Surveyors Rendezvous '05 takes attendees through the life of David Thompson, noted land geographer.



When Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery embarked on their epic journey in 1804, among the items they carried with them were maps created several years earlier by David Thompson.

Thompson was a fur trader, apprenticed to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1784. He moved to the rival North West Company in 1797 where he later became a partner. Thompson was also an explorer who led several trans-mountain expeditions and spent 28 years exploring more than 55,000 miles of northwestern North America.

But of most interest to the surveyor is the fact that Thompson is considered by some to be the world's foremost land geographer. During his career, Thompson surveyed and mapped some 1.5 million square miles of the North American continent. His maps fixed the locations of dozens of fur trading posts and numerous trade routes; some of these maps were used well into the 20th century. He surveyed in many of the townships of Ontario and Quebec, mapped sections of the U.S./Canadian border and surveyed the full length of the Columbia River.

David Thompson was also the subject of the Surveyors Historical Society Rendezvous '05 held in Spokane, Wash., from September 29 to October 2. The event was cosponsored by the Land Surveyors Association of Washington Historical Society and the Inland Empire Chapter of the Land Surveyors Association of Washington.

Rendezvous '05 began on Thursday with a workshop titled "Surveying with Solar Instruments." The session was presented by Tim Kent, former cadastral survey section chief for the BLM, Oregon, and current assistant professor of civil engineering and geomatics at Oregon Institute of Technology. The morning session was spent in the classroom learning how to set up and adjust the solar instruments, building a declination chart and reviewing details of the Public Land Survey System.

In the afternoon, the participants divided up into several crews and attempted to determine the bearing and distance of a predetermined line. The task was complicated by the presence of heavy vegetation and a water crossing, which necessitated the use of triangulation. To further complicate the task, the instructor prohibited the use of calculators (although he was thoughtful enough to provide trig tables, pencils and paper). Additionally, it rained all afternoon.

The prize, a bottle of Lost Corner wine to the crew that obtained results closest to the actual bearing and distance, was claimed by David Ingram of Virginia and Steve Okuley of Ohio. The workshop was presented again on Sunday, but without the rain. Winners of the prize on Sunday were Rob and Bob Stratton of Washington.

The Friday session was held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. Scheduled for the morning session was a presentation titled "How David Thompson Navigated" by Jeff Gottfred, noted speaker on David Thompson and the fur trade, and expert on the use of the sextant in land navigation. Unfortunately, as Gottfred attempted to cross the border from Canada into the United States on Thursday afternoon, he discovered that, since he was receiving an honorarium to cover his expenses, he would need a work permit and that an application for such a permit typically takes one to three months to process.

Filling in for Gottfred were David Ingram, president of the Museum of Surveying, and David Malaher, a retired engineer who has published a number of articles on the history of the U.S./Canada boundary. Malaher is also a member of the Centre for Rupert's Land Studies of the University of Winnipeg and represents the Centre on the David Thompson Bicentennial Committee.

Malaher gave a presentation on the boundary of the United States, concentrating on the boundary between the United States and Canada. Of particular interest was his description of attempts to define the northwest corner of the United States. Treaty language called for the corner to be defined by a line running west from the most northwesterly corner of Lake of the Woods until it intersected the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, no such intersection exists and the language in the treaty created a 140-mile gap where the boundary was undefined. Fur traders of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company found this quite convenient, as they were able to move into and out of prime fur trapping territory that technically belonged to the United States without actually crossing any borders.

Ingram gave a presentation on the evolution of the surveyor's compass and the Gunter chain. He also gave some pointers on how to tell if an antique instrument is genuine and how to spot fakes.

The afternoon session was presented by Jack Nisbet, an author and historian from Spokane. Nisbet gave a review of some of the instruments, maps and Thompson lore from England and from the Thompson archives. Following his presentation, participants enjoyed a pre-opening tour of a David Thompson historical exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The event was complete with a wine and cheese tasting and a book signing by Nisbet, whose latest book, The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau, was just released.

The day came to a close with a banquet at the Red Lion River Inn in Spokane. The after-dinner speaker was Ken Allred, who is commissioned as an Alberta Land Surveyor and Canada Lands Surveyor. He gave a presentation on survey art and monuments around the world.

Robert Cagle (left) and Bart Crattie check the setting on the declination arc of their solar compass.

The Saturday morning speaker was Dr. Robert Carriker, a professor of history at Gonzaga University and director of eight National Endowment for the Humanities seminars on the Corps of Discovery. Dr. Carriker has written a number of books about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Dr. Carriker gave a review of the activities of Lewis and Clark and Alexander Mackenzie in the Pacific Northwest in relation to the explorations of David Thompson.

Following Dr. Carriker's presentation, participants were transported to Spokane House in Riverside State Park where they enjoyed an "authentic" David Thompson lunch complete with buffalo stew and smoked salmon.

At the Spokane House Interpretive Center, Rendezvous participants learned that, under the direction of the North West Company's David Thompson, two men were sent to Spokane country in 1810 to build a small trading post at the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers. The two men, Finan McDonald and Jaco Finlay, built a crude cabin that they called "Spokane House." This became the first permanent white settlement in what is now the state of Washington.

Demonstrations by Friends of Spokane House and the "David Thompson Party" of the American Mountain Men followed and included beaver trapping, fire starting, canoe building, a black-powder rifle demonstration and more.

The Rendezvous concluded on Saturday evening with a dinner buffet at the Red Lion River Inn, hosted by Denny and Delores DeMeyer. David Malaher's after-dinner presentation titled "David Thompson Finds the Start of the 49th Parallel Boundary Using a Massey Patent Log - 1824" described the Massey Patent Log, a torpedo-shaped instrument with rotary fins dragged from the stern of a ship to measure the speed or distance traveled. The ever-resourceful Thompson adapted such a device for use behind a canoe and used it to survey the Lake of the Woods. Rendezvous '05 was a fitting tribute to a famous Canadian surveyor whose contributions are not adequately appreciated in the United States. The next Rendezvous will be held in autumn 2006 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.