Chinook Jargon and the Engineers

Just Recently as PMC, I had the opportunity to present a toast to the  Crown during the D-Day Dinner.

As we all know the toast is presented in one of the official languages by the PMC, and the reply is given in the other language by the V/PMC.

One thing that I wanted to do is to give standing to the third founding people, the First Nations of British Columbia, and so I also included in the toast a phrase in Chinook Jargon (Chinook Wawa) which was a trading language established before any settlers came to the Province.

 – The Loyal Toast

Chinook Jargon originated as a trade language of the Pacific Northwest, and spread during the 19th century from the lower Columbia River, first to other areas in modern Oregon and Washington, then British Columbia and as far as Alaska and Yukon Territory.

During this era many dictionaries were published in order to help settlers interact with the First Nations people already living there. The old settler families in the Pacific Northwest sent communiques to each other, stylishly composed entirely in “the Chinook.” Many residents of the city of Vancouver spoke Chinook Jargon as their first language, even using it at home in preference to English.

Among the first Europeans to use Chinook Jargon were traders, trappers, Voyageurs, Coureurs des bois and Catholic missionaries. Hawaiians and Chinese in the region made much use of it as well; in some places Kanakas married into the First Nations and non-native families and their particular mode of the Jargon is believed to have contained Hawaiian words, or Hawaiian styles of pronunciation; similarly the Jargon as spoken by a Chinese person or a Norwegian or a Scot will have been influenced by those individuals’ native-speaker terms and accents; and in some areas the adoption of further non-aboriginal words has been observed.

The Chinook Jargon naturally became the first language in multi-racial households, and also in multi-ethnic work environments such as canneries and lumberyards and ranches where it remained the language of the workplace well into the middle of the 20th Century.

During the Gold Rush, Chinook Jargon was used in British Columbia by gold prospectors and Royal Engineers.

Now you might have heard of:

Skookum — used in the Jargon either as a verb auxiliary for to be able or an adjective for able, strong, big, genuine, reliable – which sums up its use in BC English, although there are a wide range of possible usages:

“He’s a skookum guy” means that the person is solid and reliable while “we need somebody who’s skookum” means that a strong and large person is needed.

A carpenter, after banging a stud into place, might check it and decide, “Yeah, that’s skookum”. Asking for affirmation, someone might say “is that skookum” or “is that skookum with you?”

Skookum can also be translated simply as “O.K.” but it means something a bit more emphatic. Cheechako — Newcomer; the word is formed from “chee” (new) + “chako” (come) and was

used to refer to non-native people.

Muckamuck, high muckamuck — There’s also “high muckamuck” and even its proper form “hyas muckamuck” (pronounced “high-ass”, and in English carrying that connotation), and the variant “high mucketymuck”; “high mucketymuck/muckamuck” has spread far beyond the Pacific Northwest, and meaning a big boss, while literally meaning “big feed” or “important

banquet”, potentially meaning even a fullblown potlatch, in English it has a sense of “the guys at the head table” since “muckamuck” or “a feed” is in the same vein in non-city BC English as “grub” or “a meal/dinner”.

Klootchman or Klootch — in the Jargon meaning simply “a woman” or the female of something

Still in use in English in some areas and with people of an older background to mean a First Nations woman, or to refer to the wives/women attached to a certain group in a joking way e.g. “we sent all the klootchman to the kitchen while we played cards”.

Tyee — leader, chief, boss. Also “Big Tyee” in the context of “boss” or well-known person. In the Jargon Tyee meant chief, and could also be an adjective denoting “big”, as with “tyee salmon”

A hyas tyee means “important or big ruler”. The leader”, i.e. – king, big boss, important ruler, and is also sometimes used in English in the same way as Big Tyee. e.g. “He was the undisputed hyas tyee of all the country between the Johnstone Strait and Comox” This was also the common title used for the famous chiefs of the early era, such as Maquinna, for whom it was applied by Captain Vancouver and others in the context of “king”.

So now that you understand some words. …

I would like all you Cheechako’s at this Muckamuck to stand up.

The Royal Engineers who surveyed and built this Province would say in Chinook that they worked for the The Hyas Klootchman Tyee – the “Great Woman Ruler”, being Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

Today the Hyas Klootchman Tyee is her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
So, Monsieur le Vice President, la Reine, le Hyas Klootchman Tyee notre Colonel en Chef”.

-Response – “The Queen”

Want to read more?

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Often family members of veterans discover a website and have a question about past service.  In some cases people are planning funerals or commemorating Royal Canadian Engineers in BC.

We would love to hear from you, and with our Associate Members have a wealth of resources about our history, and our place in the community.

You can come and see our Museum or even speak to a Veteran.

Send an email to:

mess.committee@39cer.org

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Q. How do I become a Mess Member?

A. You just need to apply! For a former member of 6ES your application simply goes to be confirmed by the OC and CO. For those others your application goes to the Membership Committee for vetting, and then your membership is voted on in the Annual General Meeting before you are recommended to the CO for approval.

Q. Am I eligible?

A. Associate Members can be enrolled from the following categories:

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please contact:

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The Other Squadrons – 39CER

39CER is comprised of 6 Engineer Squadron in North Vancouver, and also 54 Engineer Squadron in Chilliwack, and 44 Engineer Squadron in centred in Trail, with a detachment in Cranbrook. There are Engineers from the Regiment who parade attached to other units at various times as well.

Regimental HQ is in Chilliwack.  Members of the Regiment are welcome in Messes attached to each Armoury, and that hospitality extends to Associates and Guests.

39CER is the home of the Royal Canadian Engineers who parade in British Columbia, and those who have served with the Corps or Branch as well and are living here today.