ARTICLES

The high and mighty MACKENZIE

Cold, aloof and magnificently prodigal, this Nile of the North tolerates and serves man only in its swift summer. Then it retreats into the frozen silence that daunted its discoverer 170 years ago

HUGH MACLENNAN April 11 1959
ARTICLES

The high and mighty MACKENZIE

Cold, aloof and magnificently prodigal, this Nile of the North tolerates and serves man only in its swift summer. Then it retreats into the frozen silence that daunted its discoverer 170 years ago

HUGH MACLENNAN April 11 1959

The high and mighty MACKENZIE

ARTICLES

THE RIVERS OF CANADA

HUGH MACLENNAN

Cold, aloof and magnificently prodigal, this Nile of the North tolerates and serves man only in its swift summer. Then it retreats into the frozen silence that daunted its discoverer 170 years ago

Friends said to me last summer: “So you’re going to Mackenzie!” and there was envy and a little wonder in the voices of some of them. Few people in eastern Canada have seen this river, and not one Canadian in a hundred knows what it is really like. But that the Mackenzie is a master stream almost everyone seems to believe, and in this they are right.

Look at the map and see the Mackenzie dominate the whole northwest of the continent. Fly over it and watch it carve through that savage and colossal terrain. Float on it in a canoe and feel it whip you northward like a chip. Travel on the Mackenzie in a tow of barges—walk up front from the roar of the diesels to the steel apron of the foremost barge and sit there gliding out and on into the pastel colors of that vast water and that vast sky. Let the Mackenzie overwhelm you with the grandeur of its monotony, with the immensity of its Siberian silence.

This river is still primeval. Its shoals and currents may be known by the handful of pilots who navigate them, but to the outside world the entire Mackenzie region is as remote as was the St. Lawrence to Europeans of the eighteenth century. We know it is there, we know it is enormous, we know it is splendid,

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THE HIGH AM) MIGHTY MACKENZIE continued

we know it is important but hardly any of us see it. The Mackenzie River is magnificently uneconomic, and it’s by no means certain that it has any economic future whatever unless the sheer excess oí the world’s population compels people a hundred years hence to emigrate there and live under the unknown and artificial conditions of the next scientific age. The Mackenzie flows away from everything useful, away from civilization itself into a region where pingos pop out of the permafrost and builders drill heles through glare ice with steam hoses. Its land is one of the emptiest in the whole world, its destination is the Arctic Ocean, and for more than half of the year it is frozen tight. Only a few posts and settlements scar its banks. You may travel a hundred and fifty miles and see no creatures but gulls, solitary eagles, ravens the size of small turkeys, wedges of geese and ducks and possibly one of the huge white pelicans that sit on the water like swans. Yet in summer the river is worked. Steel barges 120 and 150 feet long—four, six and even eight

to a tow—are pushed down the river every open season by the tugs of two major transportation companies, and to the newcomer these so-called tows are amazing sights. The barges arc yarded together two or three abreast and tied tightly like bundles of cordwood by heavy hawsers lashed to their bollards. They are piled twenty-five feet high with every kind of merchandise necessary for a civilization trying to exist in the north. Behind them, wedged against the pushing posts of the last barge in the central column,, is the little tugboat pushing like a goat. From the taffrail of the tug to the front apron of the leading barge of the centre column the distance is about five hundred feet. Astern, the diesel thunders in your ears; up front on a windless day there is no sound but the faint siffle made by fiat-bottomed barges coasting along the surface of the river.

Nearly all the freight goes down the Mackenzie and is consumed there, and most of the barges pushed laboriously upstream are empty. Apart irom the small refinery continued on page 53

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at Norman Wells which produces thirteen hundred barrels of oil a day and furnishes petroleum products for the lower and middle river; apart from a small trade in furs and uranium—and the famous mine on Great Bear Lake will soon he closed down—the tiny Mackenzie settlements return virtually nothing in exchange for the goods they receive. To speak of the "Mackenzie Empire,” as was fashionable fifteen years ago at the time of the Canol Project, is meaningless today.

