“Hardrock” MacDonald was one of Glengarry’s many colourful characters
Glengarry County has had its share of colourful characters over the years, from the “Big Bishop” Alexander Macdonell, to “Big Finnan of The Buffalo” McDonald; from the “Cheese King of Canada,” D.M. Macpherson, to J.P. ”The Singing Mayor” Touchette, and countless others.
Nestled comfortably, and somewhat anonymously, among those figures is A.J. (Alan John) “Hardrock” MacDonald, a Glengarry native who went on to carve a niche for himself in the Canadian Arctic as a noted miner and prospector.
A.J. is believed to have been born “near Alexandria, a son of John Allan McDonald ( sic), Fassifern,” according to an obituary reprinted from the
Canadian Press that appeared on the front page of The News on March 26, 1959 with an editor’s note.
Apparently bitten by the mining bug at an early age, A.J. struck out for the Yukon Territory around 1920, while in his early 30s, and proceeded to spend the majority of the next four decades in the Mayo area – about 400 km north of Whitehorse. It was there that he gained the reputation, in the words of the
Whitehorse Star, as “one of the most famous of Yukon oldtimers.” And if a story contained in A.J.’s obituary in the March 12 edition of the Star – he’d died the previous day in Dawson City from a cerebral hemorrhage, five months shy of his 70th birthday – is to be believed, it’s easy to see how he attained such notoriety.
“In the mid 1930s, ‘Hardrock’ made his legendary walk from Mayo to Aklavik in 17 days, carrying only a rifle and a sack of salt,” recalled the
Star piece. The CP obit adds that the two-and-a-half-week trek “across mountains, muskeg, glaciers and barren lands” was made to deliver a bottle of rum to a friend in Aklavik, Northwest Territories – a hamlet located just above the Arctic Circle.
The Dictionary of Glengarry Biography points out that “Hardrock” was “also remembered for having one summer walked the several hundred miles from Keno (near Mayo) to Norman Wells (Northwest Territories), when the oil discoveries at the latter place awakened his interest.”
The late Jane Gaffin, a Whitehorse-based freelance writer specializing in mining-related subjects, was also impressed with A.J.’s story.
“...Known for his stamina and hardihood, he had a formidable reputation for covering vast distances on foot and with dog teams in short periods of time,” wrote Ms. Gaffin.
“As an expert bushman, he could make himself comfortable under any spruce tree and overcome most frontier hardships, regardless of how cold, with his occasional nip of rum.”