Place names of First Nations extraction are common enough hereabouts that localities like Tsawwassen, Nanaimo, Sechelt and Squamish immediately leap to mind. The skunk, raccoon and moose all owe their handles to the original inhabitants of eastern North America.

On the west coast of British Columbia sockeye and chinook, delicious smoked, baked or broiled, swam into the lexicon from Chinook Jargon. Sockeye or suka meant literally: the fish of fishes. Chum salmon -- originally pronounced tzum samum -- came from the Sne Nay Muxw language. Salal also arrived via the lingua franca called Chinook Jargon. Bushwacker’s bane might have been a more appropriate name. The geoduck, meaning "neck-attached," is not a gooey duck. Gooey yes but the etymology is strictly Chinook Jargon. Neither is that camp robber, the whisky-jack, a souse after a hard day of pilfering peanuts. From the original Cree, wiskatjan got the misappellation through a case of mispronunciation, Whisky John, with the diminutive being misapplied.

Chinook Jargon, incidentally, was a trading language that developed to facilitate communication among the diverse original inhabitants of western Canada and later, those who showed up to barter blankets, bullets and booze. Chinook Jargon was a pidgin comprised mainly of the Chinook language of Oregon, the Nuu-cha-nulth language of Vancouver Island’s west coast and French and English. Apart from being a fish name and that of both a language and a pidgin, chinook has the added meaning of a warm winter wind.

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Warm weather causes toxic plankton to bloom all over the coast of British Columbia whether a month has an "R" in it or not. If you are not absolutely sure that the shellfish you are about to eat is safe then don’t eat it. Bivalve molluscs like oysters, clams and mussels are all susceptible to red tide. Butter clams are the very worst, retaining toxins for long periods of time. Cooking does not alter the toxicity of these filter feeders in any way.

If you are going to an area where shellfish harvesting might be possible then make it a habit to call the federal government’s online Red Tide advisory. As with so many  government services this one too is needlessly confusing. Where appropriate, I have included Fisheries Management Area numbers with each trip description. Armed with that information, navigating the Fisheries and Oceans Canada's online list of Bivalve Shellfish Contamination Closures is much simpler. On the same site there's a slow-loading map detailing closures as well.

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