Yet this apparently useless river fascinates the imagination more than does any stream in Canada, and if it were more accessible tourists would flock to it. But accessible—in the tourist sense of the word—the Mackenzie emphatically is not, nor are there any provisions for a tourist trade. To reach the river most people fly from Edmonton to Fort Smith, and if they wish to travel on it, and not merely fly over it. they must become guests of the Northern Transportation Company which picks up loads from the head-of-steel at Waterways on the Athabasca River, freights them down into Lake Athabasca and then down the Slave River to the portage at Fort Fitzgerald. where the cargoes are hauled twenty-six miles by truck to the Company’s camp at Bell Rock. From here the cargoes go down the Slave and across Great Slave l.ake to Yellowknife, or down the lower Mackenzie to feed and supply Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Fort Norman. Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope, Arctic Red River, Fort McPherson, Aklavik. Reindeer Depot and Tuktoyaktuk, which is locally known as 1'iik or Tuk-Tuk. At the present time Aklavik, the most northerly town in the Commonwealth, is being moved to another site in the delta. Hitherto called East Three, it will be known in future as Inuvik. Beyond the delta, of course, are DFWlir.e posts.

But here is a paradox: once you reach the Mackenzie, the very nature of the country compels you to know it more intimately than anyone in the automobile age is ever likely to know a settled stream like the Ottawa or the St. Lawrence. Below Fort Providence there are no roads along the river, and the story that the airplane supplies the major means of transportation is a legend. Light freight and passengers are flown regularly by CPA to nearly all the posts, and bush pilots and helicopters are common enough. But the heavy freight goes down the river in barges. The eightbarge tow on which I traveled in late August and early September of last year, starting at the Bell Rock Camp, carried some twenty-six hundred tons of freight, its inventory covering everything from fresh oranges and canned goods to bulldozers and dog-toboggans. It took ten days and three separate tugs to move this load to Norman Wells and two more tugs and another week before the last barge reached its final destination at Tuktoyaktuk on the Beaufort Sea.

The thumping roar of the diesel engine —this is the true voice of the modern north and without it you would be helpless in that country. One evening, standing alone on the apron of the foremost

barge of our tow, the low banks barely visible because the stream was so wide, I wondered what I would do if l missed my footing and fell overboard. There is no guardrail on the barges, the engine roar would drown my voice, nobody in the wheelhouse could see me go, and I would probably noi be missed until morning. Even if I survived the shock of the cold water and swam ashore, what would J do in a country like this? Try to walk a hundred miles along the silt of the bank to the next settlement, or wait for the air search? And would a bush pilot ever see a creature as small as me in that colossal setting? But the dieseJ thumps on and you relax and begin to grumble about the slowness of the pace. Curve after curve, island after island, a huge river in a land emptier than the sea!

Schedules as we know them in the south mean little along the Mackenzie. There arc rapids in the river; not tumbling rapids like the Long Sault but sleek swirls of fast water where the channel swings from shore to shore and only a skilled pilot can find it. When a large tow reaches a rapid, it must be broken into two sections and relayed through. This means that one half of the tow is moored to trees at the head of the rapid while the other half is taken down by the tug and moored at the foot. Then the tug butts back upstream for the rest of its load.

Treacherous lakes

The reason for this relaying of rapids is not because rocks may rip the bottom out of the barges. It is because the curves of the channel are so sharp, and the currents so swift, that not even the four rudders of a thousand-horsepower tug can keep control of a normal load. It took Captain Brinki Sveinson of Radium Yellowknife less than an hour to take three heavy barges down the Providence Rapids: it took him more than three hours to return against a ten-knot current running light. It took Radium Charles’ Captain Peterson only six hours to take three barges down the sixty miles of swift cut rent below the entry of the Blackwater River; returning for the remaining five barges of the tow took twelve hours. And in all that time the only sign cd' life I saw along the shore was a solitary eagle on top of a tree.

