Thursday, September 25, 2008

Aboriginal Pioneers of the Peace - Alex Mackenzie

The "Aboriginal Pioneers of the Peace" is a feature written by Beth Wilkins, Curatorial Assistant and Researcher, in conjunction with the Museum's Treaty 8 Exhibit on display until the end of August. The articles have also been published on the Community Page of the Peace River Record-Gazette.

Alex McKenzie

PRMA 68.130

Alexander McKenzie was born November 1843, near Three Rivers, Quebec, to Alexander Mackenzie, Sr. and Mary Traversy, a Metis woman. It is said he is a descendant of explorer/fur trader Sir Alexander Mackenzie.

He was orphaned when only an infant and thus sent back to his father’s homeland, Scotland, to be nurtured and educated by his parental relatives.

Alex is among the first Peace River settlers, arriving in 1863, coming from Norway House to the Athabasca District on snowshoes. Peace River became his home for more than half a century.
He married Elizabeth (Eliza) Sawan, nee LePretre/LaFleur) at St. luke’s Anglican Church, Fort Vermilion, Sept. 30, 1876. Eliza died June 6, 1917.

Alex retired from the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1888 after 27 years. His successful, adventurous career, laden with hardships and hairsbreadth escapes, was admired even by his opposition for his cleverness and his attention to service. He was extremely popular with the natives, which made trading easier. Farming then became his main endeavour on River Lots 30 and 31 on the Shaftesbury Trail. His family continues to farm on those lots. The Province of Alberta, in 1993, lauded the family with the Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award for having owned, operated and maintained the 285-acre farm for more than 100 years.

A well-known picture of McKenzie shows him wearing the typical coureur-de-bois outfit, formerly worn by all Hudson’s Bay Company employees and natives in the country – a blue blanket cloth mackinaw with cream blanket cloth cape and red trimmings, a turban cap to match and black pants with trimmings of Indian design.

Alexander McKenzie died Jan. 16, 1919 from the flu.

It was said that his death brought to an end the link between the Peace River Country of that day and the early days when the first of the Hudson’s Bay traders ventured into the unknown North to ply their trade with the natives of the country.

Sources: Peace River Record; Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre files; Peace River Record-Gazette; Caron Riley
Make sure to join us starting next week for Recollections from Jean Cameron Kelly, the second school teacher in Peace River and her journey north in 1913. The first installment was in our inaugural newsletter which is available to all members of the Museum. Information about Museum memberships is available here:

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