[Série] La Chasse-Galerie: Moderation Tastes Much Better

To celebrate the holiday season in literature, The duty plunges back into the Christmas tales and legends that have rocked our collective imagination since the 19the century. Third text in a series of three.

In Quebec, New Year’s Eve has long been the most important holiday of the year. Until the beginning of the XXe century, it was on December 31 that we gathered with family and friends to share a good meal, offer gifts and celebrate until dawn. Christmas, at the time, remained essentially a religious holiday, where households shared a more hearty dinner before going to midnight mass.

It is perhaps for this reason that the most famous Christmas tale in Quebec does not include a tree, Santa Claus, or a chocolate log, and instead takes place in the night leading up to the New Year, with what promises, resolutions… and drink!

Born from the oral tradition, it is thanks to Honoré Beaugrand, who put it in writing in the newspaper The homelandin 1891, then in a collection of tales, in 1900, that the legend of the hunt-gallery could go through time.

Originating in the west of France, the term « chasse-galerie » referred to the cries, complaints and wild howls which sometimes crossed the sky at night and which the French equated with an aerial hunt carried out by devils and the damned. In reality, these terrifying and unknown noises probably came from the passage of migratory birds or the crash of storms.

In Quebec, this “history prowler” has changed a lot and recounts the misadventures of a group of lumberjacks forced to spend New Year’s Eve 1832 in their camp located at the top of the Gatineau. Disappointed to celebrate alone, far from their beloved, the men seal a pact with the devil in order to make the trip quickly to their village, aboard a flying canoe. In exchange, they must in no case invoke God or touch the steeple of a church, at the risk of thwarting the salvation of their soul.

On the way back, the pilot, no longer able to steer, ran the canoe into a snowbank, then into a large pine tree, at the foot of which the revelers passed out. They are found there, dead drunk, by other workers, their souls intact but their dignity in pieces.

Establishing the richness of a culture

« The emergence of nationalists and the new enthusiasm for French-Canadian literature are some of the reasons that pushed Honoré Beaugrand to put the legend down in writing, » points out Kim Gladu, associate professor in the Department of Letters and Humanities at the University of Quebec to Rimouski. Its publication follows the rebellion of the Patriotes and the Durham report, in which it is affirmed that French Canadians are a people without history and without literature. The latter wanted to prove the strength and richness of their culture and their literary traditions by immortalizing them on paper. »

The hunting gallery, like many legends of the time, therefore highlights an old French heritage at risk of assimilation, its traditions, its popular and colorful language, its values, its faith and its family and community spirit. “Many people had access to this story as soon as it was published, since it was made through a newspaper. They recognized themselves in this reality so close to their own, which greatly contributed to the success and durability of the legend. »

Over the years, the tale has been adapted and reinterpreted in song, theater, film and literature. Until very recently, the La Ronde amusement park also had a carousel inspired by the flying canoe: the Pitoune.

According to Vincent Vanoli, author of the comic The hunting gallery (La Pastèque, 2000), the classic outline of the legend makes it possible not to respect it scrupulously, to reinterpret it and to inject it with a dose of modernity and astonishment, which makes it a marvelous playground. has gone through the ages because it is full of fantasy, humor, nostalgia for a past more permeable to the imagination, to the marvelous and to originality, before society and culture became uniform everywhere in the world. XXe century. »

Rules and transgression

The narrative structure of the legend, conforming to the genre of the traditional tale, also explains its permanence through time, by appealing to recurring and familiar motifs that are anchored in our memory and our collective imagination; a structure rooted in the dichotomy between good and evil conveyed by the Catholic Church.

“We find there, as in many other popular legends, the idea of ​​a prohibition, then of a transgression, indicates Aurélien Boivin, professor, essayist and great expert in Quebec tales. It is about a violation of the laws of the Church. Here, men maintain romantic relationships outside the sacred bonds of marriage, in addition to jeopardizing their eternal salvation by making a pact with the Devil. »

If these wanderings caught the attention of French Canadians at the time, it was perhaps the risks, transgressions and liberties taken by Honoré Beaugrand that enabled their less religious descendants to continue to recognize there.

“It’s the only Quebec legend in which the culprits are not punished. Sure, they fall after hitting a tree, but that’s because they’ve been drinking, not because they’ve broken the rules. Honoré Beaugrand was an atheist, and was not in favor of the hegemony of the Catholic religion. This is what I call an ironic pact with the devil,” he adds.

“The tale somehow legitimizes the right to make mistakes, but above all the right to maintain desires that are not in line with what society imposes on us. Even if the story is firmly set in the reality of the time, it speaks of emotions, dilemmas and human reflexes that do not change. And then, Quebecers are still known for this love of celebrations and the bottle,” concludes Kim Gladu.

The conclusion of the caption also reminds us, during these festivities, not to drive if we have overdone the sparkling wine: « All I can tell you, my friends, is that it’s not going to see your girlfriend in a bark canoe, in the middle of winter, while running the hunt-gallery, isn’t as funny as you might think; especially if you have a cursed drunk getting in the way of governing. »

The hunting gallery and other stories

Honoré Beaugrand, Boréal, coll. “Boréal Compact”, Montreal, 2002, 188 pages

The hunting gallery

Vincent Vanoli, La Watermelon, Montreal, 2000, 40 pages

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