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Henry Kelsey ("Boy") (1667-1724)

Born at Greenwich, England, what we learn, is that Kelsey "was an orphan who spent his youth in the streets of London."1 He was an early member of the Hudson's Bay Company (chartered in 1670). He first started as a cabin boy on ships that carried supplies to the forts on Hudson Bay. In 1684, but only seventeen, he was hired on at Fort York. In the ensuing years, he learned the fur trade business. (He served the company for nearly 40 years, indeed, was its overseas governor from 1718 to 1722.)

He is chiefly remembered for his journey to the Canadian plains. He started out, in 1690, from the western shores of Hudson Bay, paddled his way up the Hayes River2 and pierced his way through to Lake Winnipeg, and beyond, to become the first European to see the Canadian plains. His exact route is unknown, but he travelled from York Factory with his Native guides and, via the Hayes River, he eventually arrived at Saskatchewan river and wintered in territory we now know as Manitoba. (See Map.) The following year he struck out on foot, west across the prairie, the lakes and rivers having been left behind.3 He was one of the first Europeans, if not the first, to see vast herds of bison.



2 Kelsey was encouraged by his employer to encourage the Indians to travel the great distances to the post on the western shores of the Hudson's Bay. Thus on his trip west he brought with him samples of such things as: hatchets, beads, and tobacco available at the company's posts.

3 At this point in time the plains Indians knew nothing of canoes, or for that matter, of horses.


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Peter Landry