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The Great David Thompson

A Welsh boy finds his purpose!


Watching the DVDs by the CBC on "Canada - A People's History" is
very educational to say the least, got a number to yet see.

I've learned on the number 5 DVD about the Welsh lad David
Thompson. A most interesting life, and one that I want to share
with you and if you have children or grandchildren, I hope you
will share with them. He was truly a most remarkable man in his
life as he found his life's work to give to the world.

So here we go again from "Canada - a People's History"

Grey Coat Charity School in the heart of London, England. David
Thompson's widowed mother sends him there when he is 7 years old.
The Welsh boy is skilled in mathematics, but his passion is
adventure stories. He dreams of a world beyond school walls. He
has spent half his life at the Charity School, when he is
selected by the Hudson Bay Company to work as a clerk in the far
away fur trade.

"In the month of May 1784 at the port of London, I embarked on
the ship 'Prince Rupert' belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, as
apprentice clerk of the said Company, bound for Churchill Factory
on the West side of the Bay."

David thompson is 14 years old when he arrives on the bleak
shores of Hudson Bay. Two weeks later he watches the 'Prince
Rupert' leave without him.

"While the ship remained at anchor for my playmates and friends
it seemed only a few weeks distant, but when the ship sailed and
from the top of the rocks I lost sight of her, the distance
became immeasurable, and I bid a long and sad farewell to my
noble, my sacred country, an exile forever."

David Thompson will never return to England.

His destiny will be in the Canadian Northwest. In the footsteps
of the trail blazers who crossed the barons and dreamed of
reaching a great sea to the West.

It was an age of adventure, great daring and enterprise, of
pioneers and pathfinders. The story of the fur trade and the
opening of a continent.

England and France wrestled for dominance in the fut trade.
Fortunes were made on beaver pelts. But the land to the West
remained a mystery.

1784 - the English are strategically positioned on the Hudson
Bay, when the 14 year old David Thompson begins his 7 year

"A small room was allotted to me, without the least article of
furniture, but a hard bed for the night. My fellow clerks were in
the same situation. They were not comfortable but resigned, and I
had to become so."

The Welsh boy is hardly prepared for his first winter on Hudson

"The cold is so intense that everything in a manner is shriven by
it. All our movements more or less, were for self preservation.
All the wood that could be collected for fuel, gave us only one
fire in the morning, and another in the evening. The rest of the
day, if bad weather, we had to walk in the guard room, with our
heavy coats of pressed beaver."

But with the arrival of Spring, the trading post came alive as
the canoes arrived with the winter furs. Clerks like David
Thompson kept meticulous accounts.
David Thompson becomes fascinated by the Indians who come to
trade. In his early years at Churchill he travels along the
coastline. He learns the "Cree" language, and the native ways of

"Every day we pass from 12 to 15 Polar bears lying on the marsh,
a short distance from the shore. The Indian rule is to walk past
them with a steady step, as if not noticing them."

His young mind is awakened by the land and its people.

"By what means do these wild geese make such a long journey, with
such precision of place? The wise and learned civilized man
answers, 'By instinct.' But what is instinct? The Indians believe
the geese are directed by the "manitou" who has care of them.
Which of the two is right?"

David Thompson's wonderment will be fuelled by a story he learns
at Churchill, of an expedition to a world beyond.

The fur trade is being won by the French.

The Hudson Bay Company resolves to meet the competition head on.
Ambitious clerks will get the opportunity to leave the coast line
and head into the mysterious continent.


David Thompson is one of the 46 Bay men sent West to build Hudson
Bay Company posts inland, and establish trade in the foothills of
the Rockies.
The teenager is awe struck as he travels through the open prairie
and beyond.

"At length the Rockie Mountains came in sight like shining white
clouds on the horizon. As we came closer, they rose in height,
and the immense masses of snow appeared above the clouds, and
formed an impassable barrier, even to the eagle."

In the shadow of the Rockies the fur traders encounter a
settlement of "Pagan" Indians, a thriving community of Buffalo
hunters. Young David Thompson spends the winter with Sagamapi, a
"Pagan" Elder. They converse in "Cree."

