This European explorer actually did pass through Lac du Bonnet.
Now that we’ve cleared up a thing or two about the truth behind La Verendrye’s connection to Lac du Bonnet, we turn our attention to someone whom history notes really did pass through the area now called Lac du Bonnet.
Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish explorer born in 1764. He is known for his overland crossing of what would become Canada to reach the Pacific Ocean in 1793. In the 1780s, while working in the fur trade for the North West Company, an ambitious young Mackenzie began to make plans to travel overland to the Pacific Ocean. During the course of his travels in preparation for his famous journey to the Pacific, he would pass through what is now Manitoba and describe in fascinating detail the region we now know as Lac du Bonnet.
In his famous journal, Mackenzie makes note of the region extending from Lake Winnipeg (which the Winnipeg River flows into), east to Lac du Bonnet and Pinawa.
The Lac du Bois [Mackenzie’s term for Lake of the Woods] is, as far as I could learn, nearly round, and the canoe course through the centre of it among a cluster of islands, some of which are so extensive that they may be taken for the mainland. …The carrying-place out of the Lake is named Portage du Rat [Kenora]. The lake discharges itself at both ends of this island, and forms the River Winipic [Winnipeg River].
He goes on to describe Lac du Bonnet and region:
From thence, on the North side, is a safe road, when the waters are high, through small rivers and lakes, to the Lake du Bonnet, called the Pinnawas [Pinawa], from the man who discovered it: to the White River [Whitemouth River], so called from its being, for a considerable length, a succession of falls and cataracts, is twelve miles. Here are seven portages [what is now Seven Sisters], in so short a space, that the whole of them are discernible at the same moment. From this to Lake du Bonnet is fifteen miles more, and four miles across it to the rapid. Here the Pinnawas Road joins, and from thence it is two miles to the Galet du Lac du Bonnet; from this to the Galet du Bonnet one mile and an half; thence to the Portage of the same name is three miles.
These early explorations would prepare Mackenzie for his eventual journey to the Pacific Ocean. His historic expedition made him the first European to cross North America north of Mexico. He died in 1820 having left one of Canada’s most famous exploration legacies in his wake.