USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘French Canadian’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La chasse-galerie

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

“La Chasse-galerie”

“The Flying Canoe”

KJ: “The Flying Canoe” is a pretty strange story if you ask me. Basically it’s a French-Canadian tale about a group of lumberjacks who make a deal with the devil so that they can visit their wives and other family members on New Year’s Eve and to celebrate with them. Oh and these lumberjacks were in isolation in Outaouais, which is a region in Quebec and it’s pretty close to the Ottawa River. So the reason why they made a deal with the devil was because they couldn’t take being in isolation any longer. They missed their families and wanted to spend the holidays with them. So then Satan comes forward and says that he will help them to get back to their families, but only under his strict conditions. Satan said they must travel by canoe and they must not say God’s name in any context. Satan also said they must not run into any church steeples while flying. If anyone in the group disobeyed his rules, their souls were going to be taken by Satan. And of course, some of the men used God’s name when they weren’t supposed to. In another incident, one of the men steered the canoe into a tree, which caused them to fall out. Now, I’ve heard that there are different versions of the ending to this tale, but the one my family has told me over the years was this: The souls of these men were taken to hell on their canoe as punishment for disobeying Satan’s rules and that you can see every New Year’s Eve their souls in the sky riding through hell on their canoe. And then there are other endings that I’ve heard where the men escape the wrath of hell unscathed, but I’m only really familiar with the ending I just told you.”

How did you learn about this old French-Canadian tale?

KJ: “Well, I’ve heard it from my grandparents and my parents growing up. It was just a story that was kind of always told at family gatherings and stuff.”

What type of context or situation would a tale like this be performed in?

KJ: “I feel like it’s a type of tale that is told around a fireplace. It can be spooky at times, especially when it’s told in much greater detail and to young children, but now being older, I find it kind of strange.”

Does this tale have any significant meaning to you?

KJ: “Um ya it does to a degree. Like it’s a tale that has been passed down throughout my family for generations and it was fun listening to my grandparents telling it to me when I was younger, but now I look at it a little differently in that I don’t get scared by it anymore, obviously because much older. But it’s still a story that is fun to tell I guess.”

Analysis:

This French-Canadian tale has been long known and told over the years by the informant’s family. It is interesting to see the change in the informant’s perspective of the tale now and when he was younger. The context of the tale had a greater impact on him when he was younger, but now as an adult, he interprets the story differently. It is also interesting how Christian beliefs and superstitions were present throughout this tale, as it is very common in Canadian folklore.

Legends
Narrative

The Devil at the Dance

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

KJ: “So there’s this other French-Canadian legend called “The Devil at the Dance” and it’s about this young couple who fall in love with each other, but they have opposing religious beliefs and the girl’s parents refuse their daughter to be involved with him because he is a Christian and they’re not. The daughter professes her love for the Christian boy, but her parents refuse to accept their daughter’s claims. The mother even says that she would rather have her daughter associated with the devil himself rather than a boy like hi. Then one day, the devil knocked on the family’s door. The family was so afraid that they asked a priest to convert them to Christianity. Once the family and the daughter were officially converted, the Christian boy and the young girl got married, both now as official members of Christianity.”

How did you learn about this legend?

KJ: “It’s just another French-Canadian tale that I’ve heard over the years from my grandparents.”

In what context would you share this legend?

KJ: “Well, my grandparents would share this story with me and other cousins mostly when I was younger and it was usually at our family gatherings.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

KJ: “Um ya kind of because it was something that was always told from older members of my family like my grandparents and they made it fun, so ya it does.”

Analysis:

This French-Canadian tale exhibits the influence the devil had in the reinforcement of Christian ideals by scaring the non-believing family into converting into Christianity. The image and representation of the devil is quite common among French-Canadian tales, as he is known to make deals and to trick people. The devil is a prominent ancestral fixture in French-Canadian folklore and continues to be in modern society.

