Thompsons Highway: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Volume 6

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The country all this distance is entirely changed to low grassy lands tending to marsh, Woods of Maple Plane, Ash, Larch, Birch, Red and white Cedar; Water Fowl of all kinds in plenty; and the wild rice in abundance, on which the water fowl feed, and become fat, and very fine eating, but are also very wild, and are killed on the wing.

#9 David Thompson – The Ormsby Review

Although a first rate shot, four to six ducks a day, was an average. There was much ice in the Red Cedar Lake, which gave us hard labor to get along, having proceeded five miles we came to the house of Mr John Sayer a partner of the North West Company; the people of this place had passed the whole winter on wild rice, it is a very weak food, and though fowl fatten on it, yet it barely keeps mankind alive; but those who live upon it, however poor in flesh, are healthy, as we came loaded with the ducks I had shot we were very welcome.

A great staple of these countries is the Sugar made from the Maple Trees by incisions made with an axe in the form of a sloping notch, at the lower end of which a chip is inserted to make the sap run off, clear of the tree into vessels of wood, or birch rind, placed on the ground to receive it.

The sugar of the hard maple tree is of a fine brown color, that of the Plane Tree, called soft Maple, is of a light color, like the East India sugar, but is not so sweet as the sugar of the hard Maple.

(4K) Railfanning along the Fraser and Thompson River Canyons in British Columbia

The Indians quietly parcel out the maple groves to each family, and which is kept in the family, but what is not thus occupied, and this is of great extent, is open to any person. BookWorld :. He arrived in the New World, at Fort Churchill on Hudson Bay, on September 1, , and was at first disappointed by his limited responsibilities. And my only business was to amuse myself, in winter growling at the cold and in the open season, shooting Gulls, Ducks, Plover and Curlews, and quarrelling with Musketoes [mosquitoes] and Sand Flies.

Transferred to forts on the Saskatchewan River, Thompson was introduced to the birchbark canoe in and passed the winter of with Peigan Indians, learning their language and customs. This is not fair. Their noted stoic apathy is more assumed than real. In public, the Indian wishes it to appear that nothing affects him. But in private, he feels and expresses himself sensitive to everything that happens to him or his family. On becoming acquainted with the Indians I found almost every character in civilized society can be traced to them—from the gravity of a judge to a merry jester, from open-hearted generosity to the avaricious miser.

When Thompson broke his leg in an accident two days before Christmas in , the injury turned out to be fortuitous. Using a sextant, a compass, thermometers, watches and a Nautical Almanac, Thompson was able to survey most of northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan for his employers between and Although he was rewarded with pay increases and promoted, Thompson felt his employers did not fully grasp his potential.

In the aftermath of the Treaty of Paris in , the NWC needed someone to tell them whether their existing forts lay within the boundaries of Canada or the United States. Having been promised map paper and a new set of drawing instruments, Thompson, at age twenty-eight, proceeded to travel more than four thousand miles in his first year with the NWC, mapping the locations of their various posts.

Marie and back to Grand Portage. While on the prairies, David Thompson met his mixed-blood wife of 57 years, fourteen-year-old Charlotte Small, daughter of the Irish-born trader Patrick Small. According to historian Jennifer Brown, the union between Charlotte Small and David Thompson was the longest documented pre-confederation fur trade marriage in Canada. Ten of their children would survive into adulthood. While stationed at Rocky Mountain House in the winter of , Thompson made his first contacts with Kootenai Aboriginals who had ventured east of the Rockies to trade, despite their fears of the hostile Peigans.

Aware the Peigans were notorious horse thieves who wished to retain their superiority as middle-men between the Kootenaes and the white traders, Thompson befriended the mild-mannered Kootenais and gained their trust in spite of animosities from the Peigans.


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Taking along his wife, their three children and ten packhorses that bore pounds of pemmican, Thompson reached the Columbia River near Golden, B. At Howse Pass, Thompson reportedly allowed one of his horses to destroy two kegs of alcohol for trading.


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  • This account might be less than credible. I wrote my partners what I had done; and that I should do the same to every keg of alcohol. And for the next six years that I had charge of the fur trade on the West side of the Mountains, no further attempts were made to introduce spirituous liquors. The dog had been speared by a porcupine and the unfortunate Beaulieu, having eaten heartily, had ingested a porcupine quill.

