As an apprentice to the HBC, Thompson rapidly acquired the knowledge needed to be a successful trader. While recovering from a broken leg in 1790, he studied surveying and mapmaking with Philip Turnor, the HBC's official surveyor. His new skills were recognized in 1792 when he was assigned to seek a more direct route from Hudson Bay to Lk Athabasca. Frustrated by faltering support for his surveys, he left to join the NORTH WEST CO in 1797 to locate and map their posts and the waterways connecting them. Within 2 years he had completed most of this assignment, including the first accurate delineation of those parts of the West most affected by the expansion of American authority under the terms of JAY'S TREATY - the upper Red River valley, the Mandan villages on the Missouri R, the sources of the Mississippi R, and the Fond du Lac and Rainy R regions W of Lk Superior. In 1799 Thompson was given additional duty as a trader and for the next 7 years he pursued his surveys whenever his other responsibilities permitted, as he rose from clerk to partner. During these years he completed mapping the fur-trading territories E of the Rocky Mts.
In 1806 Thompson set out to open a trade with the Indians W of the Rockies. Over the next 5 years he explored the passes W from the Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers, building posts and mapping the hitherto uncharted COLUMBIA R basin from its source to the Pacific, which he reached on 15 July 1811, a few weeks after the American PACIFIC FUR CO arrived there. His failure to reach the mouth of the river before the Americans could establish a claim to it has resulted in some debate among historians about his instructions. Most now agree that Thompson was not aware that an agreement between the NWC and Jacob Astor to support jointly the proposed voyage to the mouth of the Columbia had fallen through, and that he had not been ordered to reach the mouth first in order to forestall them.
In 1812 Thompson retired to Canada with his wife and family. After settling at Williamstown, UC, Thompson pursued his career as a surveyor and mapmaker, his most notable achievement being the completion of maps of his western explorations and the charting of the official boundary between the US and Canada from the St Lawrence R to Lake of the Woods. Business failures left him penniless, and in later life he turned to writing the narrative of his explorations in western Canada, regarded by many as his greatest legacy.
See also EXPLORATION.
Author JOHN S. NICKS
Links to Other Sites
A Story of Beat Meat (Pemmican)
Peruse this article about pemmican, the dried and powdered meat of the buffalo, which became the staple food of the fur trade from Rainy Lake to the Rockies. From the website for the Manitoba Historical Society.
A biography of David Thompson, fur trader, explorer, surveyor, justice of the peace, businessman, and author. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Face to Face: The Canadian Personalities Hall
"Face to Face" features outstanding Canadians whose ideas and contributions have transformed this country. Click on the photos in "Meet the Personalities" to see their biographies. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
The Beaver Hills Country: A History of Land and Life
Read an illustrated online book by Graham A. MacDonald that documents the ecology and the human history of the region of Alberta between the North Saskatchewan and the Battle Rivers. Offers details about local indigenous peoples, Métis, and European immigrants.
A brief biography of explorer David Thompson from the Welsh Biography Online.
A brief history of fur trade activity in the Edmonton region of Alberta. From the River Valley Alliance.
Recovering Early Canada
Scroll down the page for a review of "The Writings of David Thompson, Volume 1: The Travels, 1850 Version." Also includes a review of "Collected Short Stories of Isabella Valancy Crawford." From canlit.ca.