David Thompson

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David Thompson
Picture shows David Thompson and Charlotte Small sculpture in Invermere, B.C.
Known for Professional Recognition Award (2009)

Presentation of the Professional Recognition Award to David Thompson by Monroe Kinloch, 2009.

It is a real privilege for me to speak to the professional recognition award.

In this historic year of our Association, we are recognizing North America’s first surveyor. The ALSA Council has stepped outside of the boundaries of Alberta into the past to recognize the achievement of this man, a significant surveyor and map-maker in Canadian history, who spent a considerable amount of time in his travels in Alberta.

It is only recently, within the last decade, that the impact of David Thompson has been known on the development of Canada and the Northwest United States. It has been brought to light through the availability of his journals, which have been transcribed and many are online, through many authors who have written some excellent books extolling exactly what David Thompson was doing when he travelled the many miles from the Superior to the Atlantic. Our school curricula now speak about the across Canada and I would invite you to talk to your children and grandchildren about David Thompson and Charlotte Small.

I became involved with David Thompson and his explorations through the David Thompson Bicentennial Celebration launch in 2006. It is an international bicentennial including associations in the Northwest United States. The bicentennial celebration will end in 2011 and there have been and will be several events each year. My involvement with it from the launch led to coordinating a team of land surveyors and their families into what may be the largest event, the David Thompson Canoe Brigade in May, June and July of 2008.

Today, we have a great, great, great grandaughter of David Thompson and Charlotte Small and her husband with us. Before I present the official award from the ALSA, I would like to describe the extent of the bicentennial celebration and how land surveyors have come and continue to be involved.

Many articles have been written about the canoe brigade event. There has been an official video made of the entire trip made to Thunder Bay. Our surveyor team paddled for about a third of the brigade route from Rocky Mountain House to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and later I rejoined part of the organization to go on to Thunder Bay. This was an opportunity of my lifetime to take this trip and stand in several locations along the river and see what David Thompson was describing in his journal for those locations 200 years ago. The land surveyor’s brigade team accumulated a team of 21 paddlers from the state of Washington, and the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. We received sponsorships from some survey corporations and associations across Canada.

We learned fast that the average of 65 kilometres of paddling each of the 15 days was going to be a bit of a stretch—it was going to take stamina and it was a test of eat, sleep and paddle. At the start we were concerned about the stability of the 25-foot voyageur 10-seat canoes and we quickly learned that the best optimum paddling power was about six so that the canoes didn’t ride quite so low in the water. The design of the canoes speaks for itself as we didn’t have one upset in the actual journey and there were no injuries throughout the entire 3,600 kilometre run. More brigade paddling events will take place in 2009, 2010 and 2011 if any of you are interested.

This morning, I might well have seen an image of David Thompson on the Bow River in the mist as he and his voyageurs paddled this way when they were out west doing explorations. I’m going to borrow a frequent expression which appears in David Thompson’s journals as he reported the daily weather and temperature. If David Thompson is with us here today, he would describe the day as a fine day. So on this fine day, I would ask Ruth Peters, the great, great, great grand-daughter of David Thompson and her husband Tom of Airdrie, Alberta to accept a few items from the brigade team.

Mr. Kinloch then presented the professional recognition award to David Thompson as follows:

The professional recognition award was first presented in 1977 and has 24 recipients to date. The three main criteria for the recipients include a high level of office (national or international); in this respect David Thompson was the first western North American surveyor to record his journeys with such detail. Another criteria is the development of new systems or survey methods; for his time the journal notes were extremely detailed and accurate. The last criteria is contribution to the profession; David Thompson recorded everything he saw, from people to plants, topography and rivers—everything.

David Thompson’s was in fact the first North American to know his global position by way of latitude and longitude. In his very extensive number of journals and field notes he created over his career we are able to read day-to-day accounts of his extensive explorations and travels from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean. Reading these journals, one gains a deep respect for David Thompson’s attention to detail in everything that he saw. His stamina to undertake explorations over the Rocky Mountains, his diplomacy with the First Nations people he encountered was unsurpassed.

There was a significant person, his wife of a lifetime, Charlotte Small, who helped in many of his achievements. Charlotte was one of three children from a country marriage of a Woods-Crew woman and Patrick Small, a talented Scott fur trader at Ile-a-la-Crosse which is now in Saskatchewan, just north east of the weapons range that straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

Charlotte at 13 and David at 29, were married 220 years ago on June 10th at Ile-a-la-Crosse. Charlotte bore David 13 children over a 59-year marriage and travelled the majority of his journeys throughout his entire career. She has been named as a significant person in Canadian history.

Because of my involvement with the bicentennial over the last years, it gives me immense pleasure to make this presentation which is dedicated to David Thompson but no lesser to his wife, Charlotte Small.