'The age of guessing is passed away': an exhibition to mark the David Thompson Bicentennial
This celebration of the remarkable achievements of Canadian explorer, trader and cartographer David Thompson (1770-1857) forms part of the North American David Thompson Bicentennials initiative. As the institution that holds one of the primary source documents of the life of Thompson, the narrative of his 'Travels', the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has undertaken this exhibition to commemorate not only his life, writings and works, but also the long and rich tradition from which he came—the explorers and fur traders who mapped Canada.
During his lifetime David Thompson explored and mapped 3.9 million square kilometres of the Northwest, from Montreal in the east, to Astoria on the Pacific Ocean and from the Great Lakes to Fort Churchill. His legacy comes to us in his many maps, in the work he undertook for the boundary commission and in his writings. Thompson was a prolific writer; examples of his letters, surveying notes, essays, notebooks and journals are housed in archives across North America. Most important are the 101 notebooks and journals, as well as the great map, now at the Archives of Ontario, and the 'Travels', based on those journals, held here at the Thomas Fisher Library.
This exhibition examines the role of the fur trade in the exploration and mapping of this country. Early exploration of Canada, by the French along the eastern coastline and into the interior by way of the St. Lawrence River, and by the English from the north through Hudson's Bay was undertaken on the possibility of trade. The search westward for a trade route to China was promoted and financed by European powers looking for an easier and more certain route to the riches of the east. The land mass in the way offered possibilities both in its abundant fisheries and the potential of rich mineral deposits, but the economic staple which was to influence European exploration of this new territory for almost three hundred years was the beaver.