The Influence of Canadian Explorer, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, on Napoleon’s Secret Strategy to Retake New France (Quebec)

By John Donaldson


During research for a book on the explorations of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, an individual considered by his peers as the “Prince of Explorers,” I came across a manuscript in the Canadian National Archives in Ottawa. This turned out to be a copy of Mackenzie’s book published following his great canoe trek across the Continent in search of the North West Passage. What was remarkable was that it was written entirely in French! Greatly intrigued, further study indicated that this was likely the original book that was smuggled out of England in 1801 by French spies. By clandestine methods it eventually reached Napoleon Bonaparte, then imprisoned on the island of St Helena. The copy that I came across at the Archives was presented to the library in 1931 by one of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s relatives.


A friend of the descendants of Mackenzie, Dr D. Masson of Edinburgh, states that Mackenzie”s book was one of Napoleon’s favorites. Historian, M.S. Wade also indicates that the reading of Mackenzie’s Voyages by the Emperor gave him the idea for attacking Britain indirectly in its possessions by retaking New France using the geographical and navigational data discovered by Mackenzie during his great traverse through Canada’s vast rivers and lakes. However, while his scheme would undoubtedly have reshaped North American history as we know it, other events were to lead to the eventual abandonment of the proposed invasion of Canada by Napoleon’s Grand Army.


Some of the above details are taken from my book, A Canoe Quest in the Wake of the “Prince of Explorers.” (2006, Codger Press)