Fonds 10 - James Evans fonds

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James Evans fonds

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Reference code

CA ON00399 10

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1828–1988, predominant 1828–1846 (Creation)

Physical description area

Physical description

91 cm of textual records
3 reels of 35 mm microfilm
1 reel of 16 mm microfilm
3 sheets of microfiche (64 images)
45 photographs: b&w
1 photograph: col.
2 photographs: b&w negatives
6 photographs: col. slides
1 postcard
3 artifacts

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

James Evans was a teacher, Methodist minister and missionary, linguist, and author. He was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, England, the son of James Evans, ship’s captain, and Mary–. He married Mary Blithe Smith in 1822, and they had two daughters, one of whom died in childhood. He died in Kelby, England.

Evans went to school in Lincolnshire, England. In 1822 he followed his parents to Lower Canada. He found employment as a teacher near L’Original, Upper Canada. About three years later he and his wife moved to Augusta Township on the St Lawrence River, where he converted to Methodism. He accepted an appointment to the Rice Lake School for Indian children in 1828. Ordained in 1833, he was appointed to the St Clair Mission (near Port Sarnia) in 1834. In 1838, the Canada Conference sent him on a tour of the north shore of Lake Superior. In 1839 he met Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who in January 1840 agreed to support Methodist missionaries, named by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in Britain, in its territory. Evans, who since his return to Upper Canada had been serving as minister at Guelph, was appointed to Norway House, Manitoba, in April of that year. However, his concerns for the native peoples, and his location at a main transfer point of the HBC brought him into conflict with company policy and practice, culminating in accusations of sexual misconduct and a request for his removal by Simpson in 1845. The Wesleyan Society invited him back to England, where he was tried before Methodist church authorities. He was acquitted of sexual improprieties. Evans died suddenly of a heart attack following a missionary rally in Lincolnshire in November 1846. In 1955 his remains were brought from England and reburied at Norway House.

During his career Evans studied several native languages. He devised a syllabary for the Ojibwa (1836) and Cree (1840) languages, which he used for teaching, translating and writing. He translated and printed portions of the New Testament, hymns and other material. He published his book Speller and Interpreter, in Indian and English, for the use of the mission schools, and such as may desire to obtain a knowledge of the Ojibway tongue in 1837.

Custodial history

John Maclean obtained the 2 boxes of James Evans’ Cree Syllabic Type at Norway House in 1925. Egerton Young received the letter from Ephraim Evans to James Evans from Margaret Tindale, a descendant of Ephraim Evans, in 1953. Prior custodial history of this letter, the type, and all other textual and graphic records is unknown. Victoria University Archives acquired the 3 reels of 35 mm microfilm from the University of Western Ontario in 1986.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of records pertaining to James Evans’s activities as a minister and author, and to his personal life. The fonds includes correspondence, literary manuscripts including printed syllabics and copies of Evans’ Cree syllabic hymnbook, professional records, a diary of Evans’ missionary expedition in the lake Huron and Lake Superior region in 1838, a sketchbook containing pencil sketches and poems, photographs and other material. It also includes correspondence of his parents, and copies of records from the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives held at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and microfilm copies of records from the papers of Rev. James Evans held at the University of Western Ontario in London.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Most of the records were acquired from Dr. John Maclean in 1940 including 2 boxes of James Evans’ Cree Syllabic Type; a letter from Ephraim Evans to James Evans (1842) was acquired from Egerton Young at an unknown date; a silk marker was acquired from Mrs. Ephraim Evans and Mary Ann Evans at an unknown date; a baptismal certificate written in Cree syllabic characters was acquired from J.P. Berry at an unknown date; Evans’ 1838 diary was transferred from the Peter Jones papers by Victoria University Library Staff in 1974; photocopies of Hudson’s Bay Company documents relating to James Evans were acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in 1938 at the request of F. Louis Barber; 3 reels of microfilm copies of material from the Rev. James Evans’ papers held at the University of Western Ontario were acquired from Victoria University Archives in 1990; photocopies of material relating to the Evans trial were acquired from Gerald Hutchinson in 1994; material relating to Travels in the shining island was acquired from Roger Burford-Mason in 1997.


The transcripts and photostats of correspondence in other repositories and in publications has not been fully arranged; files contain duplicates of records in other files.

Language of material

  • Cree
  • English

Script of material

Location of originals

Individual files contain photocopies. See description in finding aid for location of originals.

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

No restrictions on access.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Some of the material is available on microfilm which researchers are requested to use unless an enquiry can be satisfied only by consulting original documents. For further information contact the Chief Librarian.

Associated materials

University of Western Ontario in London: Papers of Rev. James Evans (several call numbers).

Early Canadiana Online has digitized James Evans' A Collection of Chippeway and English hymns for the use of the native Indians , 296 pages. It is available through the University of Toronto Library's Electronic Books web site.

Simon Ager has created Omniglot: a guide to Writing Systems web site . The pages on the Ojibwa and Cree writing systems include descriptions of James Evans' role in creating the syllabaries for these languages.

Related materials


No further accruals are expected.

General note

Title based on contents of the fonds.

General note

The fonds is stored in 10 boxes.

Alternative identifier(s)




Religious Studies

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