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First Crossing: Alexander Mackenzie, His Expedition Across North America, and the Opening of the Continent

by Derek Hayes

Derek Hayes is a geographer with a profound love of maps, as demonstrated in his last book, the gorgeously illustrated Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. In First Crossing, a history of Alexander Mackenzie’s epic trek across North America in the late 18th century, Hayes’ expertise and passion for cartography are evident in the book’s sumptuous illustrations.
First Crossing is a biographical adventure story set against the turbulent history of the early Canadian fur trade and the evolution of geographical ideas about Western Canada. Two long chapters quote extensively from Mackenzie’s journals and the book he wrote about his experiences, detailing the two epic journeys across the continent and down the river that now bears his name. Shorter chapters outline the rest of Mackenzie’s life, the rivalry between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the progress of exploration after Mackenzie’s death.
The readable, informative text presents a richer, more human picture of Mackenzie than is currently popular. The reader sees the determined explorer and inspired leader, as well as the more well-known unforgiving businessman and late night carouser who could drink his companions under the table.
The vivid illustrations include aerial photographs of Mackenzie’s route and archival shots of the often fierce rapids he struggled through and the First Nations people he met on his journey. Every map with any relevance to Mackenzie is also presented here, from the ancient and fanciful to the modern topographic.
Alexander Mackenzie is a true Canadian hero and deserves to be celebrated as such. Hopefully First Crossing will take us one step closer to doing just that.