the Pacific Ocean existed to the west.
Some said that it was quite near. Like so many other explorers at that time, Mackenzie dreamed of finding a water route across North America that linked the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In June 1789, he led an expedition in three birchbark canoes northward to a giant body of water called Great Slave Lake.
The party discovered a river at the lake’s western end that flowed west. Eagerly, Mackenzie and his companions followed the river west and then north. The trees grew stockier, the wildlife more rare.
After 11 days, the explorers entered a vast, icy, treeless region covered with rocks and lichen. Mackenzie had reached the Arctic tundra. The river emptied into an ocean clogged with ice. Mackenzie had discovered a route to the ocean, but to the wrong one. Instead of gazing joyfully on the Pacific, he stared glumly at the Arctic Ocean.
Mackenzie named the river Disappointment and returned to his trading post, having traveled nearly 3,000 miles. Today, Disappointment River is called the Mackenzie River.
Alexander Mackenzie, the leader of the first exploratory expeditions into western and northern Canada, was determined to reach the Pacific Ocean.
His first journey ended in failure on the Arctic Ocean. The second arrived at the Pacific in 1793, ten years before the American explorers Lewis and Clark began their expedition west.