The Explorations and Surveys of Simon Fraser
Simon Fraser’s explorations in British Columbia have always intrigued me. I recall the first time that I read his journals were in the early 1990`s and it wasn’t until researching Thompson’s Great Map of 1814 that I once again became interested in Fraser, specifically his 1808 journey down the river which now bears his name.
During my review of the 1814 map, I had note that the mapping of the Fraser River by Thompson was based on the survey’s of John Stuart. I realized then that Thompson must have seen the notes and survey’s performed by Stuart to have accurately mapped the river.
Curiosity of course compelled me to look more into this interesting realization. I began with researching Fraser’s exploits in British Columbia and then specifically the 1808 expedition down the Fraser River.
John Stuart’s Survey
Much has been said about Simon Fraser’s remarkable accomplishments, but few people know that his invaluable lieutenant, John Stuart, played a significant role with respect to Fraser’s explorations from 1806-1808; particularly Fraser’s descent and ascent of the river which now bears his name.
Among other duties assigned to him during the 1808 expedition, two significant tasks were given to John Stuart by Fraser. The first was the keeping of the official logs of the journey and the second; the surveying of the river as they descended it, which not only included keeping a running survey of their course, but as well, taking sextant observations for position.
Stuart’s observations for longitude are quoted on a number of occasions through out Fraser’s 1808 journal. Unfortunately, John Stuart’s log and survey notes have long disappeared and therefore no written record has survived; however there is a visual record of John Stuarts work.
In 1812, David Thompson left western North America for retirement in Terrebonne, Quebec to complete his duties to the North West Company. One of these duties included the creation of what would become known as the ‘Great Map’ of 1814 which would map western North America. In January of 1814, one of the last features he would incorporate was the Fraser’s River. After reviewing the survey notes of John Stuart with his friend Roderick Mackenzie, he likely had conversations with Simon Fraser himself who lived a short distance from Thompson in retirement. This is ascertained by the fact that many of Fraser’s journal entries appear on Thompson’s ‘Great Map’ as notations along the river.
The map that Thompson creates is not just a visual record of his own exploration and travels but of others as well. Within the map itself, Thompson denotes the great river that Simon descended as ‘Fraser’s River’ and more importantly clearly indicates in the legend that the river was plotted based on the notes and surveys of John Stuart.