Trav­el­ling with Thomp­son

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier Len­noxville

One of Canada’s most im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, ex­plorer, ge­og­ra­pher and map-maker David Thomp­son, is well-known for ex­plor­ing and map­ping most of the Cana­dian West, mak­ing a trail through the Rocky Moun­tains, find­ing the source of the mighty Colom­bia River, and build­ing trad­ing posts in Bri­tish Colom­bia and the north­ern United States. And now,

with a com­pelling new book from Town­ship­pers Bar­bara Verity and Gilles Pelo­quin, read­ers can learn about David Thomp­son’s ex­plo­ration of the East­ern Town­ships, an al­most com­pletely un­known sub­ject un­til now.

The jour­ney of this Hat­ley cou­ple that led to the cre­ation of Even the Owl is not heard – David Thomp­son’s 1834 Jour­nals in the East­ern Town­ships of Que­bec, is a re­mark­able story in it­self, bring­ing up no­tions of fate and des­tiny.

“We were on va­ca­tion hav­ing lunch at Char­lie’s Café, which was also a gen­eral store, on Vancouver Is­land, and picked up a copy of On the Road with David Thomp­son, a kind of guide to re­trace the steps of the ex­plorer,” com­mented Mr. Pelo­quin in an in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal. The idea of tak­ing a ‘Thomp­son trek’ was ap­peal­ing to the ad­ven­tur­ous cou­ple and they be­gan re­trac­ing Thomp­son’s steps in the West .

Although Mr. Pelo­quin, who had re­cently re­tired af­ter own­ing and op­er­at­ing the Pilsen Restau­rant in North Hat­ley for eigh­teen years, had never heard of David Thomp­son be­fore pick­ing up that book, it was a dif­fer­ent story for Ms. Verity, a jour­nal­ist and out­door en­thu­si­ast who is prob­a­bly as com­fort­able trekking through the woods or pad­dling a ca­noe as Thomp­son was. “I had seen a fea­ture about him on the CBC; his life sounded fas­ci­nat­ing. He was very fa­mous in Al­berta, Bri­tish Colom­bia, Ore­gon, Washington and Mon­tana as an ex­plorer, map-maker and fur trader,” ex­plained Ms. Verity about the ex­plorer whose “Map of the North­west Ter­ri­tory of the Prov­ince of Canada” was the most ac­cu­rate ref­er­ence of that area for al­most one hun­dred years.

As their in­ter­est in the Cana­dian hero grew, so did their thirst for more in­for­ma­tion about him. “We picked up a bi­og­ra­phy about him and in it was one line about him ex­plor­ing the East­ern Town­ships,” com­mented Bar­bara. “He was called the most lit­er­ate of ex­plor­ers. We knew that he al­ways kept jour­nals. It was a ‘Eureka! mo­ment’ for us,” added Gilles. And so the cou­ple be­gan their lit­er­ary jour­ney, track­ing down the 1834 jour­nals of David Thomp­son. “It all just kept evolv­ing. It was like a gift and we had to treat it care­fully,” Bar­bara ad­mit­ted.

“Twenty-six thou­sand words later, we had tran­scribed the ex­plorer’s en­tire ac­count of his time in the Town­ships – jour­ney­ing by scow, ca­noe, and on foot with his as­sis­tants up the St. Fran­cis and Salmon Rivers, over to Mount Me­gan­tic, and on to Lake Me­gan­tic…” wrote Bar­bara and Gilles in the book’s pro­logue.

With their love of the great out­doors and of lo­cal his­tory, their new­found ad­mi­ra­tion and fas­ci­na­tion with David Thomp­son and a cam­era, the cou­ple set out to re­trace some of the ex­plorer’s steps in the East­ern Town­ships, ca­noe­ing, hik­ing and even cy­cling in some ar­eas. “As much as we could, we tried to visit an area on the same day or at least the same month that Thomp­son was there,” said Gilles. “Yes, it started to seem al­most per­sonal. The more we worked on this project, the more we felt like we knew him,” added Bar­bara.

