First Crossing of North America National Historic Site of Canada

Bella Coola, British Columbia
Detail view of the original inscription carved into the rock by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793 at the First Crossing of North America National Historic Site of Canada. © Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada, C-003131.
Detail view
© Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada, C-003131.
General view of the First Crossing of North America National Historic Site of Canada, showing the monument. © Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada, C-003133.Detail view of the original inscription carved into the rock by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793 at the First Crossing of North America National Historic Site of Canada. © Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada, C-003131.
Address : Bella Coola, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1924-06-04
Dates:
  • 1793 to 1793 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Alexander Mackenzie  (Person)
  • North West Company  (Organization)
Other Name(s):
  • First Crossing of North America  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1969-034, 2008-SDC-CED-030
DFRP Number: 19194 00

Plaque(s)


Existing plaque: Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park, near Elcho Harbour near Elcho Harbour, Bella Coola, British Columbia

This rock is the western terminus of the first journey across the continent of North America. It was made by Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company, who, with his nine companions, arrived at this spot on the 21st July, 1793. Mackenzie, by observations, ascertained his position, spent the night here, and, after writing on the southeast face the words now cut therein, retraced his course to Lake Athabaska. This transcontinental journey preceded by more than ten years that of Lewis and Clark.

Description of Historic Place

First Crossing of North America National Historic Site of Canada is located in Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park, approximately 65 kilometres northwest of Bella Coola on the central coast of British Columbia. The site consists of a rocky promontory jutting into Dean Channel near the mouth of Elcho Harbour where Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company marked the westernmost part of his 1793 journey. A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) monument was erected above the rock in 1926 to commemorate the site. Official recognition refers to the southern tip of Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park as defined on the north by a semi-circle with a radius of a circle of 20 metres centred on the HSMBC monument and, on the east, south, and west by the high-tide mark.

Heritage Value

First Crossing of North America was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1924 because: it is the western terminus of the first journey across the continent of North America, north of Mexico, made by Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company, who arrived on 22 July 1793.

On May 9, 1793, Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company set out from Fort Fork on the Peace River, near Fort Chipewyan, in search of the Pacific Ocean. He and his party canoed up the Parsnip River to its headwaters before moving overland to the upper Fraser River. Convinced that the Fraser was unnavigable, they backtracked to the West Road River and proceeded up its valley on foot. On July 19th they reached an Aboriginal settlement at Bella Coola and two days later they reached their destination, a rocky promontory where Mackenzie and his party spent the night of July 22, 1793. Mackenzie recorded his position and painted the following message on the southeast face of a large rock with grease and vermilion “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.” By August 24th the party was back at Fort Chipewyan having been the first men to cross the continent north of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, May 1924, November 2008; plaque text, 1925.

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: the location of the site in Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park approximately 65 kilometres northwest of Bella Coola on the central coast of British Columbia; its setting on a rocky promontory jutting into Dean Channel near the mouth of Elcho Harbour; the rock Mackenzie marked in 1793, including the original inscription as carved into the rock; the 12-metre high Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada monument erected above the rock on the promontory; the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains relating to the Mackenzie period, which may be found within the site in their original placement and extent; viewscapes from the site across Dean Channel.