Mad Donald MacKay
‘MAD’ DONALD MACKAY
On any fine day you can see the old brown tombstone on the graveyard knoll at the Kenzieville Cemetery in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Here, lie the long forgotten remains of ‘Mad’ Donald MacKay the notorious 18thcentury fur trader. His one hundred and eighty year old grave marker of faded sandstone so coated with tenacious lichen and years of winter weathering that his name is only partly legible. On the bottom of the quarried stone, barely readable, is an inscription, “Behold all ye that do pass by, remember that you all must die.” With the MacKay’s of Barneys River attending he was set there in an eternity box on a brilliant sunny June day in 1833. Some of his present ancestors say Donald was an angry man all his life. ‘Mad’ Donald, the fur trader and explorer lived eighty summers. Many would say that a man who had crossed the North Atlantic Ocean on sailing schooners nine times between 1773 and 1820 was just plain lucky. The number of times Donald MacKay faced death in the fur trade country in disputes with Indians and competing traders from the North West Company was allayed only by the ferocity of his passionate Highland temper. He would face every challenge, once threatening to fire his pistol into barrels of gunpowder to hold threatening Native trappers at bay. Starting his fur trade career with Gregory McLeod and Company in 1779, he would later become an independent trader then, labour for the North West Company before joining the Honourable Hudson Bay Company. ‘Mad’ Donald would spend 18 years exploring and trading in the American and British northwest. His travels with his country wife, the young Metis woman, Hannah Sutherland saw Donald range from the Mandan Country on the Missouri, west to Pine Island on the Saskatchewan River and north to the HBC coastal ports on Hudson Bay. Dòmhnall MacAoidh, as known to his Gaelic tongued peers, was a rugged tough man. He was a sturdy Gael . He once walked in the freeze of a snow-bound winter from Halifax to Montreal in 1788-89. It took 69 exhausting days on snowshoes to accomplish the task. In the annals’ of Hudson Bay Company fur traders, Highlander ‘Mad’ Mackay was aggressive, feared and despised by many in his own Honourable Company as well as voyageurs from Quebec. Mackay, a former soldier was ever ready with his sword and pistols to challenge danger or any affront to his Scottish sensibilities.
In 1830, an elderly Donald MacKay calls his family and relatives together. He will tell his life story. His grandson Seumas Mackay is at this cèilidh. A heavy question rests on his mind. What happened to his half breed grandmother, Hannah MacKay?