HON. THOMAS McKAY.
No history of Canada would be complete without extended mention of
Hon. Thomas McKay, one of the pioneers of this country, for even a brief
sketch of his interesting career will illustrate many points of Saskatche-
wan history. Mr. McKay, who is actively engaged in farming at the age
of seventy-five years, is a representative of that remarkable body of
early western Canadians who once constituted the aristocracy of citizen-
ship and commercial achievement in this region.
On the 4th of June, 1849, at Fort Pelly, Saskatchewan, then known
only by the vague geographic term of Rupert's Land, Thomas McKay
was born, a son of William and Mary (Cook) McKay. The McKays, as
noted in the "Annals of the Hudson's Bay Company", were responsible
and valued employes as far back as the eighteenth century. John McKay,
the great-grandfather of Thomas, was born in Scotland and early entered
the services of the great trading and fur company, being sent to Canada
about 1790. He was a man of great ability and determination and rose
to the position of factor in the service and is mentioned as one of the
trustees in the Lord Selkirk Agreement with the Hudson's Bay Company.
John Richard McKay was a son of John McKay and was born at Brandon
House in Manitoba. He was sent to England for his education, subse-
quently returned to this country and also spent most of his life in the
employ of the Hudson's Bay Company. William McKay, the father of
Thomas, was born at Fort Reilly in March of the year 1819, and gave all
of his active life to the furtherance of the same corporation, passing
through the various grades of promotion until he became a factor in the
company. He died in Edmonton, to which city he had been sent to re-
lieve Mr. Hardisty, the factor who then had charge of that district for
the company. The mother of Thomas McKay-Mary Cook-was born
in the Red River settlement in Manitoba and in the latter part of her
life she made her home with her daughter.
In the pursuit of his early education Thomas McKay attended St.
John's school at Winnipeg and was but fifteen years of age when he
commenced to work for the Hudson's Bay Company. He was clerk for
the company until June of the year 1873, when he determined upon an
independent career and so resigned his position. In that same year he
came to Prince Albert, accompanied by his young wife, and established
himself in the vicinity in which he has been influential for nearly fifty
years. His decision to locate in Prince Albert district was the result
of his acquaintance with Major Butler, made some three years before,
whose stories of the remarkable natural resources and other opportunities
offered in this locality stirred Mr. McKay's interest. Major Butler later
won distinction as commander of the British forces in South Africa at
the time of the declaration of war with the Boers.
On first taking up residence in Prince Albert, Mr. McKay engaged
in milling and freighting, also farming. His mill burned down the first
year and as a result he discontinued that line of-work. Throughout the
succeeding years Mr. McKay was a farmer and he prizes his homestead,
a fine farm ten miles from town. Although he has persistently refused
to move into the city, he has not devoted his entire time and attention
to farming, but has taken a great interest in affairs of public importance.
He entered political life only from a sense of duty, not from ambition
for official honors. He enjoys the distinction of having been the first mayor
of Prince Albert, which office he held in 1886, and he gave twelve years
of service representing his home constituency in the Northwest Terri-
tories assembly, finally retiring when the territories received provincial
autonomy. He was the second president of the Prince Albert Agricul-
tural Association, better known as the Lorne Agricultural Society, and
for some time was chief executive of the Local Grain Growers Asso-
ciation, and is an influential member of that body in promoting the best
interests of the substantial farmer element of the province.
The following extract concerning one phase of Mr. McKay's career,
and offering valuable data for the proper account of the North West
Rebellion, is quoted from an article on Mr. McKay's life, found in Black's
"History of Saskatchewan
"He (Mr. McKay) was one of the forty volunteers from Prince Albert
who left their families and went as civilians to the aid of the North West
Mounted Police stationed at Carlton, under Major Crozier. This was
the beginning of the uprising of the half-breeds at Duck Lake, the
hostiles outnumbering the police at that point by more than one hundred.