The rapids are not the sole cause of delay in the Mackenzie route. Those huge water catch pits called Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake are treacherous in more ways than one. In the spring and fall a sudden frost may catch a tow far from shore and lock it in: last spring Captain Albert Irey in Radium King was frozen into Great Slave Lake for over a week. Even more unpredictable are the winds that keen across the bush prairie and turn the lakes into angry inland seas with steep waves volleying against the sides of ships so fast they can turn one of those shallow tugs end over end inside a second. Great Slave is larger than Lake Erie, and on it the tugs do not push, they really tow. The barges are strung out behind them on wire cables, and are spaced so distantly that an average Great „Slave tow is longer than the Queen Elizabeth. If the wind blows hard the captains must lie up at Res Delta (the outlet of the Slave River) for days or even as long as a week. If caught by a sudden storm in deep water they must weather it as best they can. Recently on Lake Athabasca an unusually violent autumn storm caught the tug Clearwater and capsized it. and next day an air search found the barges stationary in the lake secured by an

anchor weighing more than a hundred tons. The anchor was the Clearwater itself, beam-ended on the bottom with all hands drowned.

But these dramatic occurrences are rare along the Mackenzie system. Monotony, majestic monotony, is the rule on nearly all the tows. Past curve after curve, island after island, the barges go down at the average pace of seven knots, the cold, clear water below and overhead the enormous sky. Day after day and night after night they push their mountains of merchandise through the wilderness of the Northwest Territories. In high summer it never gets dark and below Fort Good Hope the sun never sets within a period of several weeks.

In this season the curse of the river is a plague of Dies as bad as any of the plagues of Egypt. Flies love a bright surface, the tugs are spotlessly white, and when the tows put into the posts to discharge cargo those pretty ships are sometimes black with a coat of quivering insects. When they move out again into the stream the deckhands have to hose them off. By the second week of August the Dies are nearly all gone— the only ones I encountered were in a swamp at Frigiey harbor — but now navigation is more difficult because there are five, six and, at the end of the season. twelve hours of darkness. Still the tugs travel day and night, for they are equipped with better radar sets than the average merchant ship at sea. and standing in the darkened wheelhouse you can see whole sections of the river mapped out on the screen.

You rise at five-thirty in the morning and eat a huge northern breakfast of flapjacks, bacon, eggs, toast and coffee, and everyone eats so fast there is no time for talk. The long morning passes until the noonday meal consisting of soup, hot meat and vegetables and all the pie you can hold. The watches change in the wheelhouse, the deckhands sleep, leaf through old magazines or simply watch the banks glide by until five forty-five, when the gong summons the crew to the galley and another of those huge northern meals. Then the

long, long evening, a sunset so lonely it can daunt you, and after it the stars

and possibly the blaze of the aurora.

It is slow, frustrating and amazingly beautiful going down the Mackenzie. From Bell Rock to Norman Wells on

an eight-barge tow takes you twice as long as from New York to Southampton on a fast Cunarder. When you leave the tow, your muscles quivering from the

diesels, you may not know much about the Mackenzie, but you do have some notion, some tiny inkling, of what it was like in Canada when the sole means of communication west of Montreal was that network of rivers which enabled the voyageurs to paddle from Lachine to Bella Coola and from Chipweyan to what Alexander Mackenzie called the Frozen Ocean.

It is not easy for me to write about this river because I have so much respect for the men who live beside it or work on it. At my first meal in the Bell Rock camp I discovered how much the Mackenzie people resent strangers like myself who come in to describe their life. A man smiled at me and said: ‘I suppose you'll go back and u'rite the usual bull?”

