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In Their Own Voices

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Dene Phone BookJames Evans was among the first Methodist missionaries inCree Typewriter the West.  A creative person in many ways, his most important legacy remains the syllabaries he developed-the lists of characters that represent syllables, and serve as an alphabet. The Cree syllabary was easily learned and eventually used by all missionary groups. It spread among the Aboriginal communities as a way to communicate written messages. It remains in use today, 160 years after its creation. 

Evan's linguistic interest pervades his writing. Letters to family and friends are often accompanied by witty poetry:  

                                 Our garden near the Hudson's Bay
 Produced much more toil than pay
Potatoes thrive if they don't freeze
       And sometimes grow as large as peas

Evans PageJames Evans left a great deal of thoughtful poetry and reflective writing. His sermon notes are replete with references written in Greek, Ojibway, Hebrew and Cree. He carefully listened to the local population and recorded their traditional stories, one of which became the starting point for a theatre production about the life of James Evans, written by the Reverend Dr. Geoff Wilfgong Pritchard.   

On a practical level, however, Evan's creativity was perhaps less appreciated. When he built a tin canoe at York in 1842, it became the talk of the district and as pioneer Donald Ross wrote, "I would not even cross the river in that Tin Machine, no, not for all the gold it could carry."


Citation Sources
Evans, James. Cree Language. Reel 2, Archives of the University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

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