Canoeing a Continent: On the Trail of Alexander Mackenzie

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Dundurn, 2002 - Nature - 298 pages

A highly personal account of the travels of Max Finkelstein as he retraces, some two hundred years later, the route of Alexander Mackenzie, the first European to cross North America (1793). Mackenzie's water trail is now commemorated as the Alexander Mackenzie Voyageur Route.

More than just a travelogue of a canoe trip across Canada, this is an account that crosses more than two centuries. It is an exploration into the heart and mind of Alexander Mackenzie, the explorer, and Max Finkelstein, the "Voyageur-in-Training." Using Mackenzie's journals and his own journal writings, the author creates a view of the land from two vantage points. The author retraced the route of Alexander Mackenzie across North America from Ottawa through to Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, and paddled the Blackwater, Fraser and Peace Rivers, completing the trip in 1999. This route is the most significant water trail in North America, and perhaps the world.

"A 'must-read' for everyone who loves wild places and the magic of canoes."

- Cliff Jacobson, Outdoor Writer & Consultant

"Past and present collide in this journey of discovery across the map of Canada. Max craves the extremes. He relishes in coping with what nature throws at him, punishing himself to find his physical limits and experiencing firsthand the inherent dangers in such a voyage. With Alexander Mackenzie as his guide and inspiration, Max finds the strength to carry on against all odds to forge poignant historical and personal links in this incredible cross-Canada paddling odyssey."

- Becky Mason, Artist and Paddler, Chelsea, Quebec


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I found this book very interesting. I live in Ottawa and like to canoe and kayak. I found Max's account of canoeing and kayaking the route taken by Alexander Mackenzie was both very informative and, at times, very humorous. The book would be of interest to any person who is interested in the history and/or the geography of Canada. It also gives a good indication of the hardships and problems to be encountered on a long canoe or kayak trip. I plan to buy a couple more copies of this book to give as presents and also I plan to buy at least one of his other books.
Another aspect of this book which I found very heartening was the help that Max received along the way from Canadians of all descriptions whom he had never met before. Bill H


Introduction to the Journeys
Ottawa to Cumberland House
Bella Coola to Fort Chipewyan
Paddling across the Roof of Canada
Fort McMurray to Cumberland House
Credits for Visuals

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Page 1 - I now mixed up some vermilion in melted grease, and inscribed, in large characters, on the South-East face of the rock on which we had slept last night, this brief memorial - 'Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.

About the author (2002)

Paddler, author, environmentalist and raconteur, Max Finkelstein works as the Communications Officer for the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, Canada‚e(tm)s national program for river conservation. When he is not speaking about, writing about, or otherwise promoting Canada‚e(tm)s river heritage, Max can usually be found paddling on a river. He has paddled over 22,000 kilometres in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia. His first book, Canoeing a Continent: On the Trail of Alexander Mackenzie, which described his experiences retracing the historic first crossing of North America by a European, was released by Natural Heritage in 2002. Paddling the Boreal Forest: Rediscovering A.P. Low, an extraordinary project undertaken with his friend and paddling partner James Stone, sent the two of them to northern Quebec to retrace and experience first-hand the routes of geologist, map-maker and explorer A.P. Low.

Max and his wife, Connie Downes, live in Ottawa, where they are introducing their son, Isaac Thelon, to a life of travelling on and learning about rivers.

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