What he meant, I guess, was that the people who truly know this country have had to pay a price for their knowledge, while the writers who come here are only tourists. I thought of Charles Camseli. who was Canada’s deputy minister for mines for many years and was born at Fort Simpson where the Liard enters the

“Those who are most resented are the ones who pretend that the true northwesterners are violent”

Mackenzie, more than a mile wide, from the woi, In his Son of the North. Camsell tells what it was like here when he was a boy. When he went to school in Winnipeg he had to travel eighteen hundred miles by York boat, portage and oxcart. Once on the Peel River he was nearly driven mad by the mosquitoes which still are a horror there. Once on his way up the Liard to the Klondike he

almost starved. Once above Great Bear Lake he was nearly mutdered by Eskimos. Charles Camseli died in Ottawa last December.

I think now of Captain Stoni Thorsteinson. who was so kind to me personally, and of his unconscious humility, so typical of people in that country. He has piloted ships up and down the river for years and is supposed to know every

hidden rock between Fort Smith aijd East Three. But at Norman Wells he said: “You must meet Angus Sherwood here. He really knows this country.” I did meet him, and in his presence 1 felt impertinent to be on a writing job, for Mr. Sherwood knows the country better even than Camseli did. He told me only one story out of a mine of stories: how once, with a dog team, he was under

an aurora so intense, so shifting, that it cast violent shadows to right and left and the dogs whined and refused to work. Why had he not written the story of his experiences? It was impossible, he told me, and in any case he had been too busy living them.

Those who are most resented up here are the ones who pretend that the true northwesterners are violent and that their life is primitive. They are not violent and their life is civilized. Charles Camsell's father, in his post at Fort Simpson in the last century, owned a large library and an English billiard table. The cook on Radium King, and an excellent cook he was, had read most of the English classics. Frank Kiss, chief radio expert for the NTC on the lower river, left school young but taught himself a most difficult trade and now he often flies a thousand miles to repair a single radio set; when I met him he was reading The Brothers Karamazov. Some of the Indian pilots with French, Irish and Scottish names have faces Rembrandt would have traveled far to paint. I remember Chris Jacobsen, a former skipper now ashore at Bell Rock, who talked as an equal to U. S. Supreme Court Justice Douglas when the judge visited the region a short while ago. Steve Bessaraba, working under him in the loading operations, had manners that would make him welcome anywhere he might choose to go. I never saw a man in charge of workmen more courteous than Joe Burkhart, chief of the operations at Bell Rock. Remembering how things used to be in the Maritimes lumber camps when I was a boy—the pork and beans, the salted fish and the fist fights—I thought that these ships and camps of the northwest are the best possible measure of how far this country has advanced in kindness and prosperity in the past forty years. The chief qualification for a man on the modern Mackenzie is that he be a nice fellow. No environment could possibly be better for a student working his way through college or for a young man starting life. One such youth I met working as purser on Radium Charles. He had come out from England only last spring, had been unable to find a job in the cities and had gone north. I have seldom seen a young man whose ultimate success seemed more assured than his.

I was always being surprised by the delicacy of the men's feelings in those camps and on those ships where there are no women. Steve Kuch. a carpenter at Bell Rock, said to me the first time I ate across from him in the mess hall: "If you ever drink Mackenzie water, you'll always return.” This oddly poetic phrase, though Steve did not know it. happens to be ancient: “If you ever drink Nile water, you'll always come back." Steve told me he first heard it from a sister of charity in Fort Norman. An elderly man I met on a dredge at Wrigley harbor, formerly owner of a small garage in Winnipeg, said to me one twilight: “Up here the door of the world is closed on us all. Everything seems to fall into its proper place, and thank God there are no newspapers." There is even graciousness cn the Mackenzie, in the few places where there are women. One of the most striking living rooms I ever saw in Canada was in the house of James McMillan, manager of the refinery at Norman Wells. Mrs. McMillan grew beautiful delphiniums—yes, delphiniums flourish here only a degree below the Arctic Circle—and the conversation that night was the kind you would find in

comparable living rooms in London, New York or Montreal.

