David Thompson’s name is memorialized on monuments, rivers, and roads across Western North America. He spent most of his career with the North West Company exploring the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia River, filling in what had been an empty space on a map. On the Road with David Thompson by Joyce and Peter McCart follows the legendary explorer’s routes. These authors put the great explorer’s travels in perspective with modern-day roads, towns and landmarks.
David Thompson: 1800-1812
The McCarts begin the book with a brief prologue, explaining David’s childhood in England, his recruitment into the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1784, and his deflection to the rival North West Company in 1797. The history of the fur trade, the HBC and the NWC help orient the reader. The McCarts then begin following David in 1800, when he arrived at Rocky Mountain House (Alberta) to find a way across the Rockies for the first time.
Each of David’s trips is broken down into a chapter, with a map at the beginning of the chapter to show where David traveled. Bits of David’s journal are included, giving the reader a glimpse into the explorer’s determination, personality, and lifestyle.
Explaining David Thompson
At times, David’s actions have left historians puzzling over why he did things. Two events in particular—three months when David disappeared and kept no journals in 1810, and the details and motives behind his final journey down the Columbia in 1811—have allowed biographers and historians to speculate and deride his work and character.
Joyce and Peter McCart give the explorer the benefit of the doubt. They suggest reasonable explanations for David’s actions and bring to the discussion an understanding that can only come from those who have traveled where David traveled.
On the Road with David Thompson
The McCarts explain that they wrote their book “for travellers who tour the northwest by car, motor home, bicycle, or even on foot, in the hope that they might enjoy the company of a man who walked, rode, and canoed the same routes two centuries ago.” The McCarts note what roads follow David Thompson’s route, mention monuments commemorating David Thompson and his work, and include mention of how the landscape has changed in the two hundred years since David passed through.
Overall, On the Road with David Thompson is a very thorough look at the twelve years that David spent exploring the Rockies. It’s a great resource for either those who enjoy road trips or those who enjoy travelling via their armchair.
I bought this book because of my interest in David and Charlotte Thompson; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links.