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Updated: Sep 19, 2019

The reader will readily note from the Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Website by tapping Board members you'll see where I made mention of a distant forefather in David Thompson. I'll take this opportunity through a blog we now have on the website to explain this further.

Several decades back my brother Don; Dr. Don W. Whiteman, Ophthalmolist working in Trenton, Ontario to be more precise had an idea to research our ancestral background on our Dad's side of the family. Over the years I've collected much information on David Thompson myself but it was not until Don Jones, a board member of the Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Society that things started to come together for me. Don Jones lent me a book he used in school in the late 50's entitled The Map-Maker: The Story of David Thompson by Kerry Wood and published in 1955 in Toronto by Macmillan as a Historical Book for young people.

In the corner of my office rolled up and waiting to be opened is part of our family tree going back to the mid 1700's. If I start at the middle of the tree and work backwards it goes like this: Kenn Whiteman – Aubrey Whiteman – Ruth Thompson – Tom Thompson - Tomas Thompson 1864 - 1952 – William John Thompson Born 1819 – David Thompson Born April 30, 1770: Died Feb. 10, 1857. The Family tree given to me by my brother Don was completed by Thomas Wilson Thompson on August 16, 1974 and represented 9 generations 7 of which were born in Canada. Since then and up until 2018, 2 additional generations have been added including my son Travis, daughter Jill and then their children; Cooper, Ashton, Paige and Emily on my links to the family tree.

David Thompson was the son of David and Ann ap-Thomas of Avonsee, Wales. After his father passed away when he was two they moved to London changing their Welch name of ApThomas to the more easily spoken Thompson. His younger brother John (b.1772) became a Royal Navy sea captain. In 1784, 14 years after his birth and having spent seven of those years studying mathematics and navigation at Grey Coat School, David ApThomas became an apprentice with the Hudson's Bay Company in Rubert's Land.

Four months after leaving England, David landed at Churchill to be met by Samuel Hearne, the Governor of Churchill Factory and the explorer that found the Coppermine River. Eighteen months later David was posted to York Factory, 150 miles south-east and the largest trading centre on Hudson Bay where he took on a role as assistant clerk in one of the stores.. Intelligent and eager, he was soon given a man's share of work. At the ripe old age of 17, David Thompson rode five hundred miles across the wild buffalo prairie to visit the warlike Piegan Indians and spent the winter in their teepees. But his greatest interest lay in exploring, surveying and mapping the giant stretches of raw land which were unrecorded except in men's memories throughout Western Canada.

In the summer of 1786, July 21st to be precise, David climbed into a York boat bound for the Saskatchewan River to build a new trading-post upstream from the Nor'Westers who had become their greatest rivals and Manchester House was established. On May 21st, 1797, due to Joseph Colen, the most powerful agent of the Hudson's Bay in Rupert's Land who forbid Thompson to do any more of the exploring and surveying that had become so much a part of his life. After 13 years with the Hudson's Bay Company, David Thompson took his ambitions to the rival North West Company, whose members included Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie, William McGillivray, and other great Canadian explorers. With every assistance from the Nor'Westers, he set to work. Among his great accomplishments, he explored the mighty Peace River and many smaller streams, and surveyed the 49th Parallel to fix the boundary line between the United States and Canada. The First Nations of the day called him Koo-Koo-Sint,” the man who looks at stars”, and he became the greatest land geographer the world has ever known. Yet, when David Thompson was a young man, his dreams of mapping the vast unknown stretches of Canada often appeared impossible to achieve as noted above.

David's wife Charolotte Small born in September 1785 in Isle-a-la-Crosse, Sask. gave birth to 13 children; 6 girls and 7 boys of whom 3 died young. Writing this blog has encouraged me to delve into getting some DNA testing done with the Ancestry web site to substantiate some of the written documentation and to add the missing dates.

Finally, he was sent out on his long-desired exploration of the Rockies to find a pass to the Columbia River and a way to the great Pacific. Delayed and harassed by hostile natives, he reached his goal at Astoria on the Oregon Coast at the mouth of the Columbia to find crushing disappointment waiting. On July 3, 1811 David's voyageurs traveled down the Columbia River and after 12 days on the water arrived at Fort Astoria which had been built a few months earlier by agents for Astor's American Fur Company. Yet, in spite of the reverses he encountered, he achieved notable feats of exploration and mapping; his life story is a splendid record among the master-builders of Canada.

Written by K. Whiteman

References on this blog are available through the Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Society on request.

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