But to return to the river. One man I met, despairing of anyone's ability to tell what this region is like, advised me to stick to the facts. But this is not so easy as it sounds, for there is disagreement about some of the basic facts concerning the whole region. What actually is the Mackenzie River?

According to most maps, the Mackenzie begins at the v/estern end of Great Slave Lake and flows almost directly west for two and a half days’ journey to the Camsell Bend, where the six-thousand-fooi Mackenzie Mountains rise out of the bush prairie and abruptly marshal the stream to the north. It is this long sweep westerly that saves the Mackenzie from being arctic, for though the latitudinal line cutting Norman Wells cuts close to the centre of Baffin Island, the Mackenzie is much warmer than the eastern north owing to the mild westerly airs. Splendid trees— spruce, fir, aspen, willow and birch— flourish all the way down to the delta. Winters are not much colder than in the Laurentians, and where the soil is scientifically prepared, as on the experimental farm at Fort Simpson, vegetables grow magnificently in the long sunlight of the short summers. John Gilbey, director of the farm, told me he has had success with every important grain and vegetable grown in Canada.

Difficult definition

There is no argument about facts like these, but about the larger facts there is quite a lot. How long, for instance, is the Mackenzie?

A booklet published in 1957 by the division of building research of the National Research Council has the following paragraph:

“The Mackenzie River rises in the Rocky Mountains as the Athabasca River and flows into Lake Athabasca; it leaves as the Slave River and flows into Great Slave Lake; it then leaves as the Mackenzie River and flows to the Beaufort Sea. The total length of the river is 2,635 miles. It is the twelfth longest river in the world and the seventh in flow, being exceeded in the western hemisphere only by the Amazon and the Mississippi.”

But is this—even this—all there is to the Mackenzie? The next question is, what is the Slave River?

Both river and lake of the same name were discovered in 1771 by Samuel Hearne, who christened them after the Slavi Indians of the region. But Hearne never knew that the Slave is virtually a continuation of the Peace. So if you add the Peace to the combination of the other streams, together with the sections of Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake traversed by the barges, you will get the fourth longest river in the worl 1 unless the same method of measurement can be applied to lengthen some streams in Siberia and South America. Nor is even this all there is to the system of waters. Great Bear River, cold and navigable for shallow craft, links to the Mackenzie the largest lake which is wholly located in Canada. As for the area drained by the Mackenzie, the minimum estimate given for it is 682,000 square rr.ilcs, a region more than two and a half times the size of Texas and more than thirteen times the size of England.

I have often been lucky in my life, but seldom luckier than in the chance which made Dr. Morris Zaslow my companion on the Mackenzie. A veteran of the RCAF, at present a lecturer in his-

tory at the University of Toronto, Morris often amazed old northern hands by his encyclopedic knowledge of their country, even though this was the first time he had actually visited it below Fort Chipwcyan. He also became my nurse, for I was in pain most of the time and for a comical reason. On Great Slave Lake we ran into heavy weather and I woke on a cot in the crew’s quarters with a crash and saw the deck at a fifty-degree angle. Another crash followed ard the angle shifted to the other side. Thinking the ship was

foundering, I jumped out of my bedroll and up the ladder, but all I saw topside was the little Radium King gallantly rolling her scuppers under, her tow stretched out nearly half a mile behind her, and the sea so heavy I would have been tossed overboard had I not grabbed a stanchion. Captain Albert Irey was at the wheel and I knew we were in good hands, but Albert could not keep the King from tossing like a cork in that sea. I staggered below and it was only then that I discovered what had happened. The rolling had broken first one

leg of my cot, then the other. The shock had also thrown my back into a spasm which gave me a bursitis ache for days afterwards. Morris comforted me through all this.