Mr. McKay was the first to sign as a volunteer. At that time, as well
is later, he was one of the most influential residents of the community,
and as a natural leader he volunteered in order to induce others who
would follow his example. On joining Major Crozier he offered, in com-
pany with a Mr. Hillyard Mitchell of Duck Lake, to go as an envoy of
peace to consult with the half-breeds at Duck Lake, among whom he had
many friends, though he was opposed to their rebellion. On getting per-
mission for this dangerous mission, he set out and used all his personal
influence and argument to quiet the discontent and secure an amicable
adjustment of the actual grievances. While in the enemy's camp, Louis
Riel had him seized as a traitor, but for the time his own personality was
stronger than Riel's, and he dominated the meeting. After having ex-
pended all his pacific efforts, he returned to Canton. During the interval
before the beginning of actual hostilities he was sent as a scout with mes-
sages from Major Crozier to Colonel Irvine, Commissioner of the North
West Mounted Police, for whom he has always retained a warm admira-
tion and who was then on the road between Regina and Carlton with -
reinforcements. The orders to Major Crozier from Colonel Irvine com-
manded that officer not to take any offensive action without full instruc-
tions from Colonel Irvine, and had those orders been obeyed implicitly
it is Mr. McKay's opinion that there would have been no war.
"After having delivered these dispatches and returned to Carlton,
Mr. McKay was sent with sixteen men under Sergeant Stewart, with
eight sleighs, to secure and transport the ammunition from Duck Lake
back to Carlton. Scouts who had been sent to reconnoiter had not re-
turned. As a plainsman and thorough scout Mr. McKay soon noticed,
after leaving Carlton, some signs in the snow that indicated where re-
cently Indians had been huddled together in their blankets. Knowing
that he was being watched he became very alert. On reaching the brow
of a hill some distance from Duck Lake his party was set upon by a
large number of Metis, who demanded his surrender. But he succeeded
in withdrawing from the danger and after a narrow escape returned un-
molested to headquarters.
"In the meantime, however, the advance guard of four mounted men
had rushed back to camp, reporting the main party as set upon and in
danger. This caused Major Crozier, who either disregarded or miscon-
strued Colonel Irvine's positive instructions, to hasten forth to meet the
enemy. While in an orderly's room awaiting Major Crozier, Mr. McKay
heard the commotion of departure and jumped into one of the sleighs
so as to take part in his own rescue, as it were. The precise conditions
from which Mr. McKay had withdrawn so skillfully again befell the troops
under Major Crozier. "In the fight that ensued twelve were killed. This
was the first battle of the rebellion of '85 and Mr. McKay's version is
a valuable contribution to the copious literature of the war."
At the close of the rebellion Mr. McKay was appointed a member of
the commission of three, the others being the late Judge Ouiment and Mr.
Munna, to inquire into the conditions and losses brought about by the
war and to arbitrate matters for the government. Mr. McKay speaks
both the Cree and Saulteaux Indian dialects fluently, and this has stood
him in good need when he has been sent to deal with the Indians on
On the 6th of February, 1873, Mr. McKay was married to Miss Cath-
erine McBeth, who, like her husband, is a native of the great northwest
country. She was born at Fort Good Hope on the MacKenzie river, which
at the time was the northernmost post of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Her father, Adam McBeth, had come to Prince Rupert's land with his
parents when but six years of age, among the original settlers of Lord
Selkirk. When fifteen years of age he entered the services of the Hudson's
Bay Company and his was the remarkable record of having spent sixty-
four years with this company. Mr. and Mrs. McKay have a family of
ten children, who have grown to be representative citizens of the com-
munities in which they reside and are worthy of the name they bear.
Mr. McKay is held in high esteem throughout the district and well merits
the love and regard accorded him.
Visitor # 1689
Web Master: Sask Gen Webmaster,
for Sask Gen Web Project
Re-published ©: Monday, 06-Jan-2003 22:00:14 MST
We encourage links to this page.
These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format
for profit or presentation by any other organization or persons.
Persons or organizations desiring to use this material, must
obtain the written consent of the contributor, or the legal
representative of the submitter, and contact the listed Web
master with proof of this consent.