Feb. 9. 1998, R. R.
The Glengarry News, January 30th, 1958, pg. 1, col. 6 & 7, pg. 8, col. 4 & 5.
David Thompson Had No Peer As Explorer And Map-Maker
David Thompson, peer of early Canadian explorers and map-makers, is to be remembered this summer by a plaque raised by the Historic Sites Committee, at Williamstown's first manse which David Thompson occupied for 35 years.
Miss Llewella Dunlop of Williamstown, has prepared the following story of Mr. Thompson's personality and his impact on a young country and Williamstown:
Recently there has been a revival of interest in life and word of David Thompson, the explorer. Starting it was when a well-known magazine carried on its back cover an advertisement of a commodity known to have been distasteful to Thompson. Be that as it may, the advertisement was sufficiently arresting to bring to many minds a picture in detail of his discoveries.
It seems a safe assumption that nowhere except in the village of Williamstown, Glengarry County, can David Thompson be spoken of and written about as one of the villagers. Here, his name is well-known. His home, which he owned, and in which he lived for 35 years. was the first Manse,and remains one of the beautiful houses in this vicinity. Invariably it is pointed out to interested visitors as having been the home of David Thompson.
While, in 1815, David Thompson finished his explorations, as did so many others of the same Company, he settled in Williamstown. He bought from the widow of the Rev. John Bethune, the Manse. How-ever, it was discovered by Thompson that he also had the church and the cemetery on his hands. This, so it has been said, was much to the chagrin of the congregation and obviously to the embarrassment of Thompson. It required four years to accomplish a satisfactory settlement.
In 1816, a year after coming to Williamstown, he was appointed by the British Government to survey the boundary between United States and Canada at Maine and New Brunswick and extending west as far as the northwest angle of Lake of the Woods. He worked on this project until 1825, and his maps are the ones still in use.
Some time ago, the desk of this famous man, which through all the years had lain untouched in The White House, was presented to a gentleman in Williamstown. He quite recently gave it to Mr. Thompson's great-grandson, presently living in Toronto.
The desk had been made of pine and the outside, which had been painted red, apparently bore the original decorations of graining effects accomplished by the wavering use of brush and black paint.
There is capacious storage space and pigeon holes are varied and many. A top, which slants and lifts from hinges, forms when closed, a large writing surface, And to see the initials "D.T." traced on the inside cover is to be strangely moved.
A contemporary of David Thompson described him as a "singular looking man of 50. His figure was short and compact and his black hair was worn long all around and cut square as if by one stroke of the shears, just above the eyebrows. He was plainly, dressed, quiet and observant. His complexion was of the gardener's ruddy brown, while the expression of deeply furrowed features was friendly and intelligent. But his short nose gave him an off look. His speech betrayed the Welshman. He had a powerful mind, and a singular faculty of picture-making.
"He could create a wilderness and people it warring savages, or climb the Rocky Mountains with you in a snow storm, so clearly and palpably that only shut your eyes and you heard the crack of the rifle or felt the snowflakes on your cheeks as he talked."
"Thompson, was a firm church-man, Many a time have I seen these un- educated Canadians most attentively and thankfully listen, as they sat upon some bank or shingle, to Mr. Thompson, while he read to them in most extraordinary-pronounced French, three chapters out of the Old Testament and as many out of the New, adding some explanation as seemed to him suitable.
Then, in the Geographical Journal dated January, 1911, this was written -
"He never used alcoholic liquors, and during the time that he was in control of the fur trade west of the Rocky Mountains, and while most of the posts kept by the fur traders were merely bar-rooms of the very lowest type, where the Indians were encouraged in drunkeness and debauchery of every kind, no alcoholic liquor was allowed to be brought to any post under his charge. Both morally and scientifically, he was a man of the very highest type."
In Williamstown, David Thompson the explorer became a store-keeper. His was a general store, situated on the south side of John street on lot number 32. He was not a successful store-keeper and the business was lost to a Montreal firm. It was said after his death in Longueuil, Quebec, in 1857, that "he died a poor man".
But for one who had discovered countries, plotted maps and studied the stars, asking for "a little on account'" being forced to argue over prices, and uncomplainingly and generously handing out merchandise, knowing himself to be always on the losing side, must all have seemed beside the point. One wonders what had lured him from the wilds he had so often conquered, both human and geographical. Could he have had a new vision - of warm fire, a permanent roof and the sound of human voices in contrast to the lonely silences and fearful solitudes? But none will dare say that David Thompson died bankrupt. He died possessed of no worldly goods, but his life-work had been for the future of Canada and Canadians, and therein lay his investments.
Second in a series prepared for The Glengarry News, by Miss Llewella Dunlop of Williamstown
end of article as we have it, nov.9.99 awf
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