THE  DAVID THOMPSON  PHENOMENON

But some of us are looking at the stars

We begin our journey through the world of David Thompsons with David Thompson (1770-1857), perhaps the greatest David Thompson of them all. To my knowledge, he is the only person of that name ever to be featured on a postage stamp, and it is after him that the David Thompson rose is named. (It has a particularly strong scent, proving that a rose by any other name might not smell just as sweet.) Part of Alberta, Canada is named David Thompson Country in his honour, and there you will find him commemorated in everything from a 22-foot bronze statue to a puppet theatre.

And what did David Thompson do to earn such accolades? He drew maps. But not just any old maps. He is widely regarded as the greatest explorer of Canada, and one of the world's most skilled cartographers.

Born in London to Welsh parents, at the age of 14 David Thompson was recruited by the Hudson Bay Company, his mathematical abilities making him ideal as a clerk. It was while recovering from a broken leg that he got the opportunity to learn about surveying and, finding himself to be unusually gifted in this, he dedicated much of his life to mapping jaw-droppingly vast swathes of the more remote parts of North America. His maps were so accurate, they continued to be used well into the twentieth century.

David Thompson got on well with the Native Americans, among whom he was known as Koo-Koo-Sint ('you who look at the stars') because he constantly used his sextant in map-making. Indeed, his wife, Charlotte Small, was of part Native origin, and while it was all too common for such Native wives to find themselves abandoned, David Thompson was, by all accounts, a devoted husband and father. He also took a firm stand against the highly profitable use of alcohol as a trading commodity, having witnessed the disastrous effects it had on the Native communities.

Sadly, like all the best heroes, David Thompson died in obscurity and poverty, his maps published without him being credited, and his request for a modest pension rejected by the British government.

David Thompson Things
Almost everything you could possibly want to know about Canada's greatest cartographer

David Thompson: Fur Trader and Mapmaker
More information about the great man

David Thompson Country
A tourist guide to the region, offering everything from golf to whitewater rafting