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His Maps … Were Accurate!

15 Jul
1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central ...

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central Canada by David Thompson. The Kootenay River is shown near the bottom left as McGillivray’s River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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!

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12 responses to “His Maps … Were Accurate!

  1. seeker

    July 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    What a remarkable man. Thank you Tk.

     
    • tkmorin

      July 15, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      He! You’re welcome, my friend! 🙂

       
  2. L. Marie

    July 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

    What a guy!!! Such a voracious appetite for exploration!

     
    • tkmorin

      July 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

      … and his maps are so detailed, they are almost art! 🙂

       
      • weggieboy

        July 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm

        “Art” is an apt description of maps! Sure, there is science at their root, but translating a 3D surface into an intelligible, usable 2D representation is, well, the art of mapmaking. He truly was one of the great artists of the map makers in history.

        About the same time (1803-1804), the Lewis and Clark Expedition in America travelled some of the same stretches and produced their classic map of their trek to the Pacific from St. Louis, Missouri, in a scientific survey of the new American lands purchased from Napoleon, the Louisiana Territory.

         
        • weggieboy

          July 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

          p.s. While they were at it, they visited some areas claimed by Great Britain, and you’ve covered the settlement of the boundary between Canada and the US in another post. What can I say? The US tried to take a big chunk of Canada (“54-40 or Fight”), but we’ve had less success stealing land from England and Canada than from Mexico. LOL!

           
          • tkmorin

            July 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm

            Be sure to catch my post onn the 17th! Have a great day! 🙂

             
        • tkmorin

          July 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm

          Well, I already admired mapmakers, but now more so! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

           
  3. Debra She Who Seeks

    July 15, 2013 at 9:32 am

    And of course Thompson, Manitoba is named for him!

     
    • tkmorin

      July 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

      Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that! 🙂

       
  4. Maurice A. Barry

    July 15, 2013 at 8:36 am

    You know what, I just realized that any time someone says, “Canadian History is Boring,” I think of your blog which constantly proves it is NOT!

     
    • tkmorin

      July 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

      Thank you Maurice! That’s very kind of you to say! 🙂

       

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