Ex­plor­ing the Route of Canada's Great Map Maker (NW)

David Thomp­son and The Great Columbia River

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Contents - Story by Den­nis Be­gin

There are a series of tele­vi­sion vi­gnettes on Global TV fea­tur­ing David Thomp­son and The Man in Mo­tion Rick Hansen. The four 30-sec­ond spots spon­sored by the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany His­tory Foun­da­tion cel­e­brate the life of David Thomp­son, the Great Map Maker.

Dur­ing his life­time, Thomp­son trav­elled 90,000 km (56,000 mi) and mapped (4.9 mil­lion sq km) (1.9 mil­lion sq mi), from the Great Lakes to the Pa­cific Ocean. Us­ing his watch, com­pass, sex­tant and knowl­edge of astron­omy, Thomp­son ex­plored/mapped the en­tire Columbia River, shap­ing the his­tory of the Pa­cific North­west.

When some­one as­so­ciates a river with Bri­tish Columbia, it would most likely be the Fraser River. The Columbia River, how­ever, is by far the more im­por­tant of the two ma­jor rivers. The river is 1931 km (1,243 mi) long with ap­prox­i­mately 607 km (433 mi) in Bri­tish Columbia and its source in Columbia Lake in the East Koote­nays. The wa­ter­shed is greater than the en­tire nd size of France. In Bri­tish Columbia the Columbia River flows largely through wilder­ness, other than the small ci­ties of Revelstoke, Castle­gar and Trail. In Wash­ing­ton State, the Columbia River flows through We­natchee and Ken­newick, be­fore serv­ing as the bor­der between Wash­ing­ton State and Ore­gon. At Ken­newick the river turns west into the Columbia River Gorge, flows past Port­land and on to the Pa­cific Ocean. For those driv­ing south on I-5, the Columbia River is first seen just past Kelso, Wash­ing­ton.

The Span­ish first dis­cov­ered the mouth of the river, but it was an Amer­i­can, Cap­tain Robert Gray who named the river after his ship in 1792. In 1805, Lewis and Clark used the Columbia to reach the Pa­cific Ocean at lat­i­tude 46 de­grees north, prov­ing there was no con­tin­u­ous river to the Pa­cific or a North West Pas­sage. Two years later, Si­mon Fraser think­ing he was ex­plor­ing the Columbia River fi­nally had to ad­mit at 49 de­grees north [Van­cou­ver], he was ex­plor­ing the wrong river. Since this new river was too perilous, a safer fur trade route to the Pa­cific was needed. It would be up to David Thomp­son to find the Columbia River.

David Thomp­son in 1807 was in­structed by the North West Com­pany to cross the Rocky Moun­tains, es­tab­lish a fur trad­ing post and map the en­tire Columbia River. Both the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany (HBC) and the North West Com­pany (NWC) could not let the Amer­i­cans dom­i­nate the fur trade in the Columbia District. On the shore of Win­der­mere Lake near In­ver­mere, Thomp­son con­structed Koote­nae House and traded with the lo­cal Kute­nai In­di­ans. For the next four years, Thomp­son in­sisted on ex­plor­ing the head­wa­ters of the Columbia, the Koote­nay River and south into Idaho and Mon­tana. Al­though the Columbia River flowed north for 238 km (148 mi), Thomp­son be­lieved he had found the Columbia River, but still needed to ex­plore the Ar­row Lakes re­gion of the river.

When John Ja­cob As­tor an­nounced that his com­pany, the Pa­cific Fur Com­pany (PFC), was go­ing to build Fort As­to­ria at the mouth of the Columbia, the NWC in­sisted that Thomp­son reach the Pa­cific as quickly as pos­si­ble. Leav­ing Ket­tle Falls in Wash­ing­ton State, Thomp­son trav­elled roughly 933 km (580 mi) south, fi­nally reach­ing the mouth of the Columbia on July 14, 1811. Much to the dis­ap­point­ment of Thomp­son, the PFC was al­ready build­ing Fort As­to­ria. The Amer­i­cans had won the race to the Pa­cific. Thomp­son re­turned to Koote­nae House by way of the Ar­row Lakes, hav­ing now ex­plored and mapped the en­tire river.

In the fol­low­ing year, when the War of 1812 broke out, Fort As­to­ria was pur­chased by the NWC and even­tu­ally closed. The HBC and the NWC merged in 1821 and built Fort Van­cou­ver right across the river from Port­land, Ore­gon.

As the years passed, Amer­i­can set­tlers ar­rived by way of the Ore­gon Trail, mov­ing into the Wil­lamette Val­ley and en­croach­ing on the fur trade. The so­lu­tion was to re­lo­cate Fort Van­cou­ver north to Camo­sack (Fort Vic­to­ria) on Van­cou­ver Is­land. The new Chief Fac­tor of Vic­to­ria was James Dou­glas, later called the ‘Fa­ther of Bri­tish Columbia’.

The Columbia River Gorge is a ge­o­log­i­cal won­der. The rocky shoul­ders of the Cas­cade Moun­tains be­gin in Bri­tish Columbia and ex­tend south into Wash­ing­ton State. The Columbia River cuts a 135 km (85 mi) gorge east west through the moun­tains. The Gorge of­fi­cially starts at Trout­dale, the western gateway and ends at Biggs Junc­tion in the east, both on the Ore­gon side of the river. If en­ter­ing The Gorge from the east near The Dalles, visit the Columbia Val­ley Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter, a his­tor­i­cal and an­thro­pol­ogy mu­seum. Use the His­toric Columbia River High­way Scenic By­way, US-30, the na­tion’s first scenic high­way, as op­posed to I-84, the in­ter­state into Port­land. Two es­sen­tial vis­its are the Crown Point at Vista House, one of many view­points, and the 190 m (820 ft) Mult­nomah Falls, one of twenty-six wa­ter­falls along the scenic route.

The Columbia River Gorge is much more than scenic view­points and parks. As a recre­ational area, it is great for hik­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, wind­surf­ing, rock climb­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy. What peo­ple may for­get is the trans-bor­der Columbia River Treaty in 1964 between Canada and the United States. Due to the heavy wa­ter flow, the river is ideal for hy­dro­elec­tric power. In to­tal, 14 dams were built on the Columbia River and 60 smaller dams on the var­i­ous trib­u­taries. With the com­ple­tion of the dams, they pro­duced 44% of the elec­tric power for the en­tire United States. Canada built three dams in this col­lab­o­ra­tive project, the Mica, Revelstoke and Keen­ley­side Dams, all op­er­ated by BC Hy­dro.

Along with the creation of the dams for elec­tri­cal power, the dams pro­vide flood con­trol and ir­ri­ga­tion. The best ex­am­ple is the recla­ma­tion project of the Columbia Basin Project [CBP] in Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton. The Grand Coulee Dam, one of the largest in the world, pro­vides wa­ter for agri­cul­tural, be it the Fruit Loop Drive or the forty plus winer­ies along the river.

The Columbia River Gorge is one of the ‘Seven Won­ders of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton’. David Thomp­son in Amer­i­can his­tory is a mere foot­note; while in Bri­tish Columbia, he is an in­te­gral part of our his­tory. Iron­i­cally, Si­mon Fraser named the only river after David Thomp­son (through Kam­loops), a river nei­ther men ex­plored. In ad­di­tion, it was Thomp­son who named the Fraser River after Si­mon Fraser, a river Thomp­son never ex­plored.

Up­per Mult­nomah Falls.

Lower Mult­nomah Falls.

From the Vista House look­ing both East to­ward The Dalles and Trout­dale to the West.

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