“Colonial Despatches” (part 3: French was BC’s 1st lingua franca)

What had been the old New Caledonia District was approximately what was being described in the following…

instead of the chinook jargon

Here, the governor of the Colony of British Columbia aptly characterizes the BC Interior as more French-speaking than Chinook Jargon-speaking. 

This makes sense for 1867, as the Canadian/métis French of most Hudsons Bay Company workers had been present in the region for about 7 decades. 

And mother-tongue speakers of it had been marrying Indigenous women during that time, establishing métis families, who spoke that French, in the vicinity of the various fur-trading posts. In further consequence, quite a few First Nations people near those posts learned to speak that distinct “French of the Mountains”. 

We know that Chinuk Wawa only developed any significant presence in (southern) New Caledonia once the Fraser Canyon gold rush brought in a new demographic segment, tens of thousands of Americans, from 1858 onward. 

Those Americans, and the Chinook Jargon that they consciously included in their supply outfits, clustered on the Fraser and its tributary rivers and creeks, where it was relatively easy to mine any gold that you found, thanks to the hydraulic power of the streams. So it was the First Nations in those southern Interior areas who had been the most exposed to CJ by the time of today’s 1867 letter. 

Note that the Cariboo gold rush of 1861+ is seen as having involved mostly Canadian and British miners — including about 4,000 Chinese immigrants. This fact tends to explain why Chinuk Wawa came relatively late, and had a weaker presence, in that more northerly Interior area. Thus French would’ve retained more of its strength from (Fort) Alexandria (in Dene country) and northward, compared to the Fraser rush zone, which was mostly in Salish territories. 

With that preamble, have a look at this excerpt from governor Seymour’s letter, with my emphasis added: 

Without defection [insult] to the Church to which I belong I say that that of Rome is supreme among our native population on the Mainland — and with infinite benefit to the Indians and to the White inhabitants of the Territory. My despatch No. 61 of 22nd May 1865, contained a description of the Catholic Mission School at St. Mary’s on the Fraser, where the Indian boys acquire the industries of Europe and the simpler branches of European education,  Where they show that they can thrive and do well in contact with civilization, and that there is no reason why in this Colony, at least, the Native race should retreat or perish before the advance of the White Man. The same thing is shewn on a vastly larger scale on the plains beyond the Cascade range where the Indians own horses and cattle, cultivate in many cases their patches of land, speak French instead of the Chinook jargon, lead healthy active lives and do not diminish in numbers except when the small pox is among them. Where Whiskey selling can be stopped even the Indians of the Coast and Lower Fraser are doing well.

— from Despatch to London: Seymour, Frederick to Carnarvon, Earl 11 January 1867, CO 60:27, no. 1947, 65.

What do you think? qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?