Annie York & Arthur Urquhart interview, Spuzzum, BC


Spuzzum Hotel (image credit: Michael Kluckner’s Vanishing BC)

Two amazing members of the Indigenous community in Spuzzum, British Columbia were interviewed by the amazing Imbert Orchard in 1977.

Annie Zíxtkʷu York and her relative Arthur Urquhart were tape-recorded telling absorbing recollections of local history. They’re transcribed into PDF documents available online, and that’s what I’ll be sampling from today.

York, Annie; Urquhart, Arthur; Orchard, Imbert (Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1977)
Consists of an interview that tells of the arrival of Simon Fraser amongst the Thompson Indians. Annie York discusses the life of her grandfather and speaks at great length of her devotion to the Christian religion.

Annie talks about the Nłeʔképmx (Thompson Salish) Chief Pellec, and it’s interesting how she connects him with a mention of him in a “little…Chinook book”.

Interjecting here, it’s quite possible she’s thinking of Kamloops Wawa. That newspaper was frequently referred to as the Chinuk pipa (‘Chinook writing/paper/book’). Issue #153 of June 1897 carries a kind of lengthy anecdote of Pellec that was told to Father Le Jeune by “the old Lytton Indians”. That story is repeated in French shorthand in #155 of August 1897, a snippet of which follows:


“Anecdote: Il y avait autrefois un sois-disant chef sauvage à Spuzzum, du nom de Péllek. Il est mort en 1882.”

(FRENCH-SPEAKING READERS: I’m very interested in hearing from you if you can read or learn Duployé shorthand. Contact me.)

Anyway, here is what Annie says about Pellec in connection with Chinuk Wawa, also showing how early Salish Christianity was integrated into the traditional culture’s leadership structure: 

York Urquhart 01

York Urquhart 02

York Urquhart 03

A little later, Annie talks about what this sort of religious leader was called; the phrases “hymn chief” and “religious chief” come up, as does the detail that Pellec apparently first learned Christian worship via Chinook Jargon…

York Urquhart 04

York Urquhart 05

She goes on to recite a prayer and a hymn in Thompson Salish, reading from an Anglican book — probably one of Rev. John Booth Good’s missionary publications. She attributes the hymn’s lyrics to Pellec. (She says other hymns are just translations from English.) Later she tells of Chief Pellec meeting the first non-Aboriginal visitor, the explorer Simon Fraser.

Annie York & Arthur Urquhart interview #2
York, Annie; Urquhart, Arthur; Orchard, Imbert (Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1977)

An interview where they give general reminiscences of their lives. There is also mention of a legend concerning the creation of the sun and moon.

In Interview #2, Arthur Urquhart fondly recalls the “Chinese settlers and gold washers” who remained in the area as “old bachelors” who spoke (much as I’ve kept demonstrating for the whole West Coast) a mix of “Cantonese, Indian, and Chinook…and broken English, of course”:

Urquhart York 01

Arthur goes on to remember James Lee, a physically imposing Indian stagecoach guard who described himself as having been “skookum man“:

Urquhart York 02

A bit later, Annie discusses traditional ways to prepare soopolallie (soapberry) Indian ice cream:

Urquhart York 03

If I’m understanding the notes that accompany these interview transcripts, these sessions were intended to become part of a movie? Maybe via the National Film Board of Canada? How wonderful that would be. The only movie I’ve heard mention of in connection with Annie York is a somewhat obscure one titled “Bowl of Bone: Tale of The Syuwe” which sounds like it’s from the perspective of an American New Age spiritual seeker :/

No matter. I’m grateful to Annie and Arthur for their vivid memories of frontier times, and to those who made sure to immortalize their words.

Don’t miss painter Michael Kluckner’s website for further fond anecdotes of Annie and Arthur left by people who knew them personally!

What have you learned?