Duncan missionary created a Chinook Jargon dictionary

You never know what you’re going to turn up when you surf for information on the Internet. Recently, in researching the history of the Methodist Mission House on Kenneth Street for a history of heritage homes and buildings of the Cowichan Valley, I found an intriguing reference to the Rev. Charles Montgomery Tate.

I’ve written about him before and probably saw this same reference but it didn’t register at the time. I’m referring to one of Tate’s more ambitious projects, a dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, that mixedbag of languages used for a century as a simplified means of communication between whites and First Nations peoples in the Pacific Northwest.

Published by M.W. Waitt, Victoria, in 1889, Tate’s slender volume (only 30 pages) is entitled Chinook as Spoken by the Indians of Washington Territory, British Columbia and Alaska: For the Use of Traders, Tourists and Others Who Have Business Intercourse with the Indians: Chinook-English, English-Chinook.

His isn’t the only Chinook Jargon dictionary, my copy having been published by T.N. Hibben & Co., also of Victoria, in 1931. But the fact that it uses the same subtitle as Tate’s makes me believe that it’s really his book reprinted without acknowledging the author. A suspicion reinforced by the fact that the Lord’s Prayer,

in jargon, appears on the last page. Whatever the case, this English-born Methodist missionary arrived in Duncan in 1899 after previous postings as a lay minister working with Native peoples in Nanaimo, Vancouver and Chilliwack. Tate’s one of those rare gems for historians, a pioneer who kept detailed diaries, as the late chronicler Bill Owens rejoiced when researching his history of the Duncan United Church in the late 1960s. From Tate’s diaries, kept at the British Columbia Provincial Archives, we know that he and his wife arrived in Duncan, June 15, 1899.

Their reception was less than warm: “No one met us or offered help. An Indian told us we were not wanted, as the Indians were all good. A day later this man came and expressed sorrow for his remark and promised to attend services.”

October 11, Tate “bought two lots through Mr. Whittome, Real Estate, for $225 for a Mission House. Mr. David Spencer [wealthy Victoria department store owner] paid for them.”

By December, he had men excavating the site, then set a Mr. Williams to work. The 29th of that month was the great day that Mrs. Tate “laid the corner-stone and in the cavity were placed copies of the Colonist, the Guardian [Duncan didn’t have its own newspaper in 1899] and Conference Reports.

The Rev. and Mrs. Duncan departed Duncan in 1910. By all indications, they were warmly regarded and highly respected for their work among the Cowichan Tribes. Among his legacies, besides that of the Duncan Mission: two day schools and a night school, a fishermen’s union, a grist mill, a printed vocabulary of the Cowichan (Hul’qumi’num) tongue, and a dictionary and hymnal in Chinook. Completed in March 1900, the Mission

House is significant in that it predated Duncan’s incorporation as a city by 12 years. By then missionary efforts had been moved to Koksilah and in 1922 the Duncan Mission property was sold to Dr. Cornhill for $2,470. The old structure served as his office and for a time as a public health centre.

At the time of Mr. Muenter’s article in the Colonist, the three men demolishing the Mission House had found some old photographs and copies of the local Leader and Victoria papers, but no time capsule. There’s no mention of its being found in Duncan United Church records during research for an update of Mr. Owens’ book in 2005.

But back to Chinook Jargon, which takes its name from a tribe that lived on the Columbia River in the American Northwest. In the late 1700s, when the traders of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Co. and the North West Co. set up shop in the Oregon Territory, they found the Chinook language to be tongue-tying for English and French speaking employees. So they coined a hybridized jargon of French-Metis, English, Spanish and Chinook.

It worked so well that, within 10 years, it had become the language of choice between traders and native tribes throughout Oregon and Washington Territories. It advanced throughout much of the future province of British Columbia after the Hudson’s Bay Co. absorbed the North West Co. Consisting of fewer than 500 words, Chinook served well until English became the common communicator. It has been described as a Pidgin English, “an amalgam of sounds derived from different locations”. Modern-day linguists have determined that the famous trade jargon is composed, roughly, of 10 per cent Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), 15 per cent English, 15 per cent Métis French and 50 per cent Old Chinook “with a sprinkling of words from Cree and Ojibway”.

Numerous Chinook terms and expressions are with us yet and some grace our maps. For example, skookumchuck, meaning a body of saltwater and skookum, strong; tyee, meaning chief or someone of importance (which isn’t given in the Hibben dictionary).

Then we have such fascinating holdovers as: tilikum (friend); bed and boat (exactly what they mean, some of the English terms used); kamas (the native plant camas whose edible root was a food staple for Natives); klahow-ya, greetings; klootchman, woman; ma-ma, mother; man, man; Mesachie, bad, wicked; moon, moon; muck-a-muck, food; nose, nose or point of land; papa, father; potlatch, the native ceremony that involves the mass distribution of gifts; salal, the native berry bush; Si-wash, Indian; tenas, small, not much, a child; tik-tik, watch; puss-puss, cougar! Some of them, when you see the English definition, bring a smile. I was particularly intrigued by Scotty, the word for crazy, which also applied to lunatic asylum a.k.a. Scotty House. This has to have originated in Victoria in the 1860s when a mentally troubled pioneer of this name was forever in trouble with the police or in jail. But I’ve already told you that story.

Kla-how-ya, tilikum! www.twpaterson.com

Just Posted

Karl McPherson, left, and Mary Morrice are the new head coach and general manager, respectively, at the Duncan Dynamics Gymnastics Club. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Manager charts a new course for Duncan Dynamics

More recreational programs to join competitive teams

Cute but fierce! Timber moonlights as an attack kitty. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Sarah Simpson Column: Beware of Mr. Bite, the midnight attacker

Last week, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by… Continue reading

The province has come through with funding for Duncan Manor’s renewal project. (File photo)
Funding comes through for Duncan Manor’s renewal project

Money will come from the province’s Community Housing Fund

The former St. Joseph’s School site will remain an art studio at least into early next year. It will take some time before being converted to an addictions recovery community. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Addiction recovery facility will be all about building community together

Society on a clear path with members’ experiences to provide valuable help

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More than 75% of B.C. adults have 1st dose of COVID vaccine

The federal government has confirmed a boost in the Moderna vaccine will be coming later this month

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Most Read