 

Foodways
Material

“Les Pets de Soeurs” : “Nun’s Farts”

Informant: “So, “les pets de sœurs,” it means “Nun Farts” it’s a traditional dessert in Quebec. They are basically a little pastry, kind of like a cinnamon roll, only um, more like a biscuit than a… you don’t use yeast, and its maple rather than cinnamon. To make it, you use pie dough, butter (2 tablespoons), brown sugar, and of course maple syrup. Let’s see, um, that usually makes a lot, like 2 sheets worth. So, first you heat the oven, I think its like 350 degrees (Fahrenheit), then roll out the dough, it should be pretty thin, then spread the butter over the dough and then add a layer of brown sugar. Um, then, over the dough and brown sugar pour maple syrup, just eyeball the amount… some people use both, maple syrup and cinnamon too. Then just roll up the whole thing, and roll it tight so it doesn’t unroll but not too tight cause otherwise the maple syrup and sugar spills out. It should look like a long tube and then kind’ve like a cinnamon roll on the end. Then cut it in slices and put them on a baking sheet, I think like 1 inch or ¾ inch slices. Also, it’s easier when you put parchment paper on the sheet so they don’t stick. You know they’re done when they turn brown, that should be after about, say 20 minutes. Oh, and the maple can get hot so be careful. Also, don’t bake ‘em too close together, cause they don’t separate very well. But yeah, they’re pretty good.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged man, who lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. He speaks French fluently and has French Canadian heritage, as his family traveled from French Canada in the 40s and 50s to Maine and Connecticut. He appreciates learning about history, and he especially enjoys experiencing and learning about French Canadian culture because it is his heritage.

The informant learned about this pastry while visiting a friend in Quebec when they had dessert. There, he saw them made, and then repeated the recipe. He likes this foodway because the recipe is “pretty easy and they taste good.”

In Quebec “les pets de soeurs” are popular traditional desserts season round. These pastries are not to be confused with “les pets de nonne” (also called “beignets soufflés”) which also means “nun’s farts” that are more like doughnuts. These versions are more like fried dough with powdered sugar or maple syrup drizzled on top and are popular in France.

Language Notes:

“Les pets de sœurs” translates directly to mean “the farts of a sister,” or “nun farts.” The odd name of this food derives from the tenuous relationship that developed between the Quebec people and the Catholic Church. Today, in French Canada, many curse words are terms that refer to Catholicism and the Catholic Church. According to the informant, this is because in the early 19th century there was a strict social control of the French Canadian people by the Catholic Church, and thus words that referred to God were not supposed to be said because they were sacred. Originally taboo, these words were eventually used to vent frustration and began to transform into profane words. In fact, I have heard the informant use words like baptême (baptism), câlice (chalice), crisse (Christ), tabarnak (tabernacle) when he is annoyed. Thus, calling the food “Les pets de soeur” which pokes fun at the Church would have been amusing. Other theories concerning the name of this food maintain that this dessert received its name because it is “light and dainty.”

 

Pets de Soeurs

Freshly baked Pets de Soeurs

Pets de Nonne - not to be confused with Pets de Soeurs

 

Legends
Narrative

Le Bonhomme Sept-heures (The French Canadian Boogeyman)

Informant: “The French Canadian boogeyman, they call him, up there they say, le bonhomme sept-heures. Now, le bonhomme is like a guy and sept-heures is seven o’clock. So, you know, the best translation probably for that is the boogeyman of seven o’clock. Now um it’s a story that goes back a long ways, I don’t know how far back, but it goes back to trying to get kids to come in the house at night when the sun went down. So, they would talk about how le bonhomme sept-heures would come out there, and the legend is that he was this old man that had like a big hat and like a big coat cause its cold up there, and he’d carry a sack. Sometimes little kids would end up in the sack apparently is how it went, but the legend goes back to very old times, I don’t know exactly when probably sometime in the 1800s or before, when French Canadian French speakers were second class citizens. They were laborers and trades-people, and the moneyed class of course was English, so doctors and magistrates and local politicians and whatnot were all English speaking, so the higher class was English and the lower class was French. And so, the doctor would come to set broken bones and of course that was usually accompanied by lots of screaming and you know uh crying and whatnot because setting broken bones is really painful. So, the bonesetter as they say in English became loosely translated to le bonhomme sept-heures.”

 

Interviewer: “Because he would come at 7:00?”

 

Informant: “No not necessarily because he would come at seven o’clock , its just the parents would say the bonesetter is coming, that’s a bad thing, cause its gonna be pain and suffering and just sort of morphed into le bonhomme sept-heures, and now the legend is beware of le bonhomme sept-heures, so you need to be inside doing your homework at 7:00 so that you don’t have to fear for le bonhomme sept-heures.”

