The Elusive Mr. Pond

The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer Who Opened the Northwest


Sir Alexander Mackenzie is known to schoolchildren as a great Canadian explorer who gave his name to the country’s longest river, but hardly anyone could name the man who mentored Mackenzie and mapped much of northwestern Canada before him. Soldier, fur trader and explorer Peter Pond, the subject of this long overdue book, is a man whose legend has been forgotten in favour of those who came after him.

Born in Connecticut in 1739, Pond volunteered for the colonial Connecticut and New York regiments that fought against the French for control of North America. Soon after, drawn by the promise of wealth and adventure, Pond paddled into the wild territory of the Indians to the west with only a canoe, some trade goods and a few French Canadians to aid him. What he returned with is the stuff of legend. From the voyage that defined his career, Pond brought back over eighty thousand furs and directions to a portage and river system that would carry traders farther west than they had ever been. In 1779, Pond was a founding partner of the North West Company that entered into fierce competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company for control of the North American fur trade. He was a gruff man not to be crossed and left his position with the company in 1788 after being implicated in two murders.

Much of Pond’s life is shadowed in mystery. The second half of his memoirs are torn from the original journal and he died in obscurity without an obituary or marked tomb. Historian Barry Gough uses Pond’s surviving memoirs, explorers’ journals, letters written by acquaintances of Pond, publications in London magazines and many other sources to track and reconstruct the life of one of the last of the tough, old-style explorers who ventured into the wilderness with little more than a strong instinct for survival and helped shape the modern world.


  • Short-listed, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize 2015


"Gough's work can be compared to starting to work with a few scattered threads. Add more threads, then more, then work them together, until a whole cloth has been created. He has. ..a wonderfully personal style of writing. He takes readers along on his journey of discovery, and makes us part of his quest. It is an engaging, effective style; in Gough's hands, history cannot be boring. "

- Dave Obee