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Posted: March 21, 2015

The David Thompson Legacy Art Project

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Cranbrook Club is thrilled to invite the public to a premiere slide presentation of the paintings, photographs and stories by Cranbrook artist, Joseph Cross, as he and Sharon retraced the amazing journeys of the famous Canadian fur trader and surveyor, David Thompson, throughout our region.

Blackfoot Crossing at Rocky Mountain House. Click photos to enlarge
Blackfoot Crossing at Rocky Mountain House. Click photos to enlarge

The results of Cross’s work is The David Thompson Legacy Art Project. This free event is being held April 16, 7-8 p.m. at College of the Rockies, Room 189.

“Since no paintings or sketches survived from Thompson’s time and his travels were undertaken before the invention of photography, no imagery existed, until now, to give life to Thompson’s remarkable stories,” said Joseph Cross. He and Sharon undertook the project intending to create an exhibition of historically accurate, museum-quality paintings depicting the central events of Thompson’s remarkable life.

The invitation by the North American David Thompson Bicentennial Partnership was a non- commissioned request. Financial assistance from the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance Major Project Funding Program for Heritage helped the Cross duo with their site research for the Columbia Basin portion of the David Thompson Legacy Art Project.

Additionally, the ‘project’ was to commemorate women’s silent role in the fur trade and exploration of the continent, and contain the native involvement and perspective.

Sharon & Joseph bushwhacking to create the trail David Thompson & his group made
Sharon & Joseph bushwhacking to create the trail David Thompson & his group made

David Thompson married Charlotte Small, the daughter of a Cree mother and Scottish father, at Ile a la Crosse, Saskatchewan. Together, they had 13 children.

How does a mother prepare herself and children for a journey of thousands of miles through uncharted country without any of today’s modern conveniences – crossing raging, overflowing creeks and streams in the mountains? Likely by gritting her teeth, hanging on to the horses’ tails and praying they do not get swept, away as often happened in such currents.

The courage of Charlotte and the other women on these expeditions, often pregnant, and expected to share in the work, look after children and prepare meals, needs to be recognized. Charlotte travelled 50,000 km with David – approximately three times the distance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Charlotte and David, loyal companions of 57 years, would often stay out at night watching the stars and no doubt recalling their many yesterdays of how they had traversed the rivers and slept under those same stars. Theirs is truly a love story that kept them together in the days when, for men, taking a ‘country wife’ back home was uncommon.

“As we read the books about David Thompson, and how he so meticulously and eloquently recorded his journeys as a surveyor, and fur trader, in the mostly unexplored and vast reaches of Canada, we became increasingly inspired,” said Joseph. “After identifying sites to explore, we set out either backpacking, hiking or canoeing. The creation of paintings for this inspiring and expanding initiative is exciting personally and professionally. Both Sharon and I soon recognized that the seeds of this project were planted years ago in the unseen, preparing us for this project that has and continues to manifest.”

“Weather forced us to retreat several times,” he admitted. “Loder Peak was one of those sites. After the third attempt we were successful.”

Cree Crossing
Cree Crossing

Thompson wrote of the scene of Loder Peak saying: “Our view from the heights to the eastward was vast and unbounded; the eye had not the strength to discriminate its termination.” Of the view from the same point looking westward he wrote, “Never before did I behold so just, so perfect, a resemblance of the waves of the ocean in a wintry storm.”

Joseph Cross is a self-taught, professional artist, a career he aspired to since the age of eight. He previously worked in the business/financial industry including several management positions until 1979.

JC Sign at Mistaya Canyon lgGalleries around the world have exhibited his art, and International Artist Magazine has published several feature articles on his work, which have provided valuable exposure. He has placed very well in international competitions; yet, he is a down to earth man who gladly shares his knowledge with other artists to help them achieve their dreams. He currently sits on the Board of BC Arts Council; and on the College of the Rockies University Studies, Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Science Program Advisory Committee.

The Cranbrook Club has 12 members locally and is a member of CFUW National, a non-political, voluntary, self-funded, bilingual and non-governmental organization of women university graduates in 110 clubs across Canada that works to improve the status of women and girls, education, peace, justice and human rights. CFUW holds special consultative status at the United Nations (ECOSOC) and belongs to the Sectoral Committee of education of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. CFUW is the largest of 61 national affiliates of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW).

Lead image: Looking east from Loder Peak. Images courtesy Joseph and Sharon Cross

Loder Peak was a huge success for David Thompson as well as the Cross duo.
Loder Peak was a huge success for David Thompson as well as the Cross duo.

 CFUW Cranbrook Club


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