The cou­ple first cre­ated exhibitions and power point pre­sen­ta­tions with the tran­scribed jour­nals, additional re­search in­for­ma­tion and pho­tographs which were held in lo­ca­tions through­out the Town­ships. Then, en­cour­aged by lo­cal his­to­ri­ans Monique Nadeau-sau­mier and Peter Southam and writ­ers Hugh Macmil­lan and David Mala­her, they de­cided to pro­duce a book.

The re­sult of all this, launched last month with a ca­noe trip on the Mas­saw­ippi River, is a book that I get lost in ev­ery time I pick it up. Pre­ceded by short chap­ters fo­cus­ing on David Thomp­son him­self, the be­gin­ning of Thomp­son’s East­ern Town­ships ad­ven­ture and Thomp­son’s as­sis­tants, Thomp­son’s tran­scribed jour­nals are ac­com­pa­nied by pho­tographs, old line draw­ings and draw­ings by lo­cal artist De­nis Palmer, as well as side­bars of additional, re­lated his­tor­i­cal facts and in­for­ma­tive foot­notes. The book has

re­ceived great re­views from writ­ers and his­to­ri­ans alike, praised es­pe­cially for its con­tri­bu­tion to the his­tor­i­cal ge­og­ra­phy of the re­gion.

“To draw the land­scapes, I went hunt­ing for nat­u­ral ar­eas along Thomp­son’s route,” ex­plained De­nis Palmer whose draw­ings of the land and of Thomp­son and his men add both a light­ness and mood to the text. “Work­ing on the book was fun. My wife and I dis­cov­ered more places ex­plor­ing, ca­noe­ing, bush-wack­ing down to the Salmon River to look for rapids to draw. To draw the peo­ple, I tried to find old pho­tos and de­scrip­tions of what peo­ple wore in those times.”

Af­ter the years of re­search and shared wilder­ness ex­pe­ri­ences that went into the mak­ing of Even the Owl is not Heard, Bar­bara and Gilles feel like they got to know David Thomp­son. “He has be­come my per­sonal hero. He had so many char­ac­ter traits dif­fer­ent than most ex­plor­ers: he mar­ried a na­tive wo­man and stayed with her all his life and he re­fused to take ad­van­tage of the na­tives by giv­ing them al­co­hol,” com­mented Mr. Pelo­quin. “He also never lost a man on any of his trips. He was an in­ter­est­ing mix, a sci­en­tific ob­server but he had a po­etic side, writ­ing in his jour­nals: ‘All is mo­rose si­lence – even the owl is not heard’,” said Ms. Verity.

Be­sides adding an im­por­tant chap­ter to the his­tory of the East­ern Town­ships and shed­ding light on the dif­fi­cult, later years of a great Cana­dian ex­plorer, Bar­bara Verity and Gilles Pelo­quin’s re­search caught the at­ten­tion of a ranger from the Mount Me­gan­tic national park. “They are con­sid­er­ing putting up a plaque on Mount Me­gan­tic to com­mem­o­rate David Thomp­son ex­plor­ing in that area,” said the au­thors hap­pily.

Asked what the whole ex­pe­ri­ence has meant to them, Bar­bara an­swered first: “It all comes to­gether in this: a love of the East­ern Town­ships, a love of his­tory and this gift of be­ing the first to tran­scribe and reprint Thomp­son’s jour­nals. It’s been very sat­is­fy­ing and ex­cit­ing to con­trib­ute to Town­ships his­tory.” “The one word that comes to mind is sat­is­fac­tion. I wasn’t quite my own boss in this project,” said Gilles, look­ing over at his part­ner, “but it was fun work­ing to­gether with Bar­bara and shar­ing this ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Even the Owl is not Heard is on sale at the Colby-cur­tis Bou­tique, Café Main Street in Ayer’s Cliff, Brome Lake Books, book­stores in Len­noxville and at the Musée de la So­ciété d’his­toire de Sher­brooke.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Bar­bara Verity and Gilles Pelo­quin, seen here on the shore of the St. Fran­cis River in Len­noxville, have just launched a book about ex­plorer David Thomp­son’s work in the East­ern Town­ships.

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