There is no known portrait of David Thompson. This artist’s impression is based on historical descriptions and features of family descendants.

"A gentleman, whom for his rectitude of heart, honesty of disposition, integrity of character and abilities in his profession I shall ever hold in the highest estimation."

David Adams, USA Boundary Commission
quoted in F. Carroll
A Good and Wise Measure, p.99

 

Surveying for the Nor’Westers, he located the headwaters of the Mississippi River, crossed the Rocky Mountains and mapped the entire length of the Columbia River.

Oil: Artist conception of David Thompson, 2005

Artist conception of David Thompson, 2005
Alice Saltiel-Marshall
Oil, 20" x 16"
Parks Canada

Map: Thompson’s Travels

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Thompson’s Travels
Cartographic Computer Lab
#503802
National Geographic Image Collection

“Many of the observations in this book were taken and entered in so hasty a Manner… parts of my journal are, I am afraid, to be understood by none but myself.”

Entry dated 24 November 1797, Journal #5 David Thompson’s notebooks and journals Reference Code: F 443-1 Archives of Ontario


Journal No. 25, p. 88 (1810-1812)
David Thompson’s notebooks and journals
Reference Code: F 443-1
Archives of Ontario
Journal No. 25, p. 88 (1810-1812)
Journal No. 28, pp. 138-139 (1803-1831)
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Journal No. 28, pp. 138-139 (1803-1831)
David Thompson’s notebooks and journals Reference
Code: F 443-1
Archives of Ontario

Thompson retired from the fur trade in 1812 and moved his family to Terrebonne near Montreal. He was given a special assignment to plot all the Company’s posts on a comprehensive map of the Canadian West using the astronomical observations he had carefully recorded.

Thompson’s great map of the “North-West Territory . . . of Canada” is approximately 213 centimetres (84") high by 328 centimetres (129") long. It gave an accurate depiction of the vast territory traversed by the fur trade and location of Company posts.

Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada (1814)
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Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada (1814)
David Thompson fonds
Reference Code: F 443, R-C(U), AO 1541
Archives of Ontario, I0030317
Photograph: Fort William, 1873

An earlier version of this map hung in the North West Company headquarters at Fort William.


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Fort William, 1873
Reference Code: S2212
Archives of Ontario, I0027767
A True Copy of a Copy of the Map of the Survey under the 6th Article of the Treaty of Ghent, signed by the Commissioners & c. & c., David Thompson, Astronomer & Surveyor. G. Matthews’ Lith., Montreal, [ca. 1826]

The Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, required a formal survey of the Canada – United States border. Appointed official astronomer and surveyor to the British Commission in 1816, Thompson travelled and mapped some 1600 km (1,000 miles) between St. Regis near Cornwall to Lake of the Woods near Kenora.


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A True Copy of a Copy of the Map of the Survey under the 6th Article of the Treaty of Ghent, signed by the Commissioners & c. & c., David Thompson, Astronomer & Surveyor. G. Matthews’ Lith., Montreal, [ca. 1826]
Cartographic Records Collection
Reference Code: B-40-03
Archives of Ontario, AO 3697
Map: Field and Traverse Notes - Niagara River Survey, 1819
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Field and Traverse Notes - Niagara River Survey, 1819
David Thompson’s Treaty of Ghent Field Books
Reference Code: F 443-2
Archives of Ontario

A True Map of Part of the Survey under the 7th Article of the Treaty of Ghent by Order of the Commissioner, No. 3, Gunflint Lake to Crooked Lake
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A True Map of Part of the Survey under the 7th Article of the Treaty of Ghent by
Order of the Commissioner, No. 3, Gunflint Lake to Crooked Lake.
David Thompson, Surveyor. Matthews’ Lith, Montreal, 1826
Cartographic Records Collection
Reference Code: B-40-03
Archives of Ontario, AO 3699
Report of D. Thompson on the examination of the Ottawa River, the Muskrat Lake and River, &c, 1839.

Following his work for the Boundary Commission, Thompson completed various survey projects including the border between Upper and Lower Canada and a canal scheme between Lake Huron and the Ottawa River.

Using a sextant, transit, theodolite and other surveying equipment, Thompson established fixed reference points to calculate precise distances and locations for the border survey.


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Report of D. Thompson on the examination of the Ottawa River,
the Muskrat Lake and River, &c, 1839.
Crown land survey diaries, field notes and reports
David Thompson fonds
Reference Code: RG 1-59
Archives of Ontario








The drawing below by William Jefferys portrays David Thompson taking an observation of the sun to enable to him to determine his location.

Drawing: David Thompson taking an astronomical observation
David Thompson taking an astronomical observation
Drawing by Charles William Jefferys
Acc. No. 1972-26-1406
Library and Archives Canada
Photograph: Boundary marker near Pointe-Fortune on the line established by Thompson

The contemporary photograph to the right, taken near Pointe-Fortune, Quebec, shows the boundary marker between Upper and Lower Canada as established by Thompson.


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Boundary marker near Pointe-Fortune on the
line established by Thompson
Courtesy of Macdonell-Williamson House NHSC, 2006