A collage of Vergennes French Heritage Day activities showing actor Don Thompson performing as Samuel de Champlain. He will appear in character at this year’s French Heritage Days, July 12.
J. Kirk Edwards photo
Vergennes When Don Thompson gets into French history, he does it with a passion. A retired teacher, Thompson prepared for his new career in living history with the help of his teacher wife Carol, show-and-tell artifacts from his own collection, and plenty of homework.
Back in 2009, Thompson became a familiar face to thousands of tourists—and residents of Vermont, New York and Quebec—portraying the bold French explorer Samuel de Champlain at the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s visit.
Thompson grew up in Tappan, N.Y., near the site where Revolutionary British spy Major John Andre was hung over the Benedict Arnold affair. As a result of this early connection with history, Thompson has always been a student of America’s storied past.
The actor graduated from Hope College in Michigan with an undergraduate degree in history. He went on to graduate school at SUNY-Albany where he received a master’s degree in geography. He taught in Michigan and Vermont schools but then relocated to western New York to teach for 29 years. After retirement, he and his wife Carol returned to Vermont. They maintain homes in Vermont and Florida.
“I love local history,” Thompson said. “Where ever I live, I want to know about the area, so I’ve spent a lot of time studying and understanding the past on a local level.”
According to a Florida news article, “Thompson continues his active interest in local history wherever he is living... He has researched the history of Egmont Key in Tampa Bay and gives talks on the island to civic groups and libraries, and also does first-person school programs on railroad baron Henry B. Plant and Andrew Carnegie.”
While living in the Syracuse area, Thompson was hired to be an interpreter at the reconstructed site of a 17th-century Jesuit mission called Saint Marie Among the Iroquois. His interest in history also found him involved in archeological digs around the region.