General Knowledge

No Canadian Stereotype

Cree Hymn Book with type
Cree Hymn Book with type

The sto­ry of the first Cana­di­an type­face is a good one – and very Canadian.

James Evans was an Eng­lish-born mis­sion­ary and lin­guist who migrat­ed to Cana­da. In the mid-1800s, he worked with the Ojib­wa and Cree peo­ple to devel­op a clever syl­lab­ic script. It con­sists of sev­er­al con­so­nant sym­bols which you rotate to sig­nal dif­fer­ent vow­el sounds in the syl­la­ble. This he used for teach­ing, trans­lat­ing and writ­ing. Many groups have adapt­ed the script to oth­er indige­nous lan­guages in Canada.

When it came to cre­at­ing type for print­ing, Evans began by mak­ing wood­en moulds. Using these, he cast the type (met­al let­ters) using lead from old mus­ket balls and the lin­ings of tea chests.

He then need­ed a print­ing press. This he built by mod­i­fy­ing a fur-trader’s press – used to flat­ten pelts. The ink he made from lamp­black and fish oil. Final­ly, besides paper, he used deer hide and birch bark to print on.

There you have it: Coop­er­a­tion, inno­va­tion and resource­ful­ness. Cana­da does have inter­est­ing sto­ries – some with­out any men­tion of Tim Hor­tons, hock­ey sticks or maple syrup. Enjoy your Cana­da Day!


  • The Sur­face of Mean­ing: Books and Book Design in Cana­da, Robert Bringhurst – 2008
  • The Man Who Made Birch Bark Talk, by Irene Craig, Man­i­to­ba Pageant, Jan­u­ary 1959, Vol­ume 4, Num­ber 2. Now avail­able at: The Man­i­to­ba His­tor­i­cal Society
  • Cree Syl­lab­ics, His­tor­i­ca Canada