23 August

Henry Kelsey sees buffalo on the Western Plains

Kelsey hunts Buffalo

It was not until 1926 that historians could be certain that Henry Kelsey really did reach as far west as Saskatchewan in 1691. He was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company and his career was distorted by witnesses who criticized the company during a parliamentary investigation in 1749. The story of his journey to Western Canada came to light in 1926 when his diary was found in the library of Castle Dodds, at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

The Hudson's Bay Company was granted its charter in 1670 on the understanding that it would explore the enormous territory under its control, and try to find the Northwest Passage. Kelsey, although only twenty years old, was working at the Hudson's Bay Company post at Fort Nelson, Hudson Bay. He volunteered to accompany a party of Stone Indians to their hunting grounds, and left with them on June 12, 1690.

Many of the great explorers, Cartier, Champlain, Mackenzie, Fraser, and Thompson kept diaries. Fortunately Kelsey did too, but much of his writing was in poor verse. He described his departure thus:

Then up ye River I with heavy heart Did Take my way & from all English part To live among ye natives of this place If God permits me for one two years space.

Kelsey's writings are entertaining but do not give a clear account of where he went. It is known now that he reached The Pas, which he named Deering's Point after a director of the company. He was the first white man to see the Prairies, musk oxen, and a buffalo hunt; he actually took part in a buffalo hunt on August 23, 1691.

Kelsey was given the name Mis Top Ashish by the Indians. It meant Little Giant because he saved an Indian in fight with two grizzly bears.

Before any other white man penetrated the Prairies (La Vérendrye and his sons did so in 1738), Kelsey had spent nearly forty years on Hudson Bay, including the two years exploring the interior. He was captured by Iberville in 1694 when the great French Canadian military leader attacked York Factory.


23 August

-1541    Cartier reached Stadacona (Quebec) on his third trip to Canada.

-1714    High prices caused riots at Quebec.

              The Comte de St. Pierre lost his charter to develop Ile St-Jean (Prince Edward Island).

-1829    Sir John Colborne was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.

-1871    The Paris rowing crew of Saint John, New Brunswick, defeated the Renforth crew from Tyne, England, in a stirring race at Saint John. James Renforth, the Tyne stroke, died.

-1882    Pile O'Bones was named Regina when the C.P.R. tracks arrived there.

-1898    A Joint High Commission met at Quebec to consider disputes between Canada and the United States.

-1956    The Northwest Territories Council opened a session at the new town of Aklavik.