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:
“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.”
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.