Lord Strathcona (Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada)
Two of the Canada Club’s most famous members were Scots, and both left an indelible mark on this country. One, Alexander Mackenzie, did so through epic feats of exploration, while the other, Donald Smith (later Lord Strathcona), did so largely through his business dealings with the Hudson’s Bay Company and as a railroad financier.
Mackenzie, one of the most active and influential of the club’s original members, was born in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, in 1764. By 1778 he found himself in Montreal, where he would eventually end up working for the North West Company. After hearing more about trading routes from First Nations people, he began exploring in earnest and in 1789 discovered the river that would eventually bear his name. Although he returned to England in 1791, he was back in North America by 1793, for a voyage that saw him become the first European to cross Canada by land. At the Mackenzie River’s mouth he carved into a rock an inscription which can still be seen today: Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land 22d July 1793.
Smith, meanwhile, was perhaps the most distinguished member of the Canada Club at the end of the 19th century. Although not a founding member, he was instrumental in the club’s success and growth in its early years. Born in Forres in 1820, he immigrated to Canada in 1838, where he became a clerk with the Hudson’s Bay Company in Montreal. He stayed with the company for 75 years, and by 1889 was its principal shareholder and governor, a position he held until his death in 1914. It was, however, through his association with the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Pacific Railway (it was Smith who famously drove in the CPR’s Last Spike, at Craigellachie, B.C., on Nov. 7, 1885), and particularly his 18 years as Canada’s high commissioner in London, that Smith played his most prominent role in accelerating the club’s growth.