Anthony Henday

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Anthony Henday
Isle of Wight, England
Years active1750–62

Anthony Henday (fl. 1750–1762) was one of the first Europeans to explore the interior of what would eventually become western Canada. He ventured farther westward than any white man had before him.[1] As an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company he travelled across the prairies in the 1750s, journeying into what is now central Alberta, possibly arriving at the present site of Red Deer. He camped along the North Saskatchewan River, perhaps on the present site of Rocky Mountain House or Edmonton, and is said to have been the first European to see the Rocky Mountains, if only from a distance.[2][3] His purpose was to encourage First Nations in the upper watershed of the Saskatchewan River to come to Hudson Bay to trade, but due to the great distance involved, their inability to build canoes and paddle them, and fear of attack by Cree along the river, Blackfoot and other western prairie First Nations were reluctant to make the journey.[4]

Early life[edit]

Henday was from the Isle of Wight, England. He may have been baptised in Shorwell on 24 December 1725.[5]

Hudson's Bay Company[edit]

A convicted smuggler,[6] Henday joined the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in 1750 as a net-maker and labourer. Being described by company officials as being "bold and enterprising".[7]

From the 1600s to the late 1800s the HBC had the exclusive fur trade for the land within Hudson Bay's watershed. This region was known as Rupert's Land. For the furs that HBC desired they wanted to trade commodities such as tobacco, kettles, axes, mirrors, beads, and alcohol.

The HBC was concerned that La Vérendrye and other French entrepreneurs were funnelling the fur trade from Rupert's Land away from the English at Hudson Bay. Eventually, James Isham, chief factor at York Fort, suggested an expedition to western Rupert's Land to encourage First Nations to trade at Hudson Bay.[8] The HBC authorized and funded Henday to lead explorations into the interior of Rupert's Land, using York Factory as his base.

On June 26, 1754, he set out with several Cree companions on foot to travel from York Factory into the interior westward, today's Alberta. His route is not clear – it is variously thought he travelled to present-day Red Deer,[9] or Balermo[10] or Innisfail [11] or Stettler [12][13] or Eckville[14] or the Calgary area – all or only some of those places.[15]

A conjecture of Henday's route in detail was formulated and presented to the public by L.J. Burpee in 1907, under the name "York Factory to the Blackfeet Country." Using the HBC Journals as his source, Burpee had the explorer's name as Hendry. He supposed that Henday passed through Walker Lake (which Henday called Christineaux Lake), not Lake Winnipeg as is sometimes supposed, then up the Minago River to Moose Lake, then to the Saskatchewan River at a point downstream of the French trading post of Fort Basqua (The Pas). Henday's visit, and his visit the next spring to Fort Basqua's sister fort, Fort Poskoyac (La Corne), are the only two recorded visits by a British explorer or trader to any French fort west of Lake Superior, up to the close of French rule in Canada. [16] Burpee supposed that Henday got as far west as about Airdrie in the autumn of 1754. Turning north he spent February and April along today's Red Deer River, building canoes. When the ice broke up in the spring, he paddled down the Red Deer to where it meets the South Saskatchewan just east of about today's Empress, Alberta, and then down the Saskatchewan River back to York Factory.

It is documented Henday's group passed the French Fort Paskoya "Pasqua"/"Basquia" or "Paskoway Yay," today's The Pas, on July 15, 1754, as recorded in his journal. There he may have met La Corne, the western commander, or likely did the next spring on his way back to York Factory.[17]

Anthony Henday's route in green.

In 1754 he and his group came to what is now Alberta with a mission to meet the Blackfoot and perhaps trade with them. They travelled some 2,900 kilometres (1,800 mi) by canoe and some 1,400 kilometres (900 mi) by foot.[18] With Henday winning the respect of the Blackfoot to such an extant that he was able to travel in their company 1,400 kilometres (900 mi) to within sight of the mighty Rocky Mountains and back another 1,400 kilometres (900 mi) in six days less than a year.[19]

On September 10, 1754, Henday and his party camped approximately 29 kilometres (18 mi) north-east of where Chauvin is located today, quite possibly at Sherlock Lake. The following day, September 11, he crossed over from Saskatchewan into present-day Alberta. On October 11, he arrived at Waskesew River, perhaps the Red Deer River. Waskesew is an anglicization of the Cree word for elk. In Cree the Red Deer River is called wâwâskêsiw-sîpiy.[20]

Henday may not have been aware that the Blackfoot and the Cree were enemies. There is some indication in Henday's journal entries that the Cree were becoming wary of the tribes they and Henday were encountering. While the group was travelling in what Henday refers to as the "Muscuty plains," they came across a man named Attickasish with two Archithinue (Blackfoot). He said these people had never been in contact with any Europeans and his Cree companions were afraid of them. Then on October 14, Archithinue on horseback approached and asked if they were friend or foe.

That evening Henday stopped, near present-day Innisfail, at a massive Blackfoot encampment, which by Henday's count numbered 322 tepees. The 322-teepee encampment is said to have been located a few miles west of Pine Lake. (A cairn in Henday's honour was erected there later.)[21] There, in the tent of the great chief of the Archithinue, he smoked a peace pipe and, through an interpreter imparted the purpose of his mission.[22] Henday offered to have some of the Archithinues go with them back to York Factory. The Archithinue leader did not assent and explained that his people could not paddle and that York Factory was too far away. The leader of the Archithinue, probably, knew that his people would be travelling uninvited in Cree territory and would risk being killed by the Cree and other enemies.[23] Henday urged the tribesman to build up their stocks of fur by going into the woods to hunt, and trap, but the tribesmen instead preferred to take their ease, staying in camp. "Enjoying their primitive entertainment of drumming and conjuring."[24] After receiving an indefinite answer from the Blackfoot (which Henday took as a "no"), Henday returned to York Factory with news he had explored the area and met with the Blackfoot. Since the answer had been unsure, there were no more expeditions to what would eventually be Alberta until Peter Fidler in 1792, and the first Fort Edmonton being built just three years after that.