 

Interviewer: “Why was it important that the French speakers were of a lower class versus upper class?”

 

Informant: “Well because the lower class weren’t educated so when the doctor came, cause there are French words for doctor and French words for, you know, but these are not educated people so they would tend to use the Anglicized words. So, that’s where the legend of the “bone setteur,” or le bonhomme sept-heures comes from. Its not a play on words, its just a bad translation.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged man, who lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. He speaks French fluently and has French Canadian heritage, as his family traveled from French Canada in the 40s and 50s to Maine and Connecticut. He appreciates and enjoys learning about history and French Canadian culture.

The informant heard this lore from a French-Canadian friend while he lived in Montreal when they were travelling home from work, “there, I learned all kinds of neat things about the French Canadian culture and that was one of them.” As the sun was setting, the friend jokingly warned the informant that he should make sure he was inside before seven o’clock lest le bonhomme sept-heures take him away. The friend then explained the story of le bonhomme sept-heures to the informant.

The informant stated that in French-Canada le bonhomme sept-heures is still used, “Apparently they still use it, but it’s basically the boogeyman. The legend of the boogeyman in English culture or well American culture is that the boogeyman comes at night, after dark, so you need to go in the house, so you don’t get taken by the boogeyman.”

When asked what the informant liked about the story and why he remembered it, the informant said he liked the story and thought is was interesting, especially because “a lot has happened in Quebec since the 1800s,” “I mean it wasn’t before the 60s that there was a French speaking college, so you couldn’t even go to college.” The informant found additional meaning in the legend because its background is representative of a very different period of Quebec history and culture than is seen in Quebec today. In addition, this legend is popular in French-Canada which is part of the informant’s heritage.

While researching the tale, I found that there are children’s books, horror-movie adaptations, and even clocks which feature le bonhomme sept-heure (See below). I think this is an intriguing legend because it has a historical past, which is based on an misinterpretation of an English word, and was transformed into a legend to make sure that children would behave and come home before it was dark. This is also an age-graded legend and children stop believing in it as they get older.

Apparently, in the legend of the le bonhomme sept-heure, he would steal children away forever, eat them in his lair, or various other frights depending on the version heard.

Picture of someone dressed as Le bonhomme sept-heure

Children's Book concerning Le Bonhomme Sept-heure

Latulippe, Martine. Julie et le Bonhomme Sept Heures. Québec: Québec Amérique, 2010. Print.

English Movie translation of a French Canadian film about Le Bonhomme Sept-heure

The Bonesetter. Dir. Brett Kelly. Perf. Brett Kelly, Sherry Thurig, and Anne-Marie Frigon. Dudez Productions, 2003. Film.

Le Bonhomme Sept-heure in the form of a clock

Folk speech
Musical

French Folk Song Allouette

Lyrics in french to the traditional French-Canadian song “Alouette,” followed by an English translation of the song, courtesy of the informant:

French Version

Refrain:

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

 

Je te plumerai la tête. Je te plumerai la tête.

Et la tête! Et la tête!

Alouette! Alouette!

A-a-a-a-ah (sounds like Aaaa)

Refrain

Je te plumerai le bec. Je te plumerai le bec.

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

Je te plumerai les yeux. Je te plumerai les yeux.

Et les yeux!  x2

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

Je te plumerai le cou. Je te plumerai le cou.

Et le cou!  x2

Et les yeux!  x2

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

Je te plumerai les ailes. Je te plumerai les ailes.

Et les ailes!  x2

Et le cou!  x2

Et les yeux!  x2

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

Je te plumerai les pattes. Je te plumerai les pattes.

Et les pattes!  x2

Et les ailes!  x2

Et le cou!  x2

Et les yeux!  x2

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

Je te plumerai la queue. Je te plumerai la queue.

Et la queue!  x2

Et les pattes!  x2

Et les ailes!  x2

Et le cou!  x2

Et les yeux!  x2

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

Je te plumerai le dos. Je te plumerai le dos.

Et le dos!  x2

Et la queue!  x2

Et les pattes!  x2

Et les ailes!  x2

Et le cou!  x2

Et les yeux!  x2

Et le bec!  x2

Et la tête!  x2

Alouette!  x2

A-a-a-a-ah

Refrain

 

English Version

Refrain

Lark, gentle lark,

Lark, I will pluck you (I will pluck out you’re feathers).

