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Memorable Manitobans: Donald “le malin” Mackay (c1753-1833)

Fur trader.

Born in Clyne, Sutherlandshire, Scotland, he probably came to Canada with the British army. He joined the fur trade in 1779, but went to Montreal in 1781 to try to make money making potash. Failing at this, he returned to the fur trade on the Saskatchewan River, but was not employed by the North West Company. He sailed to London in 1788 and joined in a new fur-trade partnership, but was pursued by creditors and headed back to Canada. In 1790 he was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company as part of an expansion effort. The HBC admired his perseverence and knowledge of the country.

In 1793 he was sent to Red River to explore the region, jousting continually with the NWC and establishing the HBC in the region. He visited Scotland in 1795 before returning to the Bay, where he was despatched to Brandon House at the beginning of 1796. About this time he began to exhibit symptoms of paranoia, which only worsened. He was sent home to England in 1800. Mackay’s geographical knowledge was extensive, and was passed along through the HBC to the mapmakers, particularly to Arrowsmith. He later helped recruit for the HBC and was sent back to the Bay in 1805, where he had much trouble with William Auld. He made his final trip back to Scotland in 1807, eventually immigrating with his wife to Nova Scotia, where he died.

The Hudson's Bay Company Archives has his unpublished journals, while a manuscript diary is in the hands of descendants.

More information:

“The Madness of Donald Mackay” by Harry W. Duckworth, The Beaver, 68:3 (June/July 1988): 25-42.

Donald Mackay, Dictionary of Canadian Biography VI, 463-64.

Sources:

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 6 April 2008

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