Saturday, March 12, 2011

Historic Illustrations - Henri Julien

Henri Julien (1852 – 1908) was a French Canadian artist and cartoonist and a leading figure in the field of illustrative art in Canada. His wide array of topics and sketches include a few fantastical images of voyageurs in canoes.

Henri Julien
The Ghost Canoe (1872 - 1908 )

The first is a version loosely translated to "Ghost Canoe" based on some traditional folk tails like the one below...
After a night of heavy drinking on New Year's Eve, a group of voyageurs working at a remote timber camp want to visit their sweethearts some 100 leagues away (300 miles). The only way to make such a long journey and be back in time for work the next morning is to run the chasse-galerie. Running the chasse-galerie means making a pact with the devil so that their canoe can fly through the air to their destination with great speed. However, the travellers must not mention God's name or touch the cross of any church steeple as they whisk by in the flying canoe. If either of these rules are broken during the voyage, then the devil will have their souls. To be safe, the men promise not to touch another drop of rum to keep their heads clear. The crew take their places in the canoe which then rises off the ground, and they start to paddle. Far below they see the frozen Gatineau River, many villages, shiny church steeples and then the lights of Montreal. The bewitched canoe eventually touches down near a house where New Year's Eve festivities are in full swing. No one wonders at the trappers'/loggers' sudden arrival. They are embraced with open arms and soon are dancing and celebrating as merrily as everyone else. Soon it is late and the men must leave if they are to get back to camp in time for work. As they fly through the moonless night, it becomes apparent that their navigator had been drinking as he steers the canoe on a dangerously unsteady course. While passing over Montreal they just miss running into a church steeple, and soon after the canoe end up stuck in a deep snowdrift. At this point the drunken navigator begins swearing and taking the Lord's name in vain. Terrified the devil will take their souls, the men bind and gag their friend and elect another to steer. The navigator soon breaks his bonds and begins swearing again. The crew become more and more shaken at the possibility of losing their souls, and they eventually steer the bewitched canoe right into a tall pine. The men spill out and are knocked unconscious (or pass out). Notably the ending of the story changes from version to version. Sometimes the men are condemned to fly the canoe through hell and appear in the sky every New Year's Eve, but in other versions all, or all but one, escape the terms the devil made.

Another image of this canoe legend is below, complete with Jolly Roger pirate flag in the bow and the horned devil as Gouvernail (steersman). Guess this is the canadian version of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Henri Julien
Illustration pour "Tom Caribou" c. 1886
pen and black ink over graphite on wove paper
National Gallery of Canada (no. 4508)


David said...

And to think you can learn all that from visiting the website of my favourite Canadian micro-Brewery, Unibrou Chambly! Try Maudite (the Devil) whose label is inspired by the tale of Chasse Galerie, and actually appears to use the exact painting by Julien you have featured here!

David said...

And to think I learned a lot of Quebcois folk tales from the website of my favourite Canadien micro-brewery, Unibrou Chambly!

Try their Maudite (the Devil), which features the tale of Chasse-Galerie, and might actually have the very same image by Julien gracing the label of the bottle!

Also fantastic are Trois Pistoles (which relates another famous folk tale), La Fin Du Monde (End of the Earth) and Blanch de Chambly!

Stephen Bridenstine said...

I can only assume you've drank one of these:

which features the above illustration.

Lee said...


Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page