Sir Alexander Mackenzie Canada Sea-to-Sea Bicentennial Expeditions

Sir Alexander Mackenzie Canada Sea-to-Sea Bicentennial Expeditions

In 1986, Dr. Jim Smithers, a Professor in the School of Outdoor Recreation at Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, first suggested the idea of a cross-Canada canoe expedition celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first recorded crossing of North America by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Dr. Smithers felt that such an event could be an important educational and life experience for the university students who would paddle the reproduction voyageur canoes, and the pageantry and celebration that would accompany the journey would be a memorable experience for all the communities that the expedition touched.

After two years of deliberations, the Canada Sea-to-Sea project began to take root. Two other organizations had joined Lakehead University as partners in the Sea-to-Sea project; The Alexander Mackenzie Trail Association of Kelowna, British Columbia, and The One Step Beyond Adventure Group of Canmore, Alberta. The Alexander Mackenzie Trail Association, a volunteer-based organization interested in the preservation of historic trails, saw the Expedition as a link to the concept of preserving a cross-Canada 'Voyageur Route' following the path of Alexander Mackenzie. One Step Beyond, formed by John Amatt, manager of the 1984 Canadian Everest Expedition, took interest in facilitating the fund raising and financial administration of the Expedition from a consultative position. By 1988, under these three partners, the basis for what was to be a five year commemorative project was formed.

Goals & objectives

Through the image of Mackenzie, the French Canadian Voyageurs, and the Native Guides and women, the Canada Sea-to-Sea project was to make a powerful statement about Canada, cooperation, unity and the importance of understanding our shared heritage. The original project goals of the Canada Sea-to-Sea project, developed in 1988, and maintained throughout the Expedition are as follows:

*To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first recorded crossing of the North American continent (north of Mexico) from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.

*To educate young Canadians, through the image of Sir Alexander Mackenzie and other European explorers in whose footsteps he followed ~ Cabot, Cartier, Champlain, La Verendrye, Niverville and others ~ about Canada's adventurous heritage and the role the spirit of adventure must play in modernized urban society

*To establish through a series of historical dramatizations and performances, the first route to link Canada from "sea-to-sea" and to provide a catalyst for the establishment of a national heritage trail, preserving and interpreting this route for subsequent generations of Canadians.

*To reaffirm for young Canadians the spirit of teamwork, unity and multiculturalism that first built Canada, by demonstrating the vital roles of Canada's Native peoples, the European explorers and entrepreneurs, and the French Canadian voyageurs, without whose help Mackenzie's original expeditions would not have been possible.

The summer of 1990 was originally planned as a cross-Canada interpretive road show for schools and communities, which would not be reached by the water-based portion of the Expeditions, but due to lack of financial support, there was no project in 1990.

In total, the four expedition teams visited nearly 140 communities, spoke to more than 50,000 school children and paddled and portaged more than 12,000 kilometres, and in doing so, the Expeditions provided the important public relations support for the proclamation of what is now the Alexander Mackenzie Voyageur Route

The Expeditions


During the summer of 1988, sixteen Lakehead University students were hired to begin planning the subsequent Expeditions by developing an information and experience base which could be carried on to following years. These students visited various festivals and events, developed promotional material, engaged in historical research and began the long process of planning the logistics of the 1989 Expedition to the Arctic Ocean


In re-creating Mackenzie's journeys, the first Expedition in 1989 involved 24 students re-tracing Mackenzie's "voyage of disappointment" paddling more than 3,400 kilometre from Fort McMurray, Alberta to the Beaufort Sea at the mouth of the Mackenzie (Deh Cho) River. The 1989 Expedition was successful by any account, and provided a valuable learning experience for students and administrators, which would set the stage for the subsequent Expeditions.


By 1991, however, a renewed effort and the inclusion of the federal Stay In School initiative brought together a group of 41 people for the 1991 Expedition from Lachine, Quebec to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This group sang, danced and paddled their way through Canada's population centre, encouraging thousands of young people to Stay In School and, like Mackenzie, to follow their goals to success.


The 1992 Expedition almost did not happen, despite the great success of the previous voyages and the year of Canada's 125th anniversary celebrations. Funding was very hard to come by, and the 1992 Expedition was all but cancelled when a grant through the Minister of State's, "Getting to Know Canada Better" program provided enough funding for a group of nine to set out on a journey from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Peace River, Alberta. The difficult, mostly upstream, 3,300 kilometre passage of 1992 provided an important continuity for the culminating 1993 Expedition which was already being planned through association with the Alexander Mackenzie Trail Association and the British Columbia Bicentennial Committee.


The 1993 Expedition was an exciting culmination to the five year project, with a team of 24 paddling and hiking from Peace River, Alberta to Mackenzie Rock in the Dean Channel west of Bella Coola, British Columbia on the Pacific coast. The 1993 route involved the hiking of the 350 kilometre Alexander Mackenzie-Nuxalk/Carrier Grease Trail from the Fraser River to the Bella Coola Valley, but unfortunately the expedition team was not able to hike this portion due to land claim disputes between local Native bands and the British Columbia and Federal government. Despite this setback, the 1993 Expedition provided a model finish to the successful and highly-public Canada Sea-to-Sea project, with a final performance in front of 4,000 spectators at the Canada Games in Kamloops, British Columbia.

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