He also showed me the significance of one of the most bizarre sights I ever saw anywhere. One sunset while we w'ere waiting at Bell Rock for our tow to start, we walked in the camp trying to digest the huge meal w'e had just eaten. The sun was streaming across the flat bush and Morris suddenly let out a shout and pointed. I turned and saw.

at the head of the porlage that comes twenty-six miles from Fort Fitzgerald, the flank of a white ship emerging gigantically out of the green bush.

“There,” said Morris, “is the modern north!”

For years this portage around the Fort Fitzgerald rapids had been one of the toughest in the whole of Canada. Voyageurs had stumbled across it devoured by the bulldog flies for which it still is notorious. In the York boat era the heavier boats were put on wheeled cradles and hauled across by oxen. But now' the Northern Transportation Company, after lengthening the old portage by another ten miles down to Bell Rock, was using cat-tracks to haul their barges across. Cat-tracks portaged the tugboats also, even the three-hundred-ton Radium Dew, which is equipped with an echosounder and is the largest boat on the river. The vessel we saw that night was the seventy-five-ton Dumit, and a pair of cat-tracks and a pair of trailers mounting forty-eight wheels had dragged the ship from Fitzgerald in less than eight hours. Six days later the Dumit sailed past us around the Camsell Bend.

“A searchlight gone mad’

But the essential Mackenzie is still primeval. “This is God’s river!” I murmured one morning at Wrigley harbor where the lower Mackenzie begins, and recorded the fact that if I ever wrote such a phrase it would look corny. I was alone in the wheelhouse of a government dredge, for the night previous Morris and I had been deposited there by Radium King, which had to leave its tow and depart across Great Slave L.ake to Yellowknife. There had been a radio blackout for days and the tugs could only guess at one another's whereabouts. We had hoped to rendezvous with Captain Sveinson's Radium Yellow'knife at Res Delta, but had found the delta vacant. Then we had hoped to find her at Wrigley harbor, but had found nothing except this dredge. With the hospitality of the north, her captain took us in and fed us. But there was only one vacant bunk in the little houseboat and the only other sleeping place was a cot in the wheelhouse. Morris and I tossed, he got the bunk and 1 got the wheelhouse, so I was alone when I awoke that morning.

Never in my life did I see such a sunrise. The sky was a flat roof, livid and sinister, and it lay oppressively over the flat water and the dark green of the limitless hush. Suddenly in the east a blaze of orange tore a jagged rent in the sky and the sunrise poured through between the sky and the water like a searchlight gone mad. It tore another rent in the west and traveled on into a sea of golden glory, and the whole sky took lire all at once. A minute before it had been like the sky painted by El Greco over Toledo; now it was Turner's sky over the Thames estuary—but bigger, lonelier, more beautifully terrifying. Then with savage abruptness both holes in the sky closed, the fire died out and it was almost dark, and I saw the shadow of an arrowhead of invisible geese flash along the dim surface of the water.

For millions of years spectacles like these have occurred at this section of the river at this season, watched by creatures no more sentient than mosquitoes, black flies, bulldog flies, gulls, geese, ducks, ravens, eagles, pelicans, moose and hear. What lay to the northwest I did not yet know, hut 1 did know that a man would have to travel more than a hundred miles back across the

southwestern arm of Great Slave Lake before he would encounter another human being in that direction, and him a white-haired hermit with a face like Jacques Maritain's, who lived in a shack with two dogs beside the water at Res Delta. In a moment of panic I wondered if human beings are necessary on earth. Here was this colossal land, here this wild beauty, here this huge inland sea to the south and northward the great river going down through the wilderness to the most useless of all the world's oceans. “For God’s sake!" I muttered. And with a wry wonder I said again: “Well, it’s certainly for nobody else’s sake.”

Then I remembered Alexander Mackenzie.