 

I will pluck your head. I will pluck your head.

And your head! And your head!

Laaark! Laaark!

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck your beak. I will pluck your beak.

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaaark! Laaark!

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck (out) your eyes. I will pluck your eyes.

And your eyes!  x2

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaark! Laaark!

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck your neck. I will pluck your neck.

And your neck!  x2

And your eyes!  x2

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaark!  Laaark!

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck your wings. I will pluck your wings.

And your wings!  x2

And your neck!  x2

And your eyes!  x2

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaark! Laaark!

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck your feet. I will pluck your feet.

And your feet!  x2

And your wings!  x2

And your neck!  x2

And your eyes!  x2

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaark! Laaark!

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck your tail. I will pluck your tail.

And your tail!  x2

And your feet!  x2

And your wings!  x2

And your neck!  x2

And your eyes!  x2

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaark!  x2

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

I will pluck your back. I will pluck your back.

And your back!  x2

And your tail!  x2

And your feet!  x2

And your wings!  x2

And your neck!  x2

And your eyes!  x2

And your beak!  x2

And your head!  x2

Laaark!  x2

O-o-o-o-oh

Refrain

Informant’s response when asked about the song.

Informant: “The bird called an alouette is a morning lark, they make a big noise, you hear them in the morning on lakes and stuff. That song Alouette, today is mostly a French Canadian beer drinking song. Um, but apparently it goes back to the fur trapping days and the people they called “les voyagers,” I don’t know if you are familiar with the term. “Les voyageurs” were fur trappers essentially. They would go wandering around all over the north American countryside trapping small critters for pelts and would bring them in and they made a living that way and of course they explored an awful lot of what was the northeastern, north American continent looking for plentiful trapping areas. Anyways, that song was useful in helping them keep a cadence when they were canoeing because that was one of the best ways to get around, as there are an awful lot of lakes in that part of the country and rivers as well. A canoe, especially with two men in it paddling, could cover some pretty significant ground, so they would sing that song to keep a cadence as they paddled the canoe. And so anyways, now you hear it all the time, in Canada anyways, they use it for teaching French to English kids, and actually I think they might use it for French Canadian kids too when they’re little. But anyways, of course the song is about catching the lark or describing to the lark you are trying to catch what you’re going to do to it, by plucking it. You know, all over, you’re plucking its head, you’re plucking its beak, you’re plucking its eyes, you’re plucking its neck, you’re plucking its tail, all these things, and of course it means that there are just more and more verses to the song. So, “Alouette, gentille alouette, Alouette, je te plumerai,” means alouette, alouette I’m going to pluck you. Right? “Je te plumerai la tête. Je te plumerai la tête,” translates to “I’m pulling the feather out of your head, I’m pulling the feathers out of your head, and the head, and the head” and so on and so on, so anytime you can name a part of the body then you pluck that part of the body and there is another verse to the song, so it can literally go on forever. So, if you’re trying to row across Lake Huron, it might take a long time so you could sing that over and over again and keep your cadence and paddle across the lake. So there you go.”

The informant is a middle-aged man, who lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. He speaks French fluently and has French Canadian heritage, as his family traveled from French Canada in the 40s and 50s to Maine and Connecticut. He appreciates and enjoys learning about history and French Canadian culture.

The informant first heard this song when he was around ten or twelve years old playing youth hockey in Harford,Connecticut. A French Canadian men’s league would also play at the rink where he would practice, and he remembers one occasion where they were drinking beer and singing. In addition, his uncle is from Moncton, New Brunswick, and he taught the informant the words to the song. The informant remembers this song because as he said “my family is French Canadian and it reminds me of where I come from.”

The informant himself does not often sing the song, though he may hum the tune while performing yard work or other construction work in his home.

In addition to the background given by the informant, while looking up larks, I found that they were common game in French Canada. The informant affirmed this, stating “they ate a lot of ‘em up there.” I found that this song was also sung after the lark had been caught and the performers were cleaning the bird to get it ready to eat.

