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d. 18 June 1886 at Hamilton, Canada West


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McKENZIE, HENRY, seigneurial agent, fur trader, merchant, jp, militia officer, and office holder; b. c. 1781 in Scotland, son of Alexander and Catherine Mackenzie; m. 1814 Ann Bethune, daughter of John Bethune* and sister of Angus*, in Montreal, and they had a son and a daughter; d. there 28 June 1832.

There were numerous McKenzies in the various categories of fur trader. Henry McKenzie, a lesser-known figure, was the brother of Roderick*, Donald*, and James*, and a cousin of Sir Alexander Mackenzie*. He came to Lower Canada as an immigrant shortly before 1800. Probably through the influence of Roderick, who was then a partner in the North West Company and would later become a partner in McTavish, Frobisher and Company, he was hired as a clerk at Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.).

In 1803 McKenzie settled not far from Montreal in the seigneury of Terrebonne, which belonged to Simon McTavish*, the chief partner in the NWC. A capitalist seigneur, McTavish had invested considerable sums to develop his fief. He ran a store as well as two extremely modern grist-mills, and he had had a bakery and a sawmill built. McKenzie probably helped him manage his seigneury, and so won his affection that McTavish left him £100 in his will. After McTavish’s death in July 1804 McKenzie, as executor, ran the seigneury until his brother Roderick took possession of it. This transaction was, however, invalidated, and the property reverted to McTavish’s heirs until 1832. It seems that throughout that period McKenzie continued to act as seigneurial agent. In this capacity he established contacts with grain dealers and exporters but did not sever his connection with the fur trade. Some of those he dealt with – Francis Badgley* and Peter Pangman*, for example – were retired fur traders. His association with Jacob Oldham and other fur traders in the region can be explained by the interdependence of the various sectors of the economy.

When in 1805 Alexander Mackenzie decided to retire to England, he entrusted management of his Canadian property to his cousin Henry. It may have been through his role as administrator of Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Company that Henry was again brought into close contact with the NWC. He moved in a circle of businessmen who maintained connections in Montreal and were involved in the important activities of the colony. It would come as no surprise if he had sought to ingratiate himself with William McGillivray, then the director of the NWC.

In November 1814 McKenzie purchased 2 of the 19 shares of McTavish, McGillivrays and Company which had just been reorganized by McGillivray. In so doing he became one of the partners of the Michilimackinac Company. The following year McGillivray put him in charge of public relations for the NWC, and in this capacity McKenzie saw to the preparation of rejoinders to the condemnation of the Nor’Westers’ conduct by Lord Selkirk [Douglas*]. These began appearing in the Montreal Herald late in August 1816 under the pseudonym Mercator. They raised questions about the continued existence of the HBC and presented the NWC traders as the successors of the French explorers and fur traders.

McKenzie probably became a fairly important figure in the merchant community. He joined the Beaver Club in 1815, for example. His association with the NWC was anything but happy. Documents he made public in 1827 spoke about the emergence in 1816 of a conflict; the origins of the problem are unclear but it set him against the other partners and would explain the increasingly marginal role that he played in the company.

On 1 Aug. 1806 Henry McKenzie had obtained a commission as justice of the peace for the district of Montreal which was renewed a number of times. At the beginning of the War of 1812 he joined the Terrebonne battalion of militia as a major, and on 20 April 1814 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel. In 1824 he was appointed potash and pearl ash inspector and obtained a commission of oyer and terminer and general jail delivery. Like many Scottish expatriates in the Montreal region he was a member of the Scotch Presbyterian congregation, later known as the St Gabriel Street Church. He was on the congregation’s temporal committee in 1816, 1817, and 1818, and served as its vice-chairman in 1819 and 1822, and chairman in 1823 and 1825.

Fernand Ouellet

PAC, RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. Innis, Fur trade in Canada (1956). Robert Rumilly, La Compagnie du Nord-Ouest, une épopée montréalaise (2v., Montréal, 1980). M. [E.] Wilkins Campbell, Northwest to the sea; a biography of William McGillivray (Toronto and Vancouver, 1975).

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Cite This Article

Fernand Ouellet, “McKENZIE, HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckenzie_henry_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckenzie_henry_6E.html
Author of Article:   Fernand Ouellet
Title of Article:   McKENZIE, HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   2013
Access Date:   June 18, 2024