1929: Saanich clams

Credit goes to my reader Alex Code for today’s harvest of genuine BC Jargon.

suburb and country

In the “Suburb and Country” section of a BC metropolitan newspaper, thus well after frontier times, we’re treated to a local-colour piece by a female speaker of Chinuk Wawa.

At least I assume “Roslyn Strickland” was a woman married to a Harry Strickland, although the final paragraph’s “My good man!” gives me pause. I haven’t tracked down either of those people yet, nor a “Leru” (Larue? Leroux?) among the W̱SÁNEĆ people.

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Saanich Clams
An Episode by Camp Fire

A starless night, the stillness not even broken by the lapping of the waves on the beach; it is low tide. Along the beach beacon fires pierce the gloom. The Indians are digging clams. It is 10:30 p.m. Seeing lights flashing in the coves along the beach, Harry and I don our coats, equip ourselves with a digging fork, bucket and flashlight and go down to the nearest light, partly out of curiosity but incidentally to dig some clams, which we had almost forgotten the taste of. Across long stretches of grey sand, very wet in parts, we walk till we meet two small children digging away by the light of a lantern, an Indian boy and girl, both dressed in boy’s clothing, and wearing high rubber boots. A little further on a wee bonfire lit up a little cove lined with lovely white sand, where the parents were digging by the light of another lantern,both sensibly dressed, the woman in man’s trousers, and both wearing high gum boots.

“Ho! Hello Le-u.” [sic]

“Klahowya Tilikum?” (How are you, friend?) [Actually ‘Hello friend.’ — not a question.] 

“How did you get on with the hop picking this year?”

“Halo hops. Halo Chikamin.” (No money; too many berries now.) [Actually ‘No hops, no money.’]

“What are you doing now?”

“Mamook clams.” (Work at clams.) [‘Harvesting clams.’]

“How many clams do you get in a night?”

“Some nights three sacks, some nights two sacks, some nights no sacks.”

The next night I returned to dig some more clams, having used up our small supply of twelve in soup, which was excellent.This is how I made it. Boiled the clams till they opened up. Put them through the meat chopper, discarding the tongue and neck. Heated some milk and added clams and nectar, first thickening with a little flour or biscuit crumbs, adding a lump of butter and flavoring with salt and pepper.

Arriving at the beach at about the same time as the previous evening, I find the same family at work in the same cove.

“How many sacks did you get last night?” I asked Leru.

“Last night hias cloosh (very good), six sacks.” [Excellent BC Chinook here.]

Asking the woman how many children she had, she replied in very good English, “Besides these, two at school in Chilliwack.”

After I filled my basin with clams, which the Indians gave me from their pile, I turned homeward, and they departed in their canoe, perhaps to other coves, till the tide drives them out, and then home. The next day they will take them over in their launch to the cannery at Sidney, where the famous Saanich Clams are canned, and where they will receive $1.25 per sack.

The Indians had some nice large clams, but the Saanich Inlet clam evidently does not equal in size the East Coast clam, judging by what an old Irishman in Sidney told me a few years ago. I remarked that I guessed the clams would be getting scarce soon, now the cannery was operating.

“My good man, there are clams on the East Coast here as big as nail kegs,” he replied. “It takes one man with a crow bar and another pulling at the tange (tongue) to get it out of the hole.”


— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Colonist of January 6, 1929, page 8, column 5

Bonus fact:

Here’s a nail keg with yardsticks in it, to give you an idea of those clams according to the blarney spun by by the Erseman:

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(Image credit: Fixtures Close Up)

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