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Banner: Pathfinders and Passageways: The Exploration of Canada About This Site
The Mapmakers: An Essay in Four Parts
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Henry Kelsey (1667-1724)

Henry Kelsey arrived in Hudson's Bay in 1684. We know little of him except that he was probably the son of the sailor John Kelsey of East Greenwich, where he was born in 1667, and that he entered the Hudson's Bay Company as an apprentice at the age of seventeen and was sent to Fort York. Kelsey quickly became acquainted with the young Native people of the coast, with whom he went from post to post.

Kelsey's first exploration took place in 1689 when he went to the Churchill River to help build a fort. Captain James Young, the leader of the expedition, tried to get further north, but ice blocked his path. Kelsey then offered to go exploring by land with a young Native companion. The two young men got 204 kilometres north in the interior, not far from the coast, but found neither people nor furs.

Because Kelsey had already travelled with Native people, in 1690, the Governor of Fort York picked him to explore the interior of the Prairies from Hudson Bay, wanting to encourage and invite Native peoples to come to the Bay. Kelsey was also to look for mineral deposits and medicinal plants. Because of his skill in establishing friendly relations with the Native people, the Governor also asked him to try to re-establish peace between certain nations whose wars were disrupting trade.

On June 12, 1690, Kelsey left York with a group of Cree, who were returning inland, on a voyage which would prove to be significant. Taking probably the Haye and Foxe rivers to Moose Lake, they found themselves "on ye borders of ye stone Indian [Assiniboine] Country." Kelsey took possession of this area in the name of the Hudson's Bay Company, named it Deerings Point (probably near The Pas, Manitoba), and settled there.

"The Inland Country of Good report hath been
By Indians but by English yet not seen
Therefore I on my Journey did not stay
but making all ye hast I could upon our way
Gott on ye borders of ye stone Indian Country
I took possession on ye tenth Instant July
And for my masters I speaking for ym, all
This neck of land I deerings point did call
Distance from hence by Judgement at ye lest
From ye house six hundred miles southwest
Through Rivers wch run strong with falls
thirty three Carriages five lakes in all "

(Kelsey 1929, 2)

The following year, Kelsey and the Cree left camp, ascended the Saskatchewan River, and took the Carrot River, where they abandoned their canoes and continued on foot. After crossing a marshy area that stretched for several kilometres south of the Saskatchewan River, they crossed through a more open area filled with deer, where they met Assiniboine people of Eagle Creek. They carried on to the Red Deer River and its slate mines, ascended this waterway in a south-southwesterly direction and, further on, reached the Great Salt Plain, 68 kilometres wide from east to west. They met other Assiniboine here from Thunder Hill. Kelsey found himself next in an area of high wooded plateaux which appears to have been the area of Touchwood Hills. In August 1691, he saw bison and grizzly bears. He became the first European to describe the flora and fauna of the Canadian West.

On August 25, Kelsey encountered a large number of the Assiniboine Nation (Stone or Mountain peoples). Shortly thereafter, he negotiated with the Naywatame (Gros Venture) to bring peace between them and the Assiniboine, but was unsuccessful. He returned to Deerings Point, and from there to York Factory in the summer of 1692, bringing with him several Native people.

It is hard to evaluate the financial outcome of this voyage since Fort York fell into French hands in 1694 and remained so until 1714. For more than half a century after Kelsey's voyage, only two Hudson's Bay Company employees went into the interior of the country, William Stuart and Richard Norton, and Kelsey's journal of the voyage only became known outside of the Company in 1749 -- in other words, after the voyages of La Vérendrye in the west. In spite of Kelsey's observations, it cannot be said for certain how far he travelled.

The voyage of 1690 to 1692 was Kelsey's last one to the interior but not his last voyage of exploration. After having climbed the hierarchy within the Company by working in Hudson Bay, in 1718 Kelsey was named governor of all the establishments on Hudson's Bay, including Churchill. During the four years that he held this position, he continued to explore the north of Hudson Bay. In July and August 1719, with the coastal ships Prosperous and Success, he reached 62º40' north latitude. He exchanged two Native slaves for two Inuit whom he wanted to use as interpreters. He also bartered whalebone, oil and walrus tusks. The following year, having been apprised of his competitor James Knight's voyage, he sent John Hancock to Churchill and, from there, further north. Hancock returned in September. He confirmed that Knight's men had ruined the trade for them. No one suspected the sad fate of Knight's expedition.

In 1721, Kelsey undertook a new expedition to the north to try to find copper, a metal much discussed at Company posts. He went first to Churchill, and met with Inuit on July 21 and 23 as well as on August 1. These informed him of the loss of Knight's ship, the Albany. Violent winds prevented Kelsey from going any further. The explorer had just completed his last voyage. The following year, as his mandate as governor was finished, he was recalled to England, where he died in November 1724.

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