Circa 1860: Remember Victoria’s queer Chinook town crier?

Victoria, BC was already old enough in 1924 that folks indulged in nostalgia about Chinuk Wawa…


Victoria, Vancouver Island, 1860 (image credit:

…and one of the remarkable things they recalled was that there used to be a human newspaper, John Butts, who was employed by the Hudsons Bay Co. to walk around shouting news in Jargon and English!

Even more intriguingly, Butts was gay; a UVic theatre professor has created and staged a play about his colorful travails circa 1860.

Do You Remember – when the old cemetery on Quadra Street was reputed to be the haunt of a lady ghost which went skipping about among the tombstones of the pioneers at night, clad in the white uniform of her kind, while timorous folk gave the graveyard a wide berth?

When one of a number of camels brought to BC, but found useless for pack duty in the Cariboo, was cast loose in the city to fend for itself and ate all the hedges and knocked down all the fences in James Bay…?

When John Butts, a well-known character held the position of town crier of Victoria? He had a very powerful voice and walked about the city with a large bell in his hand, stopping at intervals and ringing the bell, then announcing auctions, theatrical performances, and any other matters entrusted to him to advertise. There were large numbers of Indians on the streets in those days and he shouted his information in both English and Chinook…

[Victoria (BC) Colonist, 1924-01-31, p. 5]

Do You Remember – Way back when a noted character by the name of John Butts was town crier in Victoria? At the different corners he would ring his bell and announce that Jim Macrae or some other auctioneer would hold a sale that morning on Wharf St, often winding up with a little Chinook and ‘the goose hangs high.’ He would frequently be before the magistrate for some small offence. On one occasion he asked the judge to let him off, saying that if discharged he would leave the country. ‘Where will you go, John?’ asked His Honor. ‘I’ll go to ‘Squimalt, sir!’ replied Butts; and ever thereafter anyone declaring his intention to leave the country was always asked if Esquimalt was his destination. (1860s)

[Victoria (BC) Colonist, 1924-04-02, p. 4]

For more about the life of John Butts, you can consult this book and this book.

What do you think?