Message On a Rock

22 Jul
Inscription at the end of the Alexander Macken...

Inscription at the end of the Alexander Mackenzie’s Canada crossing located at / latd>90 (dms format) in latd<-90 (dms format) in latm<0 (dms format) in lats<0 (dms format) in longm<0 (dms format) in longs<0 (dms format) in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On July 22, 1793, Alexander Mackenzie painted a message on a large rock at Bella Coola, British Columbia: “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-three.” It marked the end of one of the most remarkable journeys in Canadian, or any other, history.

Mackenzie set out in search of the Pacific on May 9, 1793, after special training in navigation and astronomy in England. Mackenzie wrote later that words failed to express the anxiety, suffering, and dangers of the journey across 500 miles of mountains. From the beginning, he and his companions were often fortunate to escape being dashed to pieces in the turbulent waters of the Peace and Fraser rivers.

Mackenzie went down the Fraser as far as Alexandria, but the Native Indians there told him that he would not be able to continue. So the expedition went back 60 miles until it reached the junction of what is now the Blackwater River. After they had worked their way up the Blackwater, Mackenzie decided they should try to get to the Pacific on foot. Each man carried a gun and a 90-pound pack. The canoe and the rest of their supplies were hidden.

The expedition walked westward for two weeks. Each night Mackenzie had to sleep next to the Native Indian guide to prevent him from sneaking away. Finally they came to a Native Indian camp on the Bella Coola River. Here they traded goods for boats dug out of logs and continued down the river, passing through forests whose trees were bigger than any they had ever seen!

By July 20, they found themselves paddling through salt water. Two days later they saw the waters of the Pacific. Mackenzie’s quadrant told I’m that they were at Latitude 59° 20′ 48″ N. he inscribed his famous message on the rock using a paint made from the vermilion he had brought for the Native Indians.

The small party had not been there long when a party of obviously hostile Indians approached and made signs that they had been fired on by white men. It had probably happened when some of Captain Vancouver‘s men had explored that part of the coast. Mackenzie and his men retreated quickly despite their jubilation.

If you want to read more about this, I suggest first going to Bella Coola Arts & Culture, and then History .com. After that, there is, and Canada finally, I suggest visiting Canadian Military History Gateway


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14 responses to “Message On a Rock

  1. seeker

    July 22, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    And now it’s written in stone. Hey, I like your widget sign. Cool…. 😛

    • tkmorin

      July 22, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      Widget sign?

      • seeker

        July 22, 2013 at 10:35 pm

        Beside the Icons, the writing says: “I have to tell my friends about this?”

        • tkmorin

          July 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm

          Oh right … I totally forgot I did that … That’s the kind of thing I do to avoid writing … Lol. 🙂

  2. weggieboy

    July 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Was the message carved later? I can’t imagine the paint lasting in this condition that long.

    • tkmorin

      July 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      I seem to remember reading that it was covered up and it was “found” under lots of brush — so maybe that is what made it last? It does seem improbable, eh?

      • weggieboy

        July 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm

        Depends on the environment. I think of the millenia-old bog people of Europe, preserved by the tannic acid (I think) in the bog water.

        Perhaps there was something to the material covering this stone that preserved the oprigial message. Also, perhaps there was enough left of the original that someone repainted it to make it stand out. One never knows.

        I know historic preservation standards have evolved quite a lot over the years.

        In the US, historic Williamsburg in VA is a recreation on the sites of the original buildings.

        The White House is completely new on the inside from the time of Harry Truman, when it was gutted down to the outer shell, then reconstructed with steel beams, modern construction methods and materials, and so on: it isn’t original beyond the outside, something historic preservationists wouldn’t have allowed in this day and age!

        The style of writing on the rock looks historic to me. When I asked if the original painted message had been replaced with a chisled out one (or suggested that), that was why I wondered about whether it was carved or not. The photo almost looks like one of those inscriptions (carved) someone traced over with chalk to make it stand out better in the photo. That’s common enough in inscribed rock photos, especially when the inscription (such as petroglyphs made by aboriginals, First Nation people, or Amerindians) are faint.

        Regardless, it is an interesting bit of history, something that connects an historic event with today in an interesting, unique way!

        • weggieboy

          July 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm

          I dug a bit deeper, and finally found this line of explanation: “The words were later inscribed permanently by surveyors.” As you noted, however, the original message was in vermillion mixed with bear grease. Whew! It was painted, then incised, which explains why it’s readable now after 220 years.

          This particular explorer is of family interest. Though I’ve never found any connection with my family, my maternal grandfather was a McKenzie. (They dropped the “a” for some reason I never learned, but the family came from the Glasgow area.)

          I doubt we’re related, but wouldn’t it be fun to have that connection with history?

          (My maternal grandmother’s grandmother was a Pinkerton from the same family as the detective agency that gave Abraham Lincoln protection after his electionj in 1860, which is cool enough!)

          • tkmorin

            July 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm

            Cool, indeed! What a great feeling you must experience knowing that!
            And I’m glad you “dug deeper” (pun intended) into the rock message! Thanks again!

        • tkmorin

          July 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

          Good Day, Doug! If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an archaeologist before your retirement! LOL Thank you for dropping by and commenting — I always appreciate it!! 🙂

  3. Debra She Who Seeks

    July 22, 2013 at 8:45 am

    That was the REAL “Amazing Race Canada!”

    • tkmorin

      July 22, 2013 at 9:04 am

      LOL. That’s a great way to look at it! 🙂

  4. L. Marie

    July 22, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Once again, I have to admire the determination of explorers like Mackenzie. I would have given up and returned home!

    • tkmorin

      July 22, 2013 at 9:00 am

      We’re creatures of comfort … I don’t think many of could! 🙂


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