James Evans was among the first Methodist missionaries in 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 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
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
James. Cree Language. Reel 2, Archives
of the University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.