A Brief History of DCHP, A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, 1954—2011

The history of DCHP is closely intertwined with the study of Canadian English, the Canadian Linguistic Association, several Canadian academic institutions and one publishing house, Gage Educational Publishing, now merged into Nelson Education.

Ironically, the inspiration for DCHP began with an American lexicographer, Charles Lovell. Lovell’s work as a researcher and editorial assistant for Mitford Mathews’ A Dictionary of Americanisms (1951) indirectly fostered his interest in Canadian English. He noticed that in American dictionaries Canadian data was often used as evidence to support the meanings of what were deemed to be “American” words. He found that “many of the words listed as American were actually of Canadian origin, judging by the date of the oldest citations. He kept these words aside [...] and continued to collect his ‘Canadianisms’” (Robert J. Gregg).

By the mid-1940s, British and American historical dictionaries of English had been published. In 1957, the Canadian Linguistic Association began to support dictionary projects, and in 1958 Gage Educational Publishing invited Charles Lovell to compile this dictionary; Lovell’s file of Canadian English terms became the basis of DCHP-1. The years 1954 to 1967 were a time of intense work on DCHP-1, as the Preface to DCHP-1 and its Acknowledgements make clear (both can be accessed under Frontmatter (1967))

Lovell’s untimely death in the March of 1960 did not halt the project. Gage acted quickly and approached Walter S. Avis and Matthew H. Scargill, two of the most eminent scholars of Canadian English at the time, to continue Lovell’s work. Supported by the Canada Council, the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario (Avis’ academic home), the University of Calgary (the location of the original Canadian Lexicographical Centre and Scargill’s first academic home), and as of 1964, the University of Victoria (where Scargill moved with the Lexciographical Centre and all dictionary files). Scargill, Avis, Charles Crate and Douglas Leechman edited the dictionary with the assistance of Patrick Drysdale, who worked for Gage in Toronto. This team and their helpers edited DCHP-1 besides their other duties in record time between roughly 1963 and 1967 and Gage published the dictionary in November 1967 to coincide with the Canadian Centennial.

DCHP-1 is part of Gage’s Dictionary of Canadian English series and the data collection for DCHP-1 helped establish the first fully Canadian series of dictionaries. A school series of graded dictionaries began with the publication in 1962 of the Gage Beginner’s Dictionary, followed by the Gage Intermediate (1964) and the Gage Senior Dictionary (1967). The Senior Dictionary, which morphed into the Gage Canadian Dictionary, now in its fifth edition (1997), has dominated the Canadian education dictionary market ever since.

DCHP-1 remains the only national historical dictionary of Canadian English. It was received enthusiastically in the popular press and in the publishing world alike. Even publishing competitors appreciated the work. In the words of Sidney Landau, then editor-in-chief of Funk & Wagnall’s dictionaries: “now that we have it [the DCHP-1] I cannot imagine how we managed to get along so long without it” (letter to DCHP-1 editors, dated 29 Nov. 1967). In 1973, an abridged paperback edition of DCHP-1 was published and in 1991 a paperback reprint of the original DCHP-1 appeared.

Plans for a revision arose soon after the publication and were ambitious. Both Scargill and his team at Victoria and Avis at Kingston continued to collect citations – Canadian terms in context – for further work. In 1973, Raven I. McDavid, the American dialectologist, reported of plans that DCHP-1, “unlike most of the other historical dictionaries, is committed to frequent and adequate revision”. But no revision was ever published. Avis’ death in 1979 and Scargill’s in the late 1980s put an end to systematic data collection for some time. Meanwhile, academic priorities had changed and dictionary projects were no longer considered viable, except for large commercial publishing companies. With the closure of the Lexicographical Centre at the University of Victoria after Scargill’s death, the project was in hiatus until 2005, when a Toronto linguistics conference hosted a panel on “Towards a second edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles”.

The panel, which was organized by Nelson consultant Terry Pratt and Nelson reference publisher David Friend, introduced the project to a circle of scholars of Canadian English. Pratt and Friend, together with John Considine (a professor at the University of Alberta) and Katherine Barber (editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. 2004), explored the idea of a revision. In the spring of 2006, Nelson Education approached Stefan Dollinger to carry out a revision of DCHP-1 and in August of that year the project moved to the Department of English at the University of British Columbia. Nelson Education, with David Friend and Terry Pratt, continued to support the project, while the major funding sources came from a variety of Canadian, Austrian and American sources (see the list of supporters). Laurel Brinton and Margery Fee joined the project that year as associate editors of DCHP-2.

The project was divided into three parts: first, the Bank of Canadian English (BCE) (2006-2010), a collection of dated quotations was established to support new headwords for the second edition, was collected. Second, DCHP-1 was digitized with the help of UBC Archives and proof-read and modified for a web environment. Third, in 2006 software programming for the BCE and in 2008 for an online Dictionary Editing Tool was undertaken. In 2007, Janice McAlpine, then Director of the Strathy Language Unit, agreed to transcribe Avis’s paper citation files, which had been collected from 1967 to 1979, and she had them entered them into the BCE.

We owe a debt of gratitude to numerous individuals and institutions, too many to list individually. Thanks must go to UBC’s Department of English for providing office space (early 2008) and funding a teaching assistant (2010), UBC’s Faculty of Arts for three AURA Awards (2008, 2009, 2010) and one HSS Award (2009), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for two Standard Research Grants (2007 and 2010) that allowed us to employ an undergraduate work force for over four years (a total of over 6,000 student work hours). We owe special thanks to Nelson Education for funding two project meetings, one in Toronto in 2006 and one in Vancouver in 2007, for reference book purchases and for funding Stefan Dollinger’s exploratory research in early 2006. We are indebted to current and former Nelson staff, most notably David Friend for his constant championing of the revision, and Terry Pratt and Joe Banel for their support. This support is yet another sign of Nelson Education’s commitment to the study of Canadian English.