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One of the most significant and enduring achievements of James Evans was the development of the Cree syllabary. With experience in the Ojibway language and traditions and an extensive linguistic knowledge, Evans devised a simple system that allowed the Cree language to be written. The  system was easy to understand and could be quickly taught. Once he had devised a makeshift printing press Evans printed his translations and the system rapidly spread among the other missions and Hudson's Bay Company posts. 

The following excerpts are taken from Evans' journal entries for 1840 and deal with the Cree syllabary and Evans'Donald Ross attempts to build the printing press. They demonstrate the adaptability and experimentation that was required in frontier life:

Sept. 15 . . . I commenced a school . . . about twenty-five scholars anxious to learn. I am teaching them to read the English and their own tongue.

Sept. 28 . . . For a fortnight I have been endeavouring to cast type to print in the Cree language, but every attempt has failed. I have no proper materials, neither type metal, nor any other things requisite. I hope, however, to conquer the difficulties, and to begin printing the Cree language in a few days or months at the furthest.

Sept. 30 . . . I cut types in lead of two characters, and I took moulds of clay, chalk, putty, sand, and tried some fruitless experiments.

Oct. 30 . . . I cast a plate of hardened lead, polished it, and commenced cutting the Cree alphabet, making a sort of stereotype plate.

Oct. 15 . . . Last night I finished the alphabet plate, and today printed a few sheets. Several boys know all the letters, having written the alphabet for each; they are much pleased with their new books, but not much more so than I am myself.

Oct. 19 . . . Several of the boys are beginning to read the written hymns in the Cree character; I feel encouraged to print them in a few days.

Nov. 11 . . . My type answers well. The hymn beginning with 'Jesus my all to heaven is gone' is in the press. I have today struck off three hundred copies of the first three verses.

Nov. 17 . . . I have today struck off two hundred and fifty copies of the hymn beginning - 'Behold the Saviour of mankind' with a chorus for occasional use, 'Hallelujah to the Lamb'

Dec. 3 . . . I printed the hymn-Blow ye the trumpet, blow!' The Indians and children sing these well and several read with fluency. The short time which is required to learn to read and write, arises from there being no such thing as learning to spell, every character in the alphabet being a syllable, so that when these are learned, all is learned. Several boys and young men can write any word in the language, seldom committing an error. I have now printed about two thousand pages of the hymns, etc., and on my return from my winter tour, by God's blessing, I shall print the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, Commandments, and the first chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, not forgetting the rules of our society."

 

Citation Sources
Hutchinson, Gerald. Unpublished manuscript.


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