Museum Musings: Margaret MacKenzie

On the 21st of May, 1954, the Honourable J.H. Brockelbank, Minister of Natural Resources, wrote in care of City Hall to Mr Ian Collins of the Prince Albert Historical Society.  Prince Albert was celebrating its 50th anniversary that year, and Mr. Brockelbank felt that it would be appropriate for the Province to honour the pioneers whose labour and faith had laid the foundations to the development of Saskatchewan at that point.

It was the practice of the Province to name some northern topographical features, such as lakes, islands, and rivers, after prominent and exemplary pioneer citizens in order to perpetuate their names in order that future generations might remember them. The Minister’s letter suggested that the Historical Society might recommend three names of those who had made a significant contribution to Prince Albert and district. He would then consider them on behalf of the Province and make the necessary recommendation to the Canadian Board on Geographical Names in order to have them adopted as official names for such topographical features as might be selected.  Biographical details were to be submitted along with the names, and these sketches would be included in the Departmental records, thereby associating the individual with the named feature.

Mr. Collins forwarded the Minister’s letter to the president of the Society, Richmond Mayson, for the Society’s consideration.  In response, the Society forwarded four names:  Bishop Dr. John McLean, Mrs. Margaret MacKenzie, Mr. Angus McKay, and Miss Lucy Baker.  They also suggested that they ‘would like to see Rev. Mr. Nisbet, the founder of Prince Albert, so honoured too’, although admitting that he already had had the Forest Reserve named after him and were uncertain if, as a result, he would be eligible.

Regular readers of my articles will be familiar with Miss Baker, who was the first woman teacher in the Prince Albert area, and who had provided able assistance in obtaining reserve status for the local Dakota Sioux.

Angus McKay, a member of the very active McKay family, was a brother of Thomas McKay (Prince Albert’s first mayor) and James McKay (a barrister and Member of Parliament).  Angus had served many years in the north with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Bishop John McLean was the first bishop of the Anglican diocese of Saskatchewan and, with the assistance of his wife, had established and received a federal charter for Emmanuel College, the first University of Saskatchewan.  He was also the first chaplain appointed to the North West Mounted Police.

I did, I admit, stumble over the name Margaret MacKenzie.  I simply could not place her.  So, I asked other members of the archival volunteers, as well as our curator, what they knew about her.  Even here I drew a blank.  Further review of file documentation would be required!

Dick Mayson’s response to the Minister received a follow-up response in which he was advised that Angus McKay had already had a map feature named after him.  Concern was also expressed that Dr. John McLean might also have been similarly honoured.  And Reverend Mr. James Nisbet was not eligible due to the previously mentioned Forest Reserve having been named after him.

However, the naming of Saskatchewan topographical features after Mrs. Margaret MacKenzie and Miss Lucy Baker had been approved by the Provincial Government, and the necessary recommendation was being made to the Canadian Board on Geographical Names in Ottawa.

Mr. Brockelbank noted in his response that ‘the contribution made by pioneer women have (sic) too often been taken for granted, and I am pleased that your Society has included the names of two ladies whose names will be incorporated for all time on Saskatchewan maps’.  Having struggled myself to discern sufficient information to write articles on early women settlers, and female members of the Indigenous communities, I found Mr. Brockelbank’s a pleasure to read.

A further letter from the Minister’s office indicated that Bishop McLean’s name could be used as his name had not yet been utilised to designate a feature in Saskatchewan.  There appeared to be some confusion with respect to the spelling of the name and, although not noted, I have to wonder if Dr. McLean, an Anglican bishop, had been confused with Dr. MacLean, a Presbyterian minister from Manitoba.

Regardless, one can find the name Baker Lake on a Saskatchewan map. Also, on a map of the province, you can find MacKenzie Rapids, rapids of approximately 5 ½ miles duration (between 8 ½ to 9 kilometres) situated in the rocky Pre-Cambrian area of Saskatchewan in the Foster River.  McLean Islands can be found in Black Bay.

Having followed the naming process through to completion, it might be time to provide some information about Mrs. Margaret MacKenzie. 

Upon her death, A.G. Berry wrote a poem, a poem about a lady of kindness; one who endured the hardships of the pioneer, first with her parents and then with her husband, but always with a smile that was reflected in her life.  She was a woman who conveyed to others hope, happiness, and courage.

Margaret MacKenzie was born Margaret Miller, the daughter of William Miller (known as Miller of Miller’s Hill).  With her parents and four siblings, nine year old Margaret travelled from Wroxeter, Ontario to the Northwest Territories in 1870.  Along the way, they were confronted by a number of difficult situations which would be likely to cause travellers of our day to forego their trip.  Her first winter in the west was spent in Fort Garry (now Winnipeg).  The following spring, her family homesteaded at Stoney Mountain, where they remained for two and a half years.  Them in 1873, they packed up all their belongings and moved to the Prince Albert area, a place of which they had heard such glowing reports.  Margaret, now twelve years of age, drove a team of horses the entire distance, approximately five hundred miles (800 kilometres).

Upon arrival in Prince Albert, the Hudson’s Bay Company farm manager showed the Millers a piece of land east of the Company’s Reserve, which is where the Millers settled, first living on the flat but later moving up onto the hill to avoid the spring floods.

Margaret married John MacKenzie of Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 1880, after which they lived in a frame house, the first in the Prince Albert district, which John built for them.  John eventually worked as a fur buyer and for the federal government.  He was the homestead inspector at the time of his death in 1916.  Their union produced eight children, as well as twelve grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren.

Margaret MacKenzie lived in western Canada for nearly 75 years, and had what Dick Mayson referred to as a life filled with great and useful activity.  It was his belief that her name, whether as Margaret Miller or as Margaret MacKenzie, would always be associated with the early events of this region’s settlement.

Along with Miss Lucy Baker, she was one of the first two women honoured in Saskatchewan by having a geographical feature named after her.

More information can be found regarding Margaret MacKenzie in the book ‘Voice of the People’ which is available at the Historical Museum, 10 River Street East.