In the year 1877, I was promoted to the charge of Port Simpson district, with headquarters at Port Simpson and with outposts at Skeena river, Naas river and Queen Charlotte islands. The parent post was of most importance, as the local tribes were very numerous and were large providers of furs and made considerable money as fisherman and lumbermen, but its chief importance was due to the fact that it was an inter-tribal meeting centre, visited by tribes from distant points in Alaska as well as from far inland and the Queen Charlotte Islands.
The visitors brought large quantities of furs to sell to the Company. There was also a trade between the many tribes for the natural and manufactured products in which each excelled. The interior Indians brought dried wild berries of many kinds in large quantities, done up in standard-sized packages. The Naas River people brought vast amounts of and edible fish grease, prepared from the oolichan, which, if at all obtainable, figured in every Indian’s menu. The Queen Charlotte islanders brought for sale fleets of fine, new, ocean-going canoes made from the magnificent cedar trees which abound in the those island, and they also brought a highly prized commodity know as wondaw, an extract from a flower cultivated with great care which was in request as opium is among the Chinese, as it produced to some extent the same effects. The Queen Charlotte islanders also brought jewelry in gold and silver.
It was in 1878 that, while studying the Indian language, I found the word for tobacco was daw mshua and that it was an abbreviation of two other words wondaw and omshua, meaning in English, “whiteman’s wondaw.” I became much interested to learn what the wondaw of the early Queen Charlotte islanders could have been. On inquiry, I found that about 830 A.D. the traffic in wondaw had practically ceased, owing to the introduction of tobacco by white trading vessels, and the cultivation of the flower that had been an important source of revenue completely ceased within a few years afterward. I could obtain no information from the mainland Indians as to the nature of the flower from which this narcotic extract had been obtained, but on the great annual visit from the islanders, I renewed my inquiries and found that there was among them a very old man who remembered as a boy having seen the wondaw flower in cultivation. He informed me that the land on which the flower was grown was carefully prepared and enriched with fertilizer made from cottonwood and seaweed; that the seeds or flowers (he was not sure which) were ground up in stone mortars with pestles and that the pulverized matter was boiled for some considerable time and the residue strained and put up in standardized packages. The extract, when cooled, was of about the same consistency as soap. A small portion of it, taken in the mouth, produced a happy mental condition, followed by sleep.
The old man was unable to describe the flower of the wondaw plant in a manner that might give me any clue to what it really was, but, after I had fitted him with a pair of spectacles to suit his vision, I showed him the pictures of many varieties of plants and flowers in a book on botany, also in a seedman’s annual, after an hour’s search the old fellow pointed to the poppy as more closely resembling the wondaw he knew than did any other of the flowers. This without any suggestion.
The Queen Charlotte Island natives are not allied in any way to any of the mainland tribes. Their language, of which I made some study, has no affinity with that of any of the other natives of North America. They are only to be found in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia and on the nearby Prince of Wales island.
In physique, they were inferior to mainland Indians. Many of the women, as well as the men, were comparatively fair, and brown hair was quite common. Their skill as craftsmen would indicate that they had brought with them from some other land considerable knowledge of the finer arts; and their jewellery, with its grotesque designs, was at one time in great demand among the white ladies on the Pacific coast, as well as by the mainland Indians.
About 1860 A.D, a large junk was said by the Indians to have drifted ashore on the west coast of Queen Charlotte Islands, but no white men had gone to investigate and thus obtain information which might now have been of so much interest.
The Queen Charlotte islanders, I have no doubt, reached our Dominion in the same way as the junk did in 1860, from across the Pacific Ocean.