David Thompson (explorer)


David Thompson (explorer) : biography

April 30, 1770 – February 10, 1857

Afterwards, Thompson returned to a life as a land owner, but soon financial misfortune would ruin him. By 1831 he was so deeply in debt he was forced to take up a position as a surveyor for the British American Land Company to provide for his family. His luck continued to worsen and he was forced to move in with his daughter and son-in-law in 1845. He began work on a manuscript chronicling his life exploring the continent, but this project was left unfinished when his sight failed him completely in 1851.

Death and afterward

The land mass mapped by Thompson amounted to 3.9 million square kilometres of wilderness (one-fifth of the continent). His contemporary, the great explorer Alexander Mackenzie, remarked that Thompson did more in ten months than he would have thought possible in two years.

Despite these significant achievements, Thompson died in Montreal in near obscurity on February 10, 1857, his accomplishments almost unrecognized. He never finished the book of his 28 years in the fur trade, based on his 77 field notebooks, before he died. In the 1890s geologist J.B. Tyrrell resurrected Thompson’s notes and in 1916 published them as David Thompson’s Narrative.Rick Boychuk, David Thompson’s living legacy, Canadian Geographic Magazine, July/August 2007, p. 13

Thompson’s body was interred in Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery in an unmarked grave. It was not until 1926 that efforts by J.B. Tyrell and the Canadian Historical Society resulted in the placing of a tombstone to mark his grave.

In 1957, one hundred years after his death, the Canadian government honoured him with his image on a Canadian postage stamp. The David Thompson Highway in Alberta was named in his honour, along with David Thompson High School situated on the side of the highway near Leslieville, Alberta. His prowess as a geographer is now well-recognized. He has been called "the greatest land geographer who ever lived." (edited by J.B. Tyrell)

There is a monument dedicated to David Thompson (maintained by the state of North Dakota) near the former town site of the ghost town, Verendrye, North Dakota, located approximately two miles north and one mile west of Karlsruhe, North Dakota. Thompson Falls, Montana and British Columbia’s Thompson River are also named after the explorer.

The year 2007 marked the 150th year of Thompson’s death and the 200th anniversary of his first crossing of the Rocky Mountains. Commemorative events and exhibits were planned across Canada and the United States from 2007 to 2011 as a celebration of his accomplishments.

Thompson was the subject of a 1964 National Film Board of Canada short film David Thompson: The Great Mapmaker , as well as the BBC2 programme Ray Mears’ Northern Wilderness (Episode 5), broadcast in November 2009.. Retrieved 25 November 2009.


  • 2006: "" Contemporary and Historical Maps: Charlotte Small (S. Leanne Playter/Andreas N. Korsos|Publisher: Arcturus Consulting)


  • 1814: Map of the North-West Territory of the Province of Canada
  • 1897: (edited by Elliott Coues)
  • 1916: (edited by J.B. Tyrell)
  • 1950: David Thompson’s journals relating to Montana and adjacent regions, 1808–1812 (edited by M. Catherine White)
  • 1962: (edited by Richard Glover)
  • 1974: David Thompson’s journal of the international boundary survey, 1817–1827 : western Lake Erie, August–September 1819 (edited by Clarke E. Leverette)
  • 1993: Columbia Journals (edited by Barbara Belyea)
  • 2006: "" Contemporary and Historical Maps: Charlotte Small (S. Leanne Playter/Andreas N. Korsos|Publisher: Arcturus Consulting)
  • 2006/2007: Contemporary and Historical Maps: David Thompson (Andreas N. Korsos|Publisher: Arcturus Consulting)