Who was David Thompson?

David Thompson (April 30, 1770 – February 10, 1857) was a British-Canadian fur trader, surveyor, and map-maker, known to some native peoples as “Koo-Koo-Sint” or “the Stargazer.” Over his career he mapped over 3.9 million square kilometers of North America from the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes all the way to the Pacific and has been described as the “greatest land geographer who ever lived.”

Through his career, David Thompson worked with different companies. He was first apprenticed for seven years to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1784, which enabled him to leave his home in London, England. During his apprenticeship in Manitoba David Thompson refined and expanded his mathematical, astronomical and surveying skills under the tutelage of Hudson’s Bay Company surveyor Philip Turnor.

After his apprenticeship, David Thompson became a fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company and requested a set of surveying tools. After completing his first significant survey, a route to Lake Athabasca, he was promoted to a surveyor in 1794.

In 1797 David Thompson switched to working for the North West Company where he took part in surveying the US-Canada boundary among other projects. Between 1799 and 1806, Thompson mapped the entire trading territory east of the Rockies.

In 1806 David Thompson prepared an expedition to survey the Columbia River, mapping and establishing trading posts along the way. This made him the first European to navigate the full length of the river.

After his retirement from the North West Company in 1812, David Thompson settled near Montreal to complete his charts and maps, including a large detailed map of the Northwest, from Hudson’s Bay to the Pacific. He continued his survey work until 1846 when his bad vision forced him to stop.

Throughout his travels David Thompson worked closely with and was respected by the Aboriginal people. He spoke four languages: Peigan, Kootenay, Chipewyan and Manda and he used this knowledge to compile dictionaries

David Thompson died in Montreal on February 10, 1857.


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