Salmon-canning in British Columbia, 1890s
A woman visitor’s view of “how it’s made” on the lower Fraser River involves a bit of legitimate Chinuk Wawa, for local colour.
“Salmon-Canning in British Columbia” is an article by Catharine Kirby Peacock, published in Good Words and Sunday Magazine (1894, pages 605-609). It’s illustrated with fine photos by “Mr. Thompson, artist, New Westminster, B.C.”
Spoiler alert — both occurrences of Jargon here are spoken by White visitors, and both elicit a smile from Indigenous people.
First comes the well-worn folk myth that “Klahowya” is a question, “How are you?”:
But to proceed with the matter in hand.
On entering the building we were taken at
once to the fish-house, where the salmon
were lying in great heaps of some thousands,
awaiting the hand of the Chinamen splitters,
who, seizing them rapidly one after another,
first decapitating and cutting off the fins,
then taking off the tail, throw them into
troughs of water. From these they are lifted
and further entrailed by kloochmen (Indian
women) ; and very unprepossessing did some
of these rather elderly ladies look, with the
wiry hair straggling out from under their
soiled handkerchiefs, which took the place of
other head-gear; but the unusual sight of a
small black note-book raised a hum of com-
ments in the Chinook jargon, and the greet-
ing, “Kla-ha-ya?” — “How do you do?” —
met with a hearty laughing response.
And the article is capped off with a variation on the chestnut of the White person speaking a pidgin language to somebody and being stunned by a reply in the Queen’s English:
said one of our
number, airing his Chinook for the benefit of
a good-looking Indian lad, who was sun-
ning himself on the little quay. “You bet,”
replied the Siwash complacently; and with a
hearty laugh at the rapid development of
the race, we stepped into the boat and were
soon steaming away homeward-bound, the
Cannery, with its picturesque figures of
Indian and Chinaman, growing ever more
weird and indistinct in the glorious haze of
the setting sun, till, little by little, they all
faded away, and nothing more could be seen
but the beautiful river with its pathway of
trembling molten gold.
The same author published an 1893 book, “Bush and Town: A Homely Story of the Pacific Coast“, which I guess only three libraries (all in the UK) have copies of. I’d be fascinated to learn whether Ms. Kirby Peacock’s got more Chinook Jargon in that volume.
That’s it for today.