Friday, October 21, 2011

David Thompson:Explorer, Cartographer, Catholic Convert

October 21,2011
    While I was at an History of the Fur Trade Conference in Halifax a speaker mentioned that at the North West Company Feasts they would make a toast to Mary. She said that this was not clear to her. An Albertan metis student and I were astounded. I said at the break
 “ That was a toast to the Blessed Mother who is Mary.” A paricipant said “ Well people wouldn’t be expected to know that unless they’re Catholic.”
    I have just finished reading Elle Andra- Warner’s DAVID THOMPSON: A LIFE OF ADVENTURE AND DISCOVERY. Heritage Publishers 2010 Victoria Vancouver Calgary.
It seemed very sound history until page 117. Thompson and Charlotte Small of Ile- a- la- Crosse had been married “ au facon du pays” that is they made an agreement and lived with each other. The missionaries lagged far behind the fur traders in coming to the North- West. When Thompson ceased from his wilderness travels he had his children and his wife baptised. He also had his marriage solemnised in a Christian ceremony, marriage. Warner states that the baptism occurred at a church on St. Gabriel Street. She says it was a Scottish Presbyterian Church founded in Montreal by leading members of the NWC.
    The problem with that is in his memoires Thompson made it clear that the baptisms occurred at Ste. Genevieve Parish. Ste. Genevieve ( 422-500 ) is credited with saving Paris from many catastrophes. She is the Patron Saint of Paris. A Presbyterian Church would NEVER be named after a French saint. His diaries mention a priest visiting his home. Presbyterian ministers are NEVER called priests. At the time of the Religious Wars ( 16th C ) Calvinists that is Presbyteirans used to sneak up on the priest while his back was turned to the High Altar and slit his throat.  Jean Calvin said that there was no greater abomination than the Mass.
    After the French Catholic Influence one of the main sources of Catholicism was the Catholic Highland Scots involved in the Fur Trade. Their centre was Montreal and they were very much at home with their French Canadian partners and French Canadian labourers or voyageurs who were usually Metis. The voyageurs had a great devotion to Ste. Anne and  churches in her honour dot the routes of the fur traders , Thompson left the Hudson Bay Company as soon as he could and joined the NWC making his break at Reindeer Lake with his first posting at what is now Southend.Reindeer.
    He refused to work on Sunday or have his labourers do so.. He read two chapters of the Bible to his labourers and explained the passages in French. He was respectful to pagans, natives, Catholic and Metis. He was a good listener and learner. He accepted that Manitou ( God) directed the birds and caribou, not instinct and gave credit to his native teachers. It is highly likely that the Catholic Metis who knew their religion would not share their beliefs and knowledge with him.The great untold story of London charity scholar, HBC apprentice Thompson was when, where, how and why did he convert to Catholicism?
    This would explain his shoddy and prejudiced treatment from the Protestant HBC who were quite willing to use his maps and expertise. In some circles he often was shunned  socially and not given credit for his work. He could not get a government pension when he and Charlotte were reduced to extreme poverty.
    Americans quite correctly give honour to Lewis and Clark who crossed the continent and opened up settlement and trade. However even President Thomas Jefferson admitted that the Lewis and Clarke expedition used the maps of David Thompson. It is admitted grudgingly that Thompson was a great explorer and map maker . Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was one of the first to give him public credit.  It is time to do research and make public the great conversion story and Christian life of Thompson and Small whose married love story including ten children consisted of 58 faithful years. Gay