What the heck is a Hyack?

The Hyacks
In 1861, the volunteer fire brigade in New Westminster, was named the Hyack Fire Brigade. Since then, many other local organizations have used the name “Hyack” in New Westminster.

For new residents, the word “Hyack” can be totally mystifying. I get asked about it a lot.

Many of you know I own and operate Hyack Interactive, which offers project management for digital communication projects for non-profits and small businesses.

When my then-business partner and I named Hyack Interactive, we wanted a name that was intrinsically “New West.” So, Hyack Interactive was born, and joined the ranks of Hyack-named businesses and groups such as Hyack Tire, Hyacks Football, and Hyack Swim Club, along with probably the two most well known iterations of “Hyack”: The Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery and the Hyack Festival Association.

In December of 2010, local Ken Wilkinson blogged here about the meaning of “Hyack.” I’m linking to that here, and recommend you go have a read of not only the post, but also the comments.

Among other things, Ken said (emphasis mine):

…a common language emerged to help the people communicate more successfully that took words from various languages and developed into what came to be known as Chinook Jargon. Although the exact origin of many of the words is unknown, many of them became very much a part of the common language used by settlers. Many Common phrases used at the time are still in use today or had things named for them. For example, Tyee meant a leader, Kimtah was looking back, a Skukumchuck was a strong waterway and Cultus meant worthless. Another important word in Chinook Jargon was Hyack, that meant swift, fast or to hurry up.

In the comments on that post, a number of our readers added to the discussion. One, the Chinook word was hyak (no “c”) and so I dug up the reference in George Gibbs’ “A Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon: Or the Trade Language of Oregon” (Page 5, about 1/3 of the way down the page).

There is some discussion as to the usage of Hyack (or hyak) in New Westminster’s history. In 1861, the volunteer fire brigade in New Westminster, was named the Hyack Fire Brigade (but now with a variant spelling that included a “c”) so as to inspire the volunteers to act swiftly. Various groups and organizations have adopted the name over the years, some as a result of the evolution of the Fire Brigade (which became a band, and contributed to special events, and likely played a role in the formation of the Hyack Festival Association in 1971) or through simply loving this unique and strong New Westminster-ism.

Hyack is truly a wonderful word and to me it has connotations of pride, strength, efficiency, and speed.  I know back in 2010, Briana and I liked the implication that our company’s work would help to hurry up! the online access to local businesses and groups.

Archie and Dale Miller, well known local researchers and historians, who operate A Sense of History Research Services (who routinely offer tours throughout the city, please check out their Facebook page), also commented on Ken’s post. They wrote:

Tracing the early history of the Battery is an ongoing process that is about 10 years along, and has produced many good results so far. The Anvil Battery was not begun by the early Fire Department but by other individuals in the community, a few of whom had links to the department, but most did not. The current Battery uniform is, however, modelled after the Hyack Fire Brigade who became known as the “Hyacks”.

I like to think that the community members who came together to form The Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery way back when were also fans of the word!

Local language and idioms are part of what makes communities so unique.  The relationship we have with words that were born right here in our communities is worth examining. A friend of mine in Saskatchewan used to confound me with “bunny hug” (here on the west coast, we call that a “hoodie”). When I look at my own personal relationship with certain words, I find it interesting that I have a fondness for the word “Hyack”, and yet, reject “The Royal City”. I think it is because Hyack has organic evolution within the community, rather than a nod to a distant monarch, and that makes the word that much stronger.

One Reply to “What the heck is a Hyack?”

  1. Thanks for this! As a newcomer I have been perplexed by this ubiquitous moniker. Now I’ll be a fan of the word. I also have a big love for ‘skookum’, which I use more than most native BC’ers.

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