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ARCHIVED - Canada: A Literary Tour

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Literary Landscapes


Coureurs de Bois and Pixies
by Kareen Martel, University of Ottawa

Black and white photograph of a man standing beside a stone monument in front of small house

The house of Louis Hémon and a monument in his honour, Péribonka, Quebec, ca. 1928


The vast territory of Quebec abounds with poetry, stories and legends. The unique characteristics of its many regions have inspired French-Canadian authors and those from beyond our shores, such as the French writer Louis Hémon. He spent several months in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec, where he was inspired to write Maria Chapdelaine (1926). Visitors can still see the house where he stayed in the village of Péribonka. The novel's main characters are said to have been modelled on the owners, their family and friends. In the summer, echoes of the shy promises of love between Maria Chapdelaine and François Paradis whisper through the region's blueberry fields.

White 43-cent stamp with a colour illustration of a log driver, rapids in the background, and music notes and lyrics at the bottom

Postage stamp entitled Quebec Folksong, September 7, 1993


These echoes were carried to the Charlevoix region, where they tickled the ear of Menaud, a character created by Félix-Antoine Savard in his novel Menaud, maître draveur (published in 1937 and later translated as Master of the River). Savard quotes passages from Hémon's novel and tackles similar themes. Menaud looks lovingly across this vast region, where, as a log driver, he must make his way through the woods and forests to reach the rivers. The novelist offers a poetic description of the region: "It was life to him this time, a landscape slashed by bog and brush, lakes golden under the sun, fields for browsing mists; great strokes of light and shadow, gardens of wintergreen, blue-grey shoals . . ."1 Both novels are imbued with the geographic ideology that characterized Quebec literature from the 1900s to the 1940s and that celebrated people's attachment to the land and to traditional values.

Yellowed cover of a notebook with black drawings and handwritten text

Notebook Nos traditions nationales, by Félix-Antoine Savard


From the 1930s to the 1950s, the novel of the land gave way to the novel of the city, particularly in the works of Jean-Charles Harvey and Roger Lemelin. In recent years, however, Quebec has witnessed a revival of rural-based stories. One village in particular has found fame through literature: Saint-Élie-de-Caxton. Fred Pellerin features it in his stage presentations and his collections of stories, such as Comme une odeur de muscles (2005) and Dans mon village, il y a belle Lurette (2001). In his creations, fact and fiction mingle so well that readers visiting the Mauricie region wonder, "Did Babine, the village idiot, really walk these streets?" Grandmother's house, Léo Déziel's garage and the church are so entrenched in the popular imagination that there is a town map showing places mentioned in the stories, and Saint-Élie-de-Caxton has even installed a sign marked "pixie crossing"!


1 Félix-Antoine Savard. Master of the River (R. Howard, Tran.). Montréal: Harvest House, 1976, p. 39.