In spring 1755 Henday set off to return to York Factory by going north to the North Saskatchewan River from which to proceed downriver and eastward. On March 3, 1755, he reaching the North Saskatchewan at the mouth of the Sturgeon River near present-day Fort Saskatchewan. “Here he camped while canoes were made and more fur-laden Indians arrived. When the ice left the river, a brigade of 70 canoes started downstream-but Hendy's woes were not over. At the French forts of La Corne and Paskoya, gifts of brandy from residents there persuaded the Indians to trade most of their prime furs, and they were lost to Henday's company”[25] He celebrated St. George's Day (April 23) at the junction of Red Deer River and Trail Creek possibly, before arriving at the river. He set off downriver on April 27. The place of embarkation is unknown – it may or may not have been upriver of present-day Edmonton. He arrived at Fort Paskoya "Pasqua" or "Paskoway Yay" on May 26 and York Fort on June 23.[26][27]

As Henday travelled inland to the Blackfoot country and back to York Factory, he talked about the First Nations having problems with alcohol. He mentions on one day that his whole company was unable to travel because everyone was drinking. On 30 May 1755 Henday remarked in his journal that he is unable to continue their travels back to York Factory because "the [First Nations] drank too much" but they were using their best furs to trade with the French for the alcohol.[28][29]

This trip, and later ones, took Henday across much of the prairies of what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta.

There is great uncertainty of his route – his original journal of his trip and any notes in his own hand cannot be found. His journal was copied in four different and contradictory versions.[30] His trip as presented in the journals cannot always be put in a modern context, due to there being no landmarks he identified that are still extant today.

He does record sighting what is thought to be the Rockies, which the natives he met called "Arsinie Watchie." "Had a fine view of Arsinie Watchie att a farr distance, it being the last sight that I ever shall have of it this year." (Henday's Journal, 1754, Dec. 24, 1754). But the native term and Henday himself could have been referring to a series of high hills, not in fact to the majestic mountains.[31]

The puzzle is further deepened by the fact that a later version of his journal states (Oct. 29, 1754): "I had a fine prospect of Muscuty or Arsinee Warchee Country, and seed the Archithinues smoak; this will be the time I shall see that delightful country this trip inland."[32]

But it is evident[according to whom?] that he brought much trade to York Factory.

Henday left the service of the HBC in 1762 largely because his efforts for the company, at least in his estimation, had not been properly recognized.[citation needed]


Historians commenting on Henday's brave journey write that “there is no feat in all the story of Northwestern travel that surpasses this.”, and that “His trip led to further development of the West. for it gave his company a new outlook.”[33]

Anthony Henday Drive, a large ring road in Edmonton, is named in his honour, as is Henday Hall, one of the residence towers in the main student residence complex at the University of Alberta in that city.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Naming Edmonton, p. 9
  3. ^ Stephen, A Puzzle Revisited
  4. ^ Barbra Belyea, A Year Inland, p. 345-46, 347
  5. ^ Stephen, Scott P. (July 1997). A Puzzle Revisited: Historiography and Documentary Problems in the Journals of Anthony Henday (MA). University of Winnipeg/University of Manitoba.
  6. ^ "Calgary & Southern Alberta". Archived from the original on 2012-10-07. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
  7. ^ Alberta through the years. Government of Alberta. 1967. p. 8.
  8. ^ Wilson, Clifford (1974). "Henday, Anthony". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. III (1741–1770) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  9. ^ Burpee, York Factory to Blackfeet Country (1907)
  10. ^ Morton, p. 246
  11. ^ MacGregor as per Belyea, A Year Inland, p. 329
  12. ^ MacGregor Behold the Shining Mountains, p. 133
  13. ^ Didsbury Pioneer, Ap. 21, 1938
  14. ^ MacGregor Behold the Shining Mountains, p. 196
  15. ^ Western Farm Leader April 2, 1955
  16. ^
  17. ^ Belyea, A Year Inland, p. 54
  18. ^ Didsbury Pioneer, April 21, 1938
  19. ^ Alberta through the years. Government of Alberta. 1967. p. 8.
  20. ^ Burpee, Lawrence, ed. (1908). York Factory to the Blackfoot Country. The Journal of Anthony Henday 1754-55. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. pp. 332, 336., Claude Saddleback is a fluent Cree -speaking First Nations member.
  21. ^ James G. MacGregor, "The Impact of the White Man", in Hardy, Alberta A Natural History
  22. ^ Alberta through the years. Government of Alberta. 1967. p. 8.
  23. ^ Burpee (1908), pp. 331, 337 & 338
  24. ^ Alberta through the years. Government of Alberta. 1967. p. 9.
  25. ^ Alberta through the years. Government of Alberta. 1967. p. 9.
  26. ^ Belyea, A Year Inland, p.173, 188
  27. ^ Didsbury Pioneer, April 21, 1938
  28. ^ Davis, Richard C., ed. (1988). Rupert's Land: A Cultural Tapestry. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. Introduction, 60. ISBN 978-0-88920-839-1.
  29. ^ Henday, Anthony; Burpee, Lawrence J. (1973). A Fur Trader's Journey 1754-55: York Factory to the Blackfoot Country. Toronto: Canadiana House. p. 46.
  30. ^ Stephen. A Puzzle Revisited
  31. ^ Belyea, A Year Inland, p. 335
  32. ^ Williams, The Puzzle, p. 56
  33. ^ Alberta through the years. Government of Alberta. 1967. p. 9.