“The history of the Northwest has its roots. And deep in those roots the name of McKay has been embedded”
These word were spoken at the funeral of Prince Albert’s first mayor.
Thomas McKay was born to William and Mary (Cook) McKay on the 4th of June 1849, in the Hudson Bay Company outpost of Fort Pelly (Saskatchewan).
This newborn was destined to be a leader, and he became one: Volunteer Chief Scout for the Northwest Mounted Police, Prince Albert’s elected member of the Canadian Northwest Territories Assembly, successful Prince Albert business entrepreneur, Prince Albert and area farm organization leader, and the first mayor of our city. Truly, he became embedded in our community. Over 1200 gathered at his funeral.
Thomas was enrolled at St John’s School in Winnipeg for his early education. Following this, at the age of 15, he entered the employ of the Hudson Bay Company.
On February 6,1873, Thomas married Catherine McBeth. That same year, drawn by stories of great promise unfolding in a budding, bustling community along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, the young couple moved to Prince Albert. Here, McKay quickly engaged in the milling and freighting industries, as well as purchasing a nearby farm.
It was not long before the energetic McKay became a successful entrepreneur, garnering a very positive reputation among the locals. This led to McKay being chosen to represent Prince Albert in the Northwest Territories Assembly, assuming the role as president of the local Agricultural Society, and eventually his nomination to become Prince Albert’s first mayor.
Indeed he had become a most respected individual.
It was this deep respect that favoured McKay when his English speaking Metis heritage found him closely involved in the growing resistance of local Metis people to the manner in which their concerns were being handled by the government of John A. Macdonald in Ottawa.
Growing angst, especially within the ranks of French speaking Metis, led to the arrival, at the nearby settlement of Batoche, of Louis Riel – the successful guardian of Metis rights in the Red River dispute of 1870.
As events progressed towards open conflict between the followers of Riel and government led forces, McKay made his way to Batoche to use his Metis heritage to call for calm. Here he was threatened with arrest as a traitor to his people. After some hours McKay was allowed to leave Batoche and returned to Prince Albert with warnings of imminent armed conflict.
McKay’s warnings bore out. McKay, himself, remained loyal to the government side, becoming a volunteer scout for the Mounties and served in a volunteer force present when Northwest Mounted Police engaged the French Metis at the opening of hostilities near Duck Lake in March of 1885.
McKay’s actions, at that time, in part, led to his eventual election as Prince Albert’s first mayor.
As said, Thomas McKay was a deeply respected individual.
At his passing in September of 1924, at the age of 76, it was said:
“No man has played a greater part in the history of the Prince Albert District than Mr. Thomas McKay. He has made for himself a unique position in the hearts of the people.”
“Democracy only works if fellow citizens are willing to put their names on a ballot. We may love to criticize our politicians, but we can only have that privilege if there are those willing to serve.”