Summary in English: On New Year’s Day, some lumberjacks wanted to see their sweethearts who were about 300 miles away but they had to make a pact with the devil to make their canoe fly through the air. But the lumberjacks couldn’t touch a church steeple or swear while they were flying in the canoe or they would all lose their souls. To be safe the lumberjacks decided not to drink at the party so they could think clearly on the way back. They fly to the party and have a great time. When they are heading back, they realize the navigator has been drinking as he’s steering them very unsteadily. They almost hit a steeple and they almost cursed but they didn’t and they made it home alright.
A 28 year old housewife and musician told me this folktale. She and her husband moved to Los Angeles, CA less than a year ago for her husband to complete his PhD here. They both were born and raised in Quebec, QC.
The informant told me that she gave me a happy ending. After she finished, her husband told me he would have had them curse when they hit the steeple then all fall out of the canoe and die – that was the version he knew best. Both the informant and her husband learned this folktale in school and they mentioned it is the most popular folktale in Quebec. The informant told me she would like to have practiced it beforehand to tell me around the fire. She said that she doesn’t share this story a lot but she would like to tell me the story again in this way. The informant said that she had read it also in a book of folktales from Quebec. She said that she thought this was a very Québécois folktale in that Quebec is very Catholic province. The informant told me that either most or all of the Quebec curse words are religious in nature and so this folktale represents the bad that will befall those who take God’s name in vain by using these curses and also those that mistreat the church itself.
The title of the folktale “La Chasse-Galerie” translates “precisely” to “The Wild Hunt Bewitched”. She said that “La Chasse” means the hunt and Galerie either refers to a Nobleman from France or is related to horses somehow. She said considering the motif of the flying canoe this seems an odd title. She said that one reason for the title might be that in another version of this story a man goes hunting instead of attending Mass one Sunday and he was punished by being forced to hunt in the sky forever and wolves and horses would run after him.
I agree with their analysis of the story. I might also add that I think it’s interesting that they learned this folktale in school – as growing up in Denver, CO I never learned a local folktale in school. It’s an interesting notion, though, that one learns folktales in a book or at school but not around a fire with friends or when parents tuck one in at night. I also thought that it was very telling that the informant wanted to find a canonical version to review before she told me the folktale – only to find that there wasn’t one. She actually emailed me the wikipedia.org version of the tale before I asked her to tell it to me in person and in French. This tells me that the telling of this tale has changed dramatically from the days in Europe where men would wait until late at night to tell folktales. Now this folktale taught as a sort of local history piece in classrooms. This tale seems to have entered the realm of folklorismus in that it’s taken for its ability to tie people to a local identity but stricken of its traditional spoken context. For exapmple, it seemed odd to the informant that I would want to hear her tell me the tale in its original language – no doubt because I don’t speak any French, but she was far more comfortable emailing me an online version rather than telling me her own.
This story can be found in a collection of Canadian stories by Honoré Beaugrand, published in 1900 available in both English and in French online (see English version citation below).
Beaugrand, Honoré . La Chasse Galerie and other Canadian Stories. Montreal: 1900. eBook. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t8pc30w8n