Exterior cover of Field Book #1, 1817
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Exterior cover of Field Book # 1, 1817
David Thompson’s Treaty of Ghent Field Books
Reference Code: F 443-2
Archives of Ontario

The Archives of Ontario acquired the records of David Thompson in 1903 from the Ontario Department of Crown Lands, which had earlier acquired them from Thompson’s family after his death in 1857.

The David Thompson fonds consists of records that document his career as a fur trader, explorer, astronomer and mapmaker. The records include Thompson’s notebooks and journals, which document his journeys into what is now the interior of Canada and the northwest United States, the mapping and surveying of Canada, and relations between fur traders and aboriginal peoples.

Also included are field books of boundary surveys conducted by Thompson for the Treaty of Ghent Boundary Commission, miscellaneous outgoing correspondence largely relating to boundary issues with the United States in the 1830’s, hand-drawn copies of boundary surveys, and Thompson’s ‘Great Map of western Canada and the northwestern United States.

Field Book No. 1, 1817, p. 1

The fonds also contains records created after Thompson’s death including index entries made by the Department of Crown Lands after it acquired his journals and notebooks, as well as typed transcripts of the notebooks and journals created by Archives staff.

The Archives has completed an updated description of the David Thompson fonds (F 443) which includes entries from his many journals and notebooks documenting the daily experiences and observations of this celebrated Canadian explorer.


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Field Book No. 1, 1817, p. 1
David Thompson’s Treaty of Ghent Field Books
Reference Code: F 443-2
Archives of Ontario
Journal No. 31, 1817, p. 17
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Journal No. 31, 1817, p. 17
David Thompson’s notebooks and journals
Reference Code: F 443-1
Archives of Ontario

These records have been divided into six series:

F 443-1 - David Thompson’s notebooks and journals

David Thompson’s notebooks and journals (F 443-1) were created between 1789 and 1851 and there are 101 books in the collection. Thompson’s earliest writings between 1789 and 1812 document his travels to the interior of Canada and the United States while working for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company.

Entries combine astronomical observations with descriptions of the landscape, wildlife, climate, members of his travelling parties as well as the peoples and cultures encountered in the course of his explorations. These notebooks and journals provide unique documentation and insight into the daily life of a fur trader and explorer, as well as some of the earliest written descriptions of the landscape of western Canada.

Journals kept between 1812 and the late 1830’s describe various aspects of Thompson’s life and career following his retirement from the Northwest Company. Captured in these pages are Thompson’s two years in Terrebonne where, still a partner in Northwest, he drafted his ‘Great Map’ of western Canada and the northwestern United States.

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

F 443-2 - David Thompson’s Treaty of Ghent boundary survey fieldbooks

David Thompson’s Treaty of Ghent boundary survey fieldbooks (F 443-2) contain astronomical calculations recorded by Thompson in his capacity as surveyor for Britain under Article VI and VII of the Treaty of Ghent. The Archives of Ontario also holds the boundary maps prepared as a result of these surveys.

F 443-3 - David Thompson’s correspondence

David Thompson’s correspondence (F 443-3) consists of correspondence created by Thompson in the later years of his life. The majority of letters concern Thompson’s ideas about the provincial boundary line with the United States and are addressed to John Macauley, an Ontario land surveyor, and Samuel P. Hurd, who was Surveyor General of Ontario at that time.

F 443-4 - Transcripts of David Thompson’s journals and notebooks

Transcripts of David Thompson’s journals and notebooks (F 443-4) are also available. Undertaken between 1913-1916, staff of the Archives of Ontario typed transcripts of Thompson’s notebooks and journals. Not all of the journals have been transcribed and only journal No. 1 has been transcribed in its entirety.

F 443-5 - David Thompson’s boundary survey maps prepared under Articles VI and VII of the Treaty of Ghent

F 443-6 - Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada

One of the greatest gems in the Archives of Ontario’s collection is the Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada (F 443-6). This map, also known as the ‘Great Map’, is based on survey data compiled during Thompson’s twenty years of travel and exploration in the fur trade.

A full-scale reproduction of this remarkable map is on permanent display in the Archives of Ontario’s Reading Room. The original is safe and protected in vault storage and can be viewed on request.

Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada by David Thompson, 1814
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Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada
by David Thompson, 1814 (Reproduction)
David Thompson fonds
Reference Code: F 443-6, AO 1541
Archives of Ontario, I0012850

Access to the original records in the David Thompson collection is restricted for conservation purposes. The textual records in the David Thompson collection are available on microfilm either in the Archives of Ontario’s Reading Room or through the Archives Microfilm Interloan Service.

For more information follow these links:

  • David Thompson fonds - Background Information
  • David Thompson fonds - Microfilm Listings
  • David Thompson's notebooks and journals (Series F 443-1)
  • David Thompson's Treaty of Ghent boundary survey fieldbooks (Series F 443-2)
  • David Thompson's correspondence (Series F 443-3)