The spot where I saw that fantastic sunrise is historic: it is the place—at least approximately—discovered by Alexander Mackenzie in the June of 1789 after days of searching for the great river which Peter Pond had believed to be north of Chipweyan. Both Pond and Mackenzie hoped that this river, if anyone could find it, might turn out to be the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. For centuries the Passage had been the goal and the inspiration of exploration’s most brilliant and continuous effort. Cartier and Humphrey Gilbert had sought it; so had Frobisher, Franklin. Hearne and scores of lesser men. In the minds of all the leaders of the Northwest Company was the dream that to them might be granted the supreme privilege of reaching this final goal.

All winter in Chipweyan the young Alexander Mackenzie prepared for his effort, and behind him were the labors and triumphs of some of the boldest spirits who ever lived on this continent. Moving out of Montreal along the rivers, Champlain had discovered the lakes. Then LaSalle had gone beyond and traveled down the Mississippi to the Gulf. Marquette and Joliet, Radisson and La Vérendrye—the work of these and scores of other voyageurs were behind Mackenzie that winter in Chipweyan.

At the beginning of the first week in June, 1789, he set out from the fort in a canoe manned by himself, four French Canadians, one German and the Indian wives of two of his voyageurs. The voyageurs’ names should be known and remembered: François Barrieu. Pierre de Forme, Joseph Landry, Charles Ducette and John Steinbruck. They quickly descended the Slave, waited several days for the lake to be free of ice and entered it. After many days of searching they at last discovered the outlet of the unknown stream hitherto mentioned as la grande rivière en bas.

This was one of the supreme voyages of inland exploration in the history of North America. Mackenzie’s river slides clean and cold off the top of Great Slave Lake at a velocity of five miles an hour with whorl-like eddies and rising fish, and at once it becomes fierce and absolutely masterly. Down it the party went day after day, the current sweeping the canoes along. Mackenzie discovered the outlet of the Liard, he left his canoe long enough to climb the first range of the mountains which now bear his name, but he drove his men hard because he knew that his time was short. Most of the Indians whose camps they saw fled at their approach, and the few he talked to warned him against the terrible Eski-

mos at the river’s end. Mackenzie saw the mother-of-pearl light of the upper region change to the Italian gold of the middle river. He passed the glowing lignite which still burns near the site of Fort Norman. He went down through the gorge now called the Ramparts of the Mackenzie, where the river in places is two hundred feet deep and pours satinsmooth between vertical cliffs of limestone gorgeously colored and only five hundred feet apart. He passed the mouths of all the tributaries and finally, reaching the delta, he knew that what-

ever else this stream might be, it was not the Northwest Passage to Asia.

This fantastic delta of submerged and emergent islands, of confused channels abounding in muskrats and mosquitoes, an area a hundred miles long and seventy miles wide at its seaward end, can be seen properly only from the air. Somehow Mackenzie found his way through it to salt water and saw whales, and believing now that there was no Northwest Passage anywhere, he thought of his discovery as the River of Disappointment.

Then began the long voyage back. Hav-

ing telt a thousand-horsepower diesel straining against those currents anti making only three knots. 1 find it impossible to imagine how that tiny party found the physical strength and the moral stamina to track their canoe back through the Ramparts and the rapids and against the constant current for a distance of more than a thousand miles. But they did it. Mosquitoes ate them, their feet sank into the silt and slipped on the slimy permafrost. their ropes caught on abutments of rock and the fallen trees that litter the shores. Yet they tracked upstream so

fast that they were back at Chipweyan within 102 clays of their departure. This was a feat which staggers the modern imagination. but to the men who traveled in early Canada it was not even remarkable.

Alexander Mackenzie, as everyone knows, shortly afterwards became the first white man to reach the Pacific overland, antedating the Americans Lewis and Clark by more than a dozen years. In order to do this he employed one part of the system of waters which now bears

his name, traveling into the Rockies by way of the Peace. On the rock at Bella Coola, in a mixture of vermilion and grease, he inscribed his famous understatement: “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.” It is right and proper that our longest river should bear the name of one of our greatest men. It is right and necessary that we should remember that men like Alexander Mackenzie stand behind the Canadian nation. ★