________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 19 . . . . May 23, 2003


Alexander Mackenzie: From Canada by Land.

Ainslie Manson.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2003.
118 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-88899-483-4.

Subject Headings:
Mackenzie, Alexander, Sir-Juvenile literature.
Northwest, Canadian-Discovery and exploration-Juvenile literature.
Fur traders-Canada-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Luella Sumner.

*** /4


Most of the voyageurs were French Canadians from farms in the St. Lawrence Valley. They were strong, powerful men even though they were not tall. No man taller than five feet five inches (165 cm) was hired as a voyageur, because the canoes were simply not large enough. Mackenzie towered over these men. He noted the massive shoulders of the two voyageurs paddling in front of him. They could average fifty strokes a minute, hour after hour!

The life of a voyageur was not all song and laughter. Most grew old before their time because of the grueling long days and the heavy lifting that their work involved. Over the years to come Mackenzie would see many small crosses along the routes traveled by the voyageurs. They marked the resting places of men who had drowned or died from injuries or disease during their travels.

The native people rarely paddled either. They were hired as interpreters, hunters and guides. Often in their role as hunters, they would walk along the shore for hours in search of that night's dinner.


Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to cross North America by land. The journey, which took place in 1793, demanded courage and determination and could never have been achieved without the help of the first Nations people. Mackenzie's successful crossing opened up a store of new opportunities for the fur trade, but it led to a dramatic invasion of the lives of the native peoples. This retelling of Mackenzie's life provides a fascinating glimpse into the early days of the fur trade in Canada, the struggles between the different fur trading companies, and the hardships that faced all the hardy men that traveled into unknown country. There are many direct quotes taken from Mackenzie's journal, a detailed account that he kept of his journeys. The text has many vivid descriptions, and the reader can certainly picture the events and people of the story. There are also a good many illustrations, most of them obtained from the National Archives of Canada. Unfortunately, some of them are almost too dark to decipher. The only map in the book is a small reproduction of one that Mackenzie, himself, drew. It is small, dark, and so heavily marked with place names that it is almost impossible to read or to follow his route. The book badly needs a larger and more clearly marked map that would have provided the reader with more understanding of the routes taken. The author does not help matters any by not describing the locations of some of the places mentioned. She says that Grand Portage is on the northern shore of Lake Superior, a rather vague description, and that Mackenzie went from Grand Portage to Ile a la Crosse, but with no indication of where the latter was other than that it was further into the western wilderness. Students reading the book will need more detailed information to follow the story well.

     The author rounds out the story by briefly describing the rest of Mackenzie's life until his death in Scotland in 1820. There is a short glossary of terms, lists of recommended additional reading, related web sites, and an index. There are a few sidebars containing information about such things as voyageur songs and pemmican.

Recommended with reservations.

Luella Sumner is a retired librarian living in ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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