1890s: “Hobnobbing with a Countess” in the Okanagan

I want to make brief reference to the diaries of an Ontarian who immigrated to southern interior British Columbia’s Spallumcheen Valley…


The book (image credit: AbeBooks)

…the book is “Hobnobbing with a Countess and Other Okanagan Adventures: The Diaries of Alice Barrett Parke, 1891-1900“, edited by Jo Fraser Jones (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2001).

Alice Butler Barrett, soon to be Parke (1861-1952), is claimed on page 30 not to have spoken Chinook Jargon, but there are in fact a number of observations she makes that show some acquaintance with it.

Reading her published memories, you’ll find that she recognizes when “Chinook” is being spoken. Her brother Harry talks it with the Indigenous people. Alice herself shows familiarity with expressions like < Siwash > ‘Indian’, < papoose > ‘baby’, < wak-wak > (she must have written < wah-wah > actually) ‘Council’ i.e. a discussion, and < Halo, halo > ‘No’.

She also tells that most local Okanagan Indian men speak “more or less English”, which I think implies a mixture with Chinuk Wawa, whereas the women “don’t even try to”, which matches other sources’ reports of local women speaking Jargon with Settlers.

As we know, CW was still in common use in southern BC; the same years that Alice’s diary spans include the peak years of the Jargon newspaper Kamloops Wawa. So her writings make a nice little background check on what we learn from KW. She even names and discusses various local Salish people, who quite likely appear in KW’s pages.

What do you think?