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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Exploration and Map Making

Rifles being traded at Dunvegan

For many years textbooks and other general histories of Alberta suggested that this land was "discovered" by Anthony Henday in 1754. Henday did bring parts of what would become Alberta into the trading system of the Hudson's Bay Company, but the lands he visited were neither unknown nor unpopulated. Indeed the thousands of Aboriginal people living in the area might have been surprised to learn that they needed to be discovered at all. Certainly they had explored every corner of the land, and many were able to draw detailed maps outlining travel routes and key landmarks for the Europeans who followed Henday west.

There is also some evidence that fur traders from Quebec had reached this region before Henday, but the exact details of their travels are unknown. For example, European maps, some dating from the early 1750s and based on the explorations of the La Verendryes and theirNorth Saskatchewan River associates, show a line of mountains west of Lake Winnipeg and above the headwaters of the Saskatchewan River. What is unclear is whether this information came from the direct observations of the traders themselves or was based on First Nations informants. Most historians, however, believe that it is quite probable that some French traders had reached south or central Alberta a few years before Henday.

Henday was sent inland by the Hudson's Bay Company to try to convince the First Nations of the interior to come down to York Factory on Hudson Bay to trade. He was guided inland by a party of Cree and Assiniboine to a point near the upper Red Deer River (most believe it was somewhere in the Penhold-Innisfail area) before turning back north and east to winter in the parklands closer to the North Hudson Bay Company Trading Post Saskatchewan River. The following year he returned with his companions to York Factory. Henday's account of his travels represent the earliest written descriptions of central Alberta. He was followed by a number of other Hudson's Bay Company men over the next two decades, who also left journals of varying interest and completeness describing their travels in the interior. Some of their observations were included in European maps of this period, but in the 1760s and 1770s maps still appeared with most of the western interior of North America blank - marked only with the phrase "These Parts are Entirely Unknown."


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