1923: “Indian Bob” and city folks’ amnesia

Alex Code of PoCo Heritage has shared another good Chinook Jargon find with us…

I don’t think you could find a better illustration of the fact that by 1923, CJ was a mere curiosity in the towns of British Columbia — even in the capital, which once was the center of the CJ world — but was still thriving outside of them.

There had been previous articles in the Victoria press reporting the pressing need to keep a Jargon interpreter on the city payroll, but those articles came a generation earlier than this one.

Someone on the Daily Colonist staff might’ve been remembering those, though, when they composed the opening words of today’s piece…the headline of which tells you how strong the Settler expectation already was in 1923 that you either spoke English or you didn’t fit in.




Mayor and Others Rack Brains for Chinook of Old — Question is Temporarily Settled

After the situation which was created at the City Hall yesterday in the matter of Indian Bob, it seems a fair assumption that any applicant for the city comptroller post who can speak Chinook fluently will have a preference./When the aged Indian, wizened and bent and hobbling with the aid of a stick, made his way into the City Hall late in the afternoon in the company of a small Indian boy, he played havoc with placidity of routine and drew unto himself the attention of a flattering number of civic officials. That Indian Bob was flattered is,


however, something that can only be conjectured for if he did not know until it was all over who the Mayor was, doubtless he was also not aware that in the interested group about him were City Clerk Bradley, Assistant Clerk Frank Hunter, City Treasurer Edwin C. Smith, Mr. John Baxter, the Mayor’s secretary, City Solicitor Pringle, Sanitary Inspector Lancaster and Messrs. W. Lorimer and George Andrews, of the Treasury Department.

As a declaimer in his own tongue, Indian Bob left the impression that doubtless he was the man who always moves the votes of thanks back home in his village, but in the matter of speaking English he was a nullity, a non est, a dud. He was found wandering about with a note in his hand and was escorted into the City Clerk’s office by Mr. William Lorimer, of the Treasury Department. The message the aborigine bore in his shaking hand was one from an unknown James Brown, addressed to Mayor Hayward, and said: “This man wants to know where he is to stay with his family until such time as the Maquinna returns.”


Succinct Statement

That stated the problem quite succinctly. By dint of cross-examination the principal facts of the story were learned. Indian Bob had been among some Indians who had been ordered off some city property on Belleville Street, west of the C.P.R. docks where they wished to camp until the Princess Maquinna sailed for the West Coast of the Island. Indian Bob wanted to know where he was to camp if not on the accustomed ground. 

While the matter was investigated the old chap, with his vari-colored cap slightly down on one side, and much bewhiskered face, sat stolidly on a chair in the City Clerk’s office, with the little lad beside him.

At its last meeting the City Council decided that the city property on Belleville Street must be kept clear, but as the letter containing the order had not yet been sent out, Mayor Hayward had inquiries made as to who authorized the Indians to be removed. He learned that the Health Department had been keeping them off the ground for some time because of health conditions. The other 


Indians had gone down to the Esquimalt Reserve, but poor old Indian Bob had no arrangements made and wanted some made for him./In the privacy of his own office, Mayor Hayward hastily reviewed the situation. It was suggested that Indian Bob might camp on the vacant property behind the City Hall, make use of a reverted lot, or sleep in the City Hall attic, but all of these proposals were rejected./City Clerk Bradley felt that drastic steps must be taken. He telephoned the Treasury Department, got Mr. Lorimer on the telephone, and demanded in a stern tone: “What are you going to do with that Indian you left here?”

“I’ll be right over,” replied Mr. Lorimer.

Mayor Hayward decided to interview Indian Bob. “In the days when I was selling up and down the British Columbia coast I used to do business with the Indians in Chinook,” he ruminated, “but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten most of it. However, I’ll see what I can do.”

He went out into the City Clerk’s office and greeted the old native, who, when he entered the City Hall, had 


asked to see the “tyee.” Mr. Lorimer arrived and he, the Mayor and the City Clerk contributed some scrappy Chinook as they quizzed Indian Bob. They elicited a few facts, but their Chinook was too much diluted with English to be of much service. Indian Bob, however, became voluble at the sound of Chinook and held forth at some length. A word here and there was understood but most of what he said was lost upon an uncomprehending audience.

Other officials began to assemble as the call went forth for a civic spokesman who could bridge the Chinook gap. City Sanitary Inspector Lancaster arrived to explain the situation of his department. Mr. George Andrews came in from the Treasury Department. “What?” he exclaimed, when he heard about the linguistic troubles. “Have all you British Columbia boys forgotten your Chinook?”

“Ask how many there are in the family, then?” challenged Mayor Hayward, and the bold one registered failure. With the Mayor and the civic officials gathered solemnly about him, Indian Bob tried his best to understand what was said and answer them, and finally further bits of in-


formation were obtained. The Indian had been over to Vancouver, where he had carved things and sold them while his fellows did other work.

Ka mika illahie?” queried the Mayor, which was one way of asking where the old man lived. “Nootka,” was the response.

Halo Skookum House

His Worship asked Bob if he would like to moosum in the skookum-house okook-sun, but the idea of sleeping in jail overnight did not appeal, and was met by a very emphatic, “Halo skookum-house,” which was a distinct negative.

The humor of the situation was too much for City Clerk Bradley, who retreated into the vault to try to stifle his laughter, tears streaming down his face. Mr. Baxter, the Mayor’s secretary arrived on the scene to find out what the trouble was about and stayed to listen. City Solicitor Pringle, who was in the office on other business, heard enough to realize that should the others fail and he be called upon to cross-examine the witness, the results were likely to be as successful as a dis-


cussion between a penguin and an iceberg. He left.

What to do with the old man? That was the problem. “Let him stay on the Belleville Street property for twenty-four hours until I can polish up my Chinook,” Mayor Hayward finally decreed in desperation, and dictated an official order to Assistant City Clerk Frank Hunter who typed it up on official stationery.

Up to this point the name of the visitor was not known, and when asked it, he said, “Bob.” So the notice given him announced that the bearer, Indian Bob, had the privilege of camping on the ground for twenty-four hours.Having decided on this course, the Mayor found that the next difficulty was to let Indian Bob know about it. City Treasurer E.C. Smith, who happened to come into the office about this time on business, helped out with some classic Chinook, and Indian Bob appeared to understand that he had another day. He pointed to Mayor Hayward and wanted to know who he was.

Hyas tyee,” explained His Worship, which meant that he was the big chief and not a policeman.


Indian Bob grinned broadly as he hobbled out, and the Mayor breathed relief over the temporary settlement. But how about after the twenty-four hours is up?

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Colonist of October 4, 1923, page 11, columns 3 & 4

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