, , , , , , ,

The Passing Storm, Saint-Ferréol by Cornelius Krieghoff,1854 (National Gallery of Canada)


We are skipping material we have already covered. We therefore skip La Corriveau. Our next big event is la débâcle, or the spring break-off of the ice on the St Lawrence. You will remember that the French built their seigneuries on the shores of the St Lawrence River which they used as a road in winter and in summer. During the winter, the ice on the St Lawrence could be very thick. One could cross the river in a horse and carriage, or a sleigh, un traîneau. The St Lawrence was Nouvelle-France’s highway. It took one from Quebec City to Trois-Rivières, and then to Montreal. Lots were narrow but they went back a considerable distance. When the water was frozen, the ice could support a large weight. When the river flowed, one used a boat, often a canoe.

José, a domestic, has driven to Quebec to pick up Jules and Arché, whom Jules’ father wants to meet. However, a huge noise is heard. The ice is breaking and Dumais breaks a leg. He cannot escape unassisted. Events in Les Anciens Canadiens occur on the shores of the St Lawrence River. When the Compagnie des Cent-Associés was formed in 1627, by Richelieu, it was given a mission. The people of New France were to harvest fur, Nouvelle-France’s gold. However, those who paddled canoes had to work under a bourgeois. In other words, voyageurs were hired (engagés). If not, they were called coureurs des bois and were fined if they were caught.

In the seventeenth century, Radisson went as far as the Hudson’s Bay and returned to the shores of the St Lawrence with a hundred canoes filled with precious pelts. Radisson was an explorer, not a voyageur. When he showed his pelts, he was treated like a coureur des bois and his pelts were confiscated. Miffed, he went to England and Prince Rupert sent a ship to the Hudson’s Bay. This led to the establishment, in 1670, of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Company owned Rupert’s Land which Canada would purchase when Confederation occurred, in 1867.

Dumais, who is caught in the ice, seems a Métis. There were métis. The French lived with Amerindians and they married Amerindians. Moreover, the notion of the noble savage originates, to a large extent, in the Jesuits’s Relations. The Jesuits realized that one could be a good person without being baptized. It was a shock for the Robes Noires and it led to the emergence of a character called the Noble Savage. Lahontan, a French aristocrat, wrote about the Noble Savage. He named him Adario. So, Dumais’s ancestors could include Amerindians. Although Amerindians would torture the whites, many were “nobles. But our Dumais, whatever his ancestry, is cought in the ice and would die, were it not for the skills of an athletic Scotsman, Arché. Arché saves Dumais life.

The Noble savage, in literature, an idealized concept of uncivilized man, who symbolizes the innate goodness of one not exposed to the corrupting influences of civilization.

Britannica [1]

La Débacle / the Debacle

Arché saves Dumais’ life

Dumais cannot help himself. He will die, but Arché proves a heroic Scot.

« Capitaine, je nage comme un poisson, j’ai l’haleine d’un amphibie ; le danger n’est pas pour moi, mais pour ce
malheureux, si je heurtais la glace en l’abordant. Arrêtez-moi d’abord à une douzaine de pieds de l’îlot, afin de mieux calculer la distance et d’amortir ensuite le choc : votre expérience fera le reste. Maintenant une corde forte, mais aussi
légère que possible, et un bon nœud de marin. »

Arché au capitaine Marcheterre (V: p. 97)
[“Captain, I am like a fish in the water; there is no danger for me, but for the poor fellow yonder, in case I should strike that block of ice too hard and dash it from its place. Stop me about a dozen feet above the island, that I may calculate the distance better and break the shock. Your own judgment will tell you what else to do. Now, for a strong rope, but as light as possible, and a good sailor’s knot.”]
Arché to captain Marcheterre (IV: 68-69)

Dumais, malgré son état de torpeur apparente