Keith Hunt - The Incredible David Thompson - Page Twohundred-twelve   Restitution of All Things

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The last years of David Thompson

The great surveyor of Northwest Canada

                     THE INCREDIBLE DAVID THOMPSON #3

Continued from previous page:

When the pass is clear in the spring time, David Thompson sets
off down the Columbia river, methodically establishing trading
alliances along the way.

"My reason for putting ashore for the natives, is to make friends
with them against my return; for in descending the current of a
large river we might pass on without much attention to them, but
on the returning against the current our progress will be slow,
and close along the shore, and consequently very much in their

And he claims the territory he passes for his country and

"Here I erected a small pole, and half a sheet of paper well tied
on it, with these words: Know hereby that this country is claimed
by Great Britain as part of its territories and that the
NorthWest company of merchants from Canada do hereby intend to
erect a factory on this place, for commerce of the country

But when Thompson arrives at the mouth of the Columbia, the
American flag is already flying over fort "Astoria." The land
will be bought, sold, and contested, but will eventually become

Still it is a personal triumph, David Thompson has found a viable
trade route, and crossed the continent. He has reached the
Pacific ocean.

"Thus I have fully completed the survey of this part of North
America. From sea to sea and by almost innumerable astronomical
observations, have determined the position of the mountains,
lakes and rivers, and other remarkable places, on the Northern
part of this continent."

David Thompson will now take his survey notes and observations,
and start his work on his master project, a map of the great


David Thompson spent almost 3 decades in the Canadian Northwest,
often accompanied by his family. He married Sharlet Small,
daughter of a Creek woman, and a NorthWestern Company trader.
Together they have 13 children. In 1812 the Thompson family head
East, for a retirement full of hope and promise.

David Thompson has not walked on a city street since he left
London as a 14 year old boy. He buys a house in Eastern Ontario
and sets to work on his master project - a map and atlas of the
Canadian Northwest. It takes him 2 years to finish his map; 50
thousand miles of travel on paper.

"Nothing less than an unremitting perseverance, bordering on
enthusiasm, could have enabled me to have brought these maps to
their present state. In early life I conceived the idea of this
work, and providence has enabled me to complete, amidst various
dangers, all that one man could hope to perform."

But publishers reject his atlas. The fur traders don't want to
share the information on his maps, and Thompson's years of
perseverance go uncelebrated. He begins feeling disillusioned,
bitter, and even betrayed, as politicians carve up the land he
charted. He always felt the Columbia river should have been
British because he had surveyed it first. But boundary decisions
continually favor the Americans.

"It may be said, that the country thus acquired by the United
States is of no importance to england. Be it so, then let England
make a free gift to the States, of what the latter require.
History will place all these transactions in their proper light."

He takes jobs as a land surveyor, even plotting Alexander
MacKenzie's estate in Montreal. He is slowly growing poor. 

David Thompson spends his declining years trying to sell his
journals. Stories of his expeditions, of crossing mountain
passes, of racing down the Columbia, of charting a continent. But
people aren't interested in a retired fur traders adventures in
his lifetime.

Now in his 70s he is poverty stricken; he sells his winter coat
for food and finally his most precious possessions - his
surveying tools. But the man who looks at stars could still spin
tales. His daughter Sharlet remembers him sitting in his rocking
chair, hours reminiscing.

"He seemed to live his life over, talking to himself. Anecdotes
of his travels with his companions. we could hear him laugh
heartily over them, with tears streaming down his cheeks."

David Thompson dies in 1857, ten years before confederation.

Section by section the land he charted will be ploughed into
farms and blossom into thriving cities; Calgary, Edmonton,

The days of trail-blazers and pathfinders have passed. It is a
new era with new challenges and new dreams.

A modern Western Canada.


What a story of the life of a remarkable man. It blows me away
that a man could live and endure all that out-in-the-wild work
for nearly three decades. It is a shame he was not honored in his
life time as he was so deserving of. 

It has been my pleasure to so honor him on this Website. As long
as this Website is on the Internet, as long as people are reading
this series of "meltdown" - David Thompson will be remembered by
many around the world, as one dedicated, talented man, that stood
above others as he looked at the stars and charted the great
expanse of the beautiful Northwest of Canada.

Well done David Thompson. It will be wonderful to meet you on
your resurrection day and hear some of those stories of your

Keith Hunt 

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