On July 15, 1811, David Thompson reached the mouth of the Columbia River only to find that John Jacob Astor‘s fur company had established a post there late in March. This was a great disappointment to Thompson, who had hoped to claim the territory for Britain. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to present a few highlights in the life of the man who was probably the greatest geographer in the world.
David Thompson was of Welsh extraction and came from a poor family. He was only fourteen years of age when he was apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company and sent to Fort Churchill, Hudson Bay, in 1784. He spent thirteen years there and at other company posts in Saskatchewan, and also a winter with Natives at the present site of Calgary. Surveying, which he studied with Philip Turner, became his favourite hobby.
In 1797 he transferred to the Northwest Company and made a 4,000 mile journey of exploration that included the headwaters of the Mississippi. Later he was made a partner in the company. Years were spent tracing the crazy course of the Columbia River, which curves back and forth between Canada and the United States, almost entwining itself with the Kootenay. Thompson was the first man to travel the full length of the Columbia and back again. He began his final assault on the Columbia in 1810. He manufactured snowshoes and sleds and started from the Athabaska River on December 29 in weather 32 ° F ( 0 º C) below zero! He travelled through the Rockies under these conditions to the junction of the Canoe and Columbia Rivers.
After Thompson finished his work in the West, he went to live at Terrebonne, near Montreal, where he prepared a map of Western Canada which is now in the Ontario Archives. His maps were not like those of the early explorers. They were accurate.
When Thompson arrived at Churchill in 1784, the map of Canada was blank from Lake Winnipeg to the west coast of Vancouver Island. When he departed from the West in 1812, he had mapped the main travel routes through 1,700,000 square miles of Canadian and American territory! It is tragic to remember that David Thompson died in 1857, in poverty and nearly blind.
To learn more of David Thompson and his work, I can direct you to a few sites to get you started. To begin, I suggest a new-to-me website, InterpScan.ca for an interesting video about today’s post – really interesting! And then there’s his Biography – I’m not sure who the author is, though. Another place to go is the David Thompson Columbia Brigade. And lastly, I suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia – you can never go wrong there!
- David Thompson (youawesomehuman.com)