July 22: Mackenzie makes historic crossing of North America

Teresa Mathew
CompassJuly 22, 2013

On this date—July 22, 1793—Alexander Mackenzie became the first person on record to complete a transcontinental crossing of North America (north of Mexico). He had previously tried once before to complete the crossing but had failed, and studied longitude in Great Britain before embarking on his second expedition. Convinced that he could find a water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, Mackenzie set out on his second quest accompanied by two Native American guides, his cousin, six Canadian voyagers, and a dog.

He was aided greatly not only by the two native guides who traveled with him, but also the tribes he met on his journey who told him what trails to take and which places he should avoid. At last Mackenzie made his way to his final destination, though he stopped just short of the Pacific Ocean as he had been warned about the hostility of Heiltsuk people who lived in the area. Instead he wrote the following inscription on a rock near the water’s edge of Dean Channel from a paint made of vermillion and bear grease: "Alex Macenzie / from Canada / by land / 22d July 1793."

Compared with his 117-day journey "from sea to shining sea," air travel from LAX to JFK no longer looks so terrible!