Memorable Manitobans: Henry Kelsey (c1667-1724)
Fur trader, explorer.
Probably born in East Greenwich, England, he was apprenticed to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1684 and posted to the Nelson River. He quickly achieved a reputation as “a very active Lad, Delighting much in Indians Compa.” In 1689 he was sent to Churchill River, and he kept his first journal of the endeavour, which included an unsuccessful overland march. A year later, under orders from the Company, he began his expedition from York Fort “to call, encourage, and invite the remoter Indians to a Trade with us.”
The journal he kept of this expedition is one of the most famous and controversial in the literature of western exploration. It was published in 1929 by A. G. Doughty and Chester Martin as The Kelsey Papers. The notoriety is a result of the journal being written partly in rhyme. The controversy revolves around Kelsey’s route, particularly how far north and west he got. Whatever his actual route, he was the first European to travel extensively west and north of the Bottom of the Bay, and the first to record descriptions of many things, including buffalo and grizzly bears.
Kelsey remained at the Bay almost continuously until 1722, one of the most enigmatic of the early European figures of the region. He was well known for his expertise in Native languages, and he made several subsequent forays into the North.
He is commemorated by the Rural Municipal of Kelsey.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 25 July 2012