"Almost every evening for the time of 4 months I sat and listened
to the old man, without being in the least tired. The habits,
customs, manners, politics, and religion, such as it was,
anecdotes of the Indian Chief, means of gaining influence in war
and peace, that I always found something to interest me."

The "Pagan" tribe encounter another Indian camp - all are dead -
it was small-pox!!

Small-pox brought by the Europeans killed HALF of the native
people across the West.


The fur trade grows. In 1800 the "Northwest Company" of the
French is at its peak of success. The voyageurs paddle and paddle
from Montreal to the fur trade of the West. It is hard hard work.
The voyageurs paddle for the investors who are willing to travel
to the fur trade areas.


One investor writes concerning the Indians:

"During several days that we remained with those people, we were
met with more real politeness, than is often shown to strangers
in the civilized part of the world, and much more than I expected
to meet with from savages, as the Indians are generally called -
but I think wrongfully."

The investors are now wintering clerks - a long way from
Montreal. Life and times is existing, for the most part, isolated
and lonely. Most winterers find companionship with native women.
"Country Marriages" as they are called, cement trading alliances.

From such marriages come a new people of Canada - the "Matee." 


Back to 1788 - two days before David Thompson's 5th winter in

"On coming down a rough steep bank I fell and broke the large
bone in my right leg and had to be hauled home. Which by the
mercy of God, turned out to be the best thing that ever happened
to me."

As his shattered leg slowly healed, Philip Turner, the Hudson
Bay's chief "surveyor" begins teaching him the art and science of

"Mr.Turner was well versed in mathematics. Under him I regained
my mathematical education. And during the winter became his only
assistant, and thus learned practical astronomy under an
excellent master of the science."

Surveying is the key to map-making, and map-making is the key
that will unlock the continent for the Europeans. David Thompson
THRIVES on its rigorous disciplines.

"The mean of the following observations places Cumberling House
in the latitude 53 degrees, 56.44 North, longitude 102.13 West of
Grenich. And the variations of the transit of the sun and well
regulated watch, is 11 degrees 30 East."

Astronomy so consumes him that he sometimes ignores his well

"By too much attention to calculations of the night, with no
other light than a small candle, my right eye became so much
inflamed, that I lost its sight."

He regains his sight. And when his apprenticeship ends, instead
of the customary reward of a new suit of clothes, he asks the
Company Governors for his own set of surveying instruments. He
gets BOTH!

David Thompson's life has found its purpose. Over the next two
decades he will chart the vast Northwest. By studying the
movements of the planets, he will become known as the "Man who
looks at stars."

"Both Canadian and Indian, often inquire of me, why I observe the
sun, and sometimes the moon, in the day time, and pass whole
nights with my instruments looking at the moon and stars. I told
them it was to determine the distance and direction from the
place I observe to other places. Neither the Canadians or Indians
believe me! For they argue that if what I said was truth, that I
ought to look to the ground, and over it, not to the stars."



Oh my, what an inspiring and truly wonderful true life story. And
it is about a boy and his destiny in life, that hardly is ever
told in our educational schools today. What a pity. Such great
true stories should be an assignment each year for our children,
to find and research and read out loud to the class. Can you see
the awe and uplifting inspiration it would give to school
children of all ages. And what do we often see in the North
American education system? I'll give you one example. I had a
young girl, age 14 years, coming to me for guitar lessons. She
came one day with a down-cast look. 
     "What's happening in life Natasha (her real name)?" I asked.
     "Oh, I've got to get through this math course or I'll fail
my grade. My parents have to bring this math tutor in for me
twice a week, to get me through it."
     She then went on to start to tell me one of the math
     "Oh, Natasha, you may as well stop, I do not have a clue
what you are talking about. This is rocket-science math, and you
are only 14 years old. Do they not know that all of you cannot
work for Nasa?"
     She laughed and agreed.

I tell you folks, there is CRAZY education going on in the
schools of North America.

If you have children going to North American schools, you better
do some "good" extra-education at home, like making sure they
have a good diet of inspirational teachings like the one you have
just read about, a Welsh boy named David Thompson. And you have
all kinds of true life movies for them to see. I've listed for
you all of my collection so far, on this Meltdown series. Make
sure your children and you, get to see them. Give your children

Keith Hunt

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