HOME HEARTSTRING 2: LOVE OF NATURE

In the early days of the colony, Intendant Gilles Hocquart noticed that the habitants liked hunting, boating and travelling.

The typical heroes of our literature are all men who work in nature. Like loggers, fishermen, hunters and farmers.

In this respect, Quebecers are following their Brittany-fisherman and Amerindian-hunter instincts.

We’ve always liked boats, from the rudimentary chaloupe Verchères (small wooden launch) to the majestic sailboats we’ve come to manufacture ourselves. (In 1976, there were 3700 amateur shipyards in Quebec). And as for hunting and fishing, every last Quebecer – from the business professional to the blue collar worker – wants to get their hands on their quota of trout and ducks, and a moose for good measure.

So how much does this atavism cost? Is it worth going back to the ways of our forefathers?

Outfitters make a good living. In 1976, Canada imported more than $21 million worth of firearms, 36.9% of which were sold in Quebec. Seasoned Quebec hunters don’t take to the woods without first spending between $1000 and $5000 on personal equipment even though their chances of coming home empty-handed increase every year. In 1974, 76,114 moose-hunting permits were issued while only 7317 animals were bagged (a 9.6% success rate down from 12.6% in 1969). The ministry of tourism, fisheries and game, which reported that 463,000 people took part in hunting activities (excluding poachers) in 1971, estimates this number will jump to 582,000 in 1980 and 635,000 in 1986. (And let’s not forget fishermen also do very well…)

The fact that game is scarce and the access to provincial parks is restricted will in no way prevent our coureurs de bois from heading to the wilderness. And it’s no big deal if they don’t get their moose. They’ll have spent their time playing cards (and most likely losing $100), downing a few bottles of gin and breathing in some fresh air. Plus they’ll have great stories to tell about the huge moose that got away (to the tune of Heartstring 35).

In the wintertime Quebecers are happy to be out snowmobiling, another example of Heartstring 2. Ski-Doo mania came about in 1960. At that time, no less than 300,000 Quebec households had at least one of the forest-exploring machines that provided owners with an extra engine to tinker with. And that’s sweet music to Heartstring 6 of the Earth Root.

The spectacular rise of four-wheel-drive sports vehicles is also in line with these passions. The call of the wild is still persistent even though we’ve migrated to the cities. It’s deep in our bones.

Urban countrymen are still looking for the right home. They move often and usually only one street over. They’re always moving back a little further away from the city to where the land is newer and better for growing. Moving is a national pastime like politics, genealogy and hockey.

A character in one of Louis Hémon’s novels, good old François Paradis, said that, “Scratching at the same piece of land year after year and always staying in the same place is no way to live. I never could’ve done it. It would’ve felt the same as being tied to a stake like an animal.”

Nomads by blood and tenants by calling, it’s easy for us to pack everything into cardboard boxes, call Baillargeon Movers and stick it to our Scroogy landlords. Based on recent data, 47.4% of Quebec families are homeowners compared to 67.9% in Ontario. In June 1976, 120,000 tenants changed landlords in Metropolitan Montreal alone, putting all SPCA dog-catching personnel on high alert in the process.

The love of animals that makes us double consumers is no less atavistic – or more ironic – than the pleasure we get from hunting and fishing. Our slang is full of expressions that stem from our bond with animals: curiosity killed the cat, eat like a pig, stubborn as a mule, cash cow, black sheep, strong as an ox, sick as a dog, sly as a fox…and the list goes on.

The habit of predicting how the seasons will go based on animal or plant behaviour is one that we still have today. Pierre des Ruisseaux wrote a dictionary to help the less proficient in the matter: “Wasps: if hives are close to the ground there won’t be much snow, but if they’re high up in the trees it means heavy snowfall.”

The man-animal relationship we’re talking about here (there are over half a million dogs in Quebec) is not the same as the one told by US commercials translated into French. For any Quebecer used to living with animals on a farm, a good dog is one that serves a purpose. He’s not part of the family the way American dogs are. And unlike a growing number of English Canadians, Quebecers usually feed their cats and dogs table scraps, which makes the Quebec canine market extremely difficult to crack for canned pet food brands.

