Repatriation of David Thompson’s Map of Western North America 84° West to the Pacific Ocean

In 2003, while reading ‘Early Fur Trader on the Northern Plains’ by Wood & Thiessen, an obscure, very small, image of Thompson’s 1797/98 trek to the Mandan Villages was present in the book. Already familiar with Thompson’s manuscript map located at the Archives of Ontario I did not recognize the small image and noted the archival reference, National Archives, Kew, England (TNA). I returned to the image in 2005 and soon realized that I had “rediscovered” another Thompson map. The map held at the TNA in fact was a later version of the manuscript map that Thompson produced for the North West Company in June of 1814, and the manuscript map that currently resides in the Archives of Ontario.

The “rediscovery” term should not surprise anyone as the map was first discovered by Victor Hopgood tucked away in the National Archives, UK. In terms of availability, the map was too far away for Canadian researchers to pay any real attention to it or study for that matter. This was perhaps the single biggest reason that Thompson’s manuscript map at the TNA has remained elusive and therefore forgotten. I should be clear in that this is not another Elgin Marble story and the map was not taken or stolen from Canada. In fact it was sold to the British Foreign Office by Thompson in 1844 and was eventually housed it in the Public Record Office. The Public Record Office would later be renamed The National Archives. Having said that I did contemplate a manner in which we could have the map repatriated and after some time gave up on the idea of physically repatriating the real map and became interested in creating a digital copy of the map.