Roderic Mackenzie was a Highlander who, like his cousin Alexander Mackenzie, served his fur trade apprenticeship with Gregory, McLeod & Company. A lifelong affinity with Alexander Mackenzie made Roderic Mackenzie an important historical figure beyond his lengthy tenure with the Northwest Company as a director. Roderic Mackenzie collected and posthumously published a copy of Simon Fraser's journal of his voyage from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast in 1808.

Alexander Mackenzie typically confided his most private thoughts to Roderic, including his insecurities about undertaking his successful expedition to the Pacific: "I have great trouble to procure young men to accompany me in my expedition; none of them like it.... Should I be successful, I shall retire with great advantage; if not, I cannot be worse off than I am at present."

Four years after arriving from Scotland in 1784, Roderic Mackenzie founded Alberta's oldest continuously inhabited settlement, Fort Chipeywan, from where he provided essential support for Alexander Mackenzie's journeys to the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. In addition to helping his visionary but undiplomatic cousin purchase additional shares in the Northwest Company, Roderic Mackenzie protected Alexander's reputation as much as he could. Upon Alexander Mackenzie's return from the River of Disappointment without furs or success, Roderic merely wrote: "He performed his perilous undertaking to the Arctic Ocean, without experiencing any material accident, in about one hundred days."

At Fort Chipeywan, located ten miles east of the mouth of the Athabasca River, Roderic Mackenzie pursued his scholarly interests and proceeded to amass a famous library that led fur traders to refer to his fort as the "Athens of the North." Its establishment proved important to Alexander Mackenzie in one highly significant way that neither cousin could have anticipated: Known as a rare outpost of civilization, Fort Chipeywan attracted Englishman Philip Turnor and his assistant Peter Fidler in 1791. After they were "kindly received" by Roderic, Turnor, a Hudson's Bay employee, accurately recorded the longitude and latitude of their position. In the following year, upon his return to England, Alexander Mackenzie was able to more predict the westward distance to the Pacific Ocean by contrasting the longitude of his cousin's fort with the longitudinal reading taken by Captain Cook at Nootka Sound in 1778. As the crow flies, he would need to travel about one thousand miles.

Whereas Alexander Mackenzie was a maverick who could not reconcile the Northwest Company nepotism and clannishness of Simon McTavish, particularly after McTavish's nephew William McGillvray was promoted upon the retirement of Joseph Frobisher in 1796, Roderic Mackenzie was more politic and reluctantly accepted a partnership in the reconfigured firm of McTavish, Frobisher. Roderic Mackenzie's rise within the Northwest Company hierarchy temporarily rankled Alexander Mackenzie, who was prone to self-pity, and for five years they did not communicate. Nonetheless Roderic Mackenzie remained his primary confidante thereafter.

Roderic Mackenzie's marriage to Marie Louise Rachel Chaboillez further allied him with the most powerful figures in Montreal, most notably "Le Marquis" of the Northwest Company, Simon McTavish (whose own wife Marie Marguerite was the older sister of Marie Louise). Following this marriage, Roderic Mackenzie led a bilingual life in Terrebonne, Lower Canada, where he became a member of the Legislative Council and was also appointed in 1803 as one of five Lower Canada Justices of the Peace for "Indian Country." Known for his literary interests, he solicited journals from other leading traders to augment his extensive correspondence with Alexander Mackenzie. These journals, his remininiscences and his correspondence were subsequently published in French by his son-in-law, ex-Governor Louis Rodrigue Masson (1833-1903). It contains writing by Roderick Mackenzie, W.F. Wentzel, Simon Fraser, François Victoire (dit Malhiot), John Macdonell (le prêtre), François-Antoine Larocque, Charles Mackenzie, John McDonnell, John Johnstone and Samuel Wilcox.


Masson, L.R., ed. Les Bourgeois De La Compagnie Du Nord-Ouest: Récits De Voyages, Lettres Et Rapports Inédits Relatifs Au Nord-Ouest Canadien. Publiés Avec Une Esquisse Historique Et Des Annotations. 2 volumes. (Coté, Québec: Quebec: A. Côté et Cie., 1889-1890; New York: Antiquarian Press, 1960).

[BCBW 2011] "Forts and Fur" "French" "Medicine"