But on the other hand, there are two dog cemeteries in Quebec – one in Caughnawaga and the other in Beauharnois – where you can bury your pet (cat or dog) for anywhere from $100 to $1200 depending on the type of casket and monument chosen. One of the funeral directors told me that more than half his customers are French Canadians.

Joe doesn’t have pets at home:


“It’s hard to keep dogs in the city. They’re miserable here. What I like are horses. They’re the most beautiful animals on the planet. I like going to see them at Blue Bonnets. They run around the last bend frothing at the mouth, scared out of their wits...And I went to the St-Tite Festival three times this year.”


Our love of Westerns is still a mystery to many...but it’s alive and well and strumming to the tune of many Heartstrings.

If the Western phenomenon is American by definition with its pioneers and adventurers, it nonetheless plucks at several Quebec Heartstrings. It appeals to our Latin Root through popular songs, to our Catholic Root through the good-versus-evil duality and legendary heroes, and to our Earth Root through the nostalgia we feel when watching those simpler times on screen. But for some strange reason, Quebec ethnologists and sociologists alike seem to forget to study our very own cowboys.

And that’s even though we clearly manifest our passion for Westerns in a variety of different ways. We attend the St-Tite Festival, the world’s only French rodeo and the Nashville of Quebec. We watch Westerns on TV and listen to them on the radio. We love King Willie Lamothe and Ti-Blanc Richard. We go nuts for dusty pictures starring anyone from Tom Mix and Roy Rogers to Robert Charlebois (in a real Serge Leone, no less). And we buy 10 times more country music records than those of any other type.

Cowboys are strong men who remind us of the tough guys who could be found in every village back in the day.

In a place where nature is tough on everyone, the brute strength of Quebec men is definitely highly valued by its people. Sissies and weaklings don’t get much love around here.

Throughout our history, leg- and arm-wrestling competitions and a slew of other activities designed to showcase muscle power have created supermen and heroes of mythical proportions like Joseph Montferrand (whose biography by Benjamin Sulte has just been republished), Louis Cyr “who could hold back four horses weighing 1200 pounds each,” Victor De Lamarre and Claude Grenache.

Having muscles allows you to shed a few complexes you may have. Many of the strongmen from our history used to “beat up 10, even 15 Englishmen at a time all by themselves.” Today’s Quebec wrestlers usually beat their Russian, Indian and Japanese counterparts as well as pretty much every other archetype of strength that promoters (who are usually Jewish) find to throw at them. Maurice Richard, who could score against Toronto “with four Anglos hanging from his neck,” is also part of this same mythology.

Muscles are big business in Quebec. There will always be hundreds of Mister Montreal and Mister Canada contenders in dozens of gyms. They’ll huff and puff and sweat as they dream of Olympic Gold, all because their forefathers used to tear roots out of the ground using nothing but their bare hands, beat up gangs of Irish loggers and spit a string of tobacco juice from 15 yards and never once miss their target.

Basically, anything that reminds Quebec consumers of nature and the rhythm of the seasons is likely to make communications more empathetic.

Gérald Fortin talks about this in La Société canadienne-française. “Mainly centered on the range and agriculture, social life (in Ste-Julienne) is set to the pace of nature. Major events coincide with the various phases of agricultural chores: planting seeds, baling hay, harvesting and heading to the forest the day after La Toussaint (All Saints Day).”

You may be tempted to say the lifestyle chronicled by Fortin no longer exists. A release issued by the Caisses populaires described the 1976 Rural Family of the Year (the 20th to be awarded the title) as a family that set itself apart by its agricultural achievements and social influence, and includes a father, mother and 15 children. The Roy family of St-Pierre de Broughton in Frontenac County upholds ancestral and rural traditions and knows how to impart the knowledge it has acquired. They’ve had great success at exhibitions, including the Royal Fair in Toronto.

“We view anyone wanting to change our society like someone trying to change the order of the seasons,” said Marcel Rioux. Amen.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.