David Thompson's notebooks and journals Help

Series F 443-1

David Thompson's notebooks and journals

About these records

David Thompson's notebooks and journals
Dates of Creation
1789-1851, 1864
Physical Description

1.75 metres of textual records

Sub-series forms part of

F 443 David Thompson fonds

Scope and Content

Series consists of notebooks and journals kept by David Thompson over a span of 62 years.

The journals and notebooks, created between 1789 and 1812, document Thompson's travels to the interior of Canada and the United States while working for the Hudson's Bay Company and Northwest Company.

Entries combine astronomical observations with descriptions of the landscape, wildlife, climate, members of his traveling parties, as well as the peoples and cultures encountered in the course of his explorations. These provide unique documentation of the daily life of a fur trader and explorer, as well as some of the earliest descriptions of the landscape of western Canada recorded by Europeans.

The journals kept between 1812 and the late 1830's describe various aspects of Thompson's life and career following his retirement from the Northwest Company. Captured in these pages are Thompson's two years in Terrebonne where, still a partner in Northwest, he drafted his 'Great Map' of western Canada and the northwestern United States.

Also documented is Thompson's work on the boundary survey for the Treaty of Ghent and subsequent years spent in Williamstown. Entries are a mixture of astronomical observations, thoughts on his work as a Justice of the Peace for Glengarry, lists, inventions, and countless ideas and observations about the world and his daily life.

Series also serves as a record of Thompson's later years in Montreal where, plagued by diminishing eyesight and the loss of his property and status, he penned a narrative account of his extensive travels in the west. Journals for these years also include Thompson's observations about the Oregon Boundary Dispute of 1849.

There are four unnumbered notebooks in this series documenting Thompson's work on the boundary line westward from Lake Superior, a survey of the Ottawa River, as well as thirty manuscript pages (pgs. 27a to 27zd) from Thompson's original Narrative.

Series also includes an unidentified map that had been folded into one of the journals. The sketch was drawn on 14 August 1812. The exact journal it came from is unknown.

Most of Thompson's original 101 notebooks and journals were bound into 38 volumes by the Department of Crown Lands in 1864. The Department created an index to this arrangement in journal No. 78, which contains additional entries by Thompson. In many cases the bound volumes are not ordered according to Thompson's original numbering system.

Journal no. 78 contains a section, probably in Thompson's handwriting, which has the heading "Index to my Travels as corrected". The index lists the topic (or possibly the first sentence) of each page of Thompson's narrative.

Restrictions on Access
Access to original records is restricted for conservation purposes. Researchers are required to use the self-service microfilm available in the Main Reading Room or through Microfilm Interloan Service.
Terms For Use and Reproduction
Records are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on reproduction for research and private study. For use other than research and private study, please submit a Request for Permission to Publish, Exhibit or Broadcast Form.
Associated Material

Thompson's journal documenting his 'Journey to the Rocky Mountains, June 1801' is in the custody of the Library and Archives of Canada [David Thompson fonds, reference code R2825-0-6-E (formerly MG 19, Series A-8)]. A photostat of this journal is available at the Archives of Ontario on self-service microfilm reel MS 4432.

The original manuscript of Thompson's Narrative (not including the pages contained in this series) can be found at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto [David Thompson Papers, reference code MS Collection 21].


Irregularities in pagination, text direction, chronology and the order of the notebooks and journals continue to exist. For this reason, the dates of creation provided in the item listing and online finding aid may be inaccurate.

Transcripts of some of the journals are available. Consult the description for F 443-4.

Former Codes

MU 2962 to MU 2968

Finding Aid
A quick-reference online finding aid is available. Click here to view An online list that summarizes the content of each volume is also available.

View an online list of these records.

How to order these records

From our Reading Rooms

Consult the online list which provides a summary of each journal. Alternatively, consult the online finding aid for a listing of journals in chronological order.

Self-serve microfilm can be viewed in the Reading Room or using the Microfilm Interloan Service.

The map described in this series has been separately housed.

Scroll up to "Finding Aid" for more information about any available finding aids or listings.

By Microfilm Interloan
Series is available on Interloan.