As a child, I remember that my father would sing this tune and after listening to him for a while, I learned how to sing it as well without knowing what the words meant. I liked the song because it has a very upbeat melody and seemed like a happy song. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the song was about plucking all of the feathers off of a bird. The dissonance between the melody and the meaning of the lyrics was surprising to say the least. However, it was interesting to discover the cultural context behind this song because it serves a couple of very practical functions: as a cadence, as a song to pass time while cleaning game for dinner, and as a song to teach children the names of body parts.

Foodways
Material

« Les Oreilles de Christ » Traditional French Canadian Food

In the following quote, the informant describes an outing where he visited a “maison de sucre” known, as a sugar house in English, and ate traditional French Canadian foods.

Informant:  “One night in well essentially it’s in Quebec they call it la maison de sucre, and they make maple syrup from the tree sap. Usually, you go and ride snow mobiles to go out there. So, out in this far away place, you can’t get there with a car, there are all of these people and they are making food. In the middle of the night you go over there and you get breakfast, this special kind of French Canadian breakfast. It’s in the middle of the night and well everybody’s drunk and it’s crazy. And they had a couple of different foods that I had never heard of, one of which was “les oreilles de Christ,” or “the ears of Christ,” and what they were, were chunks of fatback that were fried and then they would curl up like an ear, and they were fabulous, (some disgusted faces from the audience at the dinner table) no, no it was like bacon from heaven.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged man, who lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. He speaks French fluently and has French Canadian heritage, as his family traveled from French Canada in the 40s and 50s to Maine and Connecticut. He appreciates learning about history, and he especially enjoys experiencing and learning about French Canadian culture because it is his heritage.

The informant lived in Montreal when he was around 25 or 26. During this time, he met several French Canadians who told him about and shared various traditions with him. On one occasion, as described in the conversation selection, the informant traveled late at night on a snow mobile to visit a “maison de sucre” with his wife and his French Canadian friend. The “maison de sucre” or “cabane à sucre” is also known as a “sugar house,” “sap house,” “sugar shack,” “sugar shanty,” or “sugar cabin” in English. These small cabins or series of cabins, are usually located on the property of someone who has a lot of land, typically a farmer with “a lot of maple trees.” The purpose of these cabins is to collect sap from sugar maple trees and boil it into maple syrup, which produce sap during the period between October and early April. Sometimes, the sugar house would serve breakfast foods late at night to people in the surrounding community who knew about it and could get there. The breakfast foods would all be accompanied with maple syrup, and would include foods like ham, bacon, sausages, baked beans, scrambled eggs, and pancakes, along with more uniquely French Canadian dishes like “les oreilles de Christ.” As stated by the informant, this food is not very difficult to make as it is just slices of fatback, smoked pork jowls, or salt pork that has been fried until it curls and becomes a golden brown color. Personally, the informant does not make this food, although he fondly remembers eating it. The informant also said that these houses are usually small traditional family run businesses, though there are some large commercially operated ones.

These houses are popular places to go during the winter and spring. Although, sometimes these cabins do not open until spring because if the temperature drops below zero it is very difficult to collect sap. Thus, sometimes the sugar shacks and traditional foods served with maple syrup are associated with Easter and other springtime festivities.

Language Notes:

According to the informant, the English translation of this food is called the “Ears of Christ,”  “oreilles in French means ears, and Christ in French means what it looks like.” Phrases similar to this are not uncommon in French Canada because many curse words are terms that refer to Catholicism and the Catholic Church. According to the informant, this is because in the early 19th century these was a strict social control of the French Canadian people by the Catholic Church. Thus, words that referred to God were not supposed to be said because they were sacred. Originally taboo, these words eventually were used to vent frustration and began to transform into profane words. In fact, I have heard the informant use words like baptême (baptism), câlice (chalice), crisse (Christ), tabarnak (tabernacle) in anger. Thus, calling the food “les oreilles de Christ” would have been somewhat ironic and humorous. However, while looking into the meaning of “les oreilles de Christ,” I found there is another interpretation about the origins of this name. Apparently, “Christ” in French sounds like “crisser,” which means to squeak, squeal or grate, so “crisse” could have been used to refer to the sound the food makes as it fries as well as the sound the crunchy chips make as you eat them.

I think that this language background is very apparent in the name of this foodway and adds another meaning to it in French Canadian culture. Moreover, this food is popular in small shacks that cater to a younger audience and would be an appropo food (with its name) to serve there.

Bowl of “les oreilles de Christ

[geolocation]