Who Was the First White Man in Alberta?

By J.P. Yurkiw


Anthony Henday


Anthony Henday was born about the year 1720 on the Isle of Wight, Britain.  During his youth he became a smuggler, smuggling goods across the English Channel between England and France. He escaped the law, went to London, and applied for employment with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Sailing to Canada, he landed at York Factory, a Hudson Bay trading post, in 1750.

In 1754 Henday travelled on the Saskatchewan River. He tried to encourage the natives to take their furs to York Factory to trade. But the chief refused, saying that his men were horsemen not canoe men and the distance was too far.  In addition, the French traders treated the natives well when trading.  In his travels westward, Henday saw French traders trading with the natives.

Henday travelled on the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. He also travelled on the Red Deer River. He wintered near the present town of Chauvin. Henday arrived in present day Alberta in 1754. He saw the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.


The La Vérendryes


Sieur Pierre de la Vérendrye was born in 1685 at Trois Rivières, Québec. He and his sons made a number of exploratory trips westward and built trading posts west of Lake Superior. They began their western explorations in the year 1730.  In 1738 the La Vérendryes reached the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota, in the United States. A lead plate which the Vérendryes had buried was found in 1913 at Pierre, South Dakota.

In 1742 La Vérendrye and his sons reached the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. The La Vérendryes were in the area of the present town of Cowley, Alberta. One the lead plates which the La Vérendryes buried was found near Cowley in 1935. The date, March 30, 1743, was inscribed on the plate.


History Books


Many history books give Anthony Henday credit for being the first white man to enter the territory now known as the province of Alberta. Comparing the dates of arrival of Anthony Henday and Sieur de la Vérendrye to Alberta, we see that the Vérendryes were the first to arrive.

When Henday arrived in the Red Deer area in 1754, Captain de la Corne was already engaged in farming. Henday saw French trading posts already established before his arrival. Further evidence shows the discovery of lead plates buried by the La Vérendryes at Cowley, Alberta.

Therefore, this serious error must be rectified and the historical record set straight.


Reprinted from The Echoes, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, December, 2008; St. Albert Historical Society