    Thompson's Highway: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Volume 3

    When Beaulieu took ill, Thompson found the end of the black quill had punctured Beaulieu between his ribs. By June 22, Thompson saw the mighty Columbia River and prayed to God that he would one day see where it reached the ocean. That summer Thompson and Beaulieu established Kootenai House at Lake Windermere and the following winter they endured a three-week siege by a man Piegan war party. Before he left the Kootenay region, Thompson named Windermere Lake as Kootenae Lake, and he named the north-flowing river as Kootenai River, not realizing it was the Columbia. He also named a mountain range after Admiral Horatio Nelson who had died two years earlier at the Battle of Trafalgar.

    In the spring of , while exploring the Kootenay and Moyie Rivers, Thompson became aware the Columbia River he sought was only approximately fifty miles to the west, but the poor condition of his men and horses prevented him reaching it. Only the reliable advice of his guide Ugly Head enabled Thompson to reunite with Charlotte and his children, thereafter returning to Rocky Mountain House in late June.

    McGillivray gave his tentative assent to the deal during a visit to New York in early but stalled the American by saying any such contract would have to be confirmed by his wintering partners during their annual Fort William gathering.

    Thompson’s Highway: British Columbia’s Fur Trade, 1800–1850

    While Thompson was hunting for fresh provisions, his main Columbia-bound contingent was forewarned by a Peigan chief named Black Bear to proceed through Howse Pass at their peril. According to Black Bear, the Peigans were setting up a blockade to prevent the voyageurs from having further contact with the so-called Flat Heads Kootenai. The voyageurs watched and waited, then opted to return to Rocky Mountain House. Rather than resort to violence or attempt to bribe the Peigans, he would attempt a detour on an untried route to the north, near the headwaters of the Athabasca River.

    Attempting to cross the Rocky Mountains in December and January, using an unknown route, soon took its toll on morale. Reaching the crest of the pass, Thompson sent one of his voyageurs and the guide Thomas back with messages for William Henry, his NWC partner. Dogs and men floundered and faltered. After his party descended a 2,foot-glacier, three disheartened voyageurs essentially deserted, taking with them a companion who was snow-blind.

    It took him much of the month of March to succeed. After some harrowing paddling and a series of portages, Thompson was able to descend the turbulent Kootenay River, buy horses at Kettle Falls, acquire four Aboriginal paddlers and a new canoe, and begin his descent of the Columbia. Stopping to befriend the Shahaptin Indians in eastern Washington, Thompson was embarrassed to watch a dance in which the women were naked. However, unlike most traders, he was not repelled by their different ways of living.

    But they were all as cleanly as people can be without the use of soap—an article not half so much valued in civilized life as it ought to be. What would become of the beau and belle without it? Take soap from the boasted cleanliness of the civilized man, and he will not be as cleanly as the savage, who never knows its use. Prior to reaching the mouth of the Columbia River, Thompson raised a Union Jack on July 9, , and affixed a piece of paper on which he claimed the territory for Britain. But he was too late.


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    • It would be augmented by the arrival on February 15, , of an overland expedition of Astorians led by Wilson Price Hunt, having travelled for nineteen-and-a-half months from Montreal. Thompson had kept a regular journal and had traveled, it seemed to me, more like a geographer than a fur trader. With his sextant always at hand, David Thompson, along with eight Iroquois and voyageurs, and an interpreter, descended most of the Columbia River and proved it was a navigable route through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.

      Thompson and his men were duly feted by the Astorians who understood he had opened the way for a thriving new fur trade on the Pacific Slope. Such retrospective charges absurdly fail to appreciate that David Thompson, among all the fur traders, was the only person who was taking in everything as he went—humanity, geography, natural science and astronomy. Unlike Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser, whose motivations were strictly commercial, Thompson was not ruthless. Often laden with furs, Thompson was thoroughly curious and concerned with maintaining civil relations with all he met.

      He recorded birds and weather and topography and foreign words and events in the heavens, evidently in search of knowledge as much as fame. I have often taken them from under the net, and provoked them all I could without injuring them, but all was submissive meekness, rough beings as we were, sometimes of an evening we could not help enquiring why such an angelic bird should be doomed to be the suffering prey of every carnivorous animal, the ways of Providence are unknown to us.

      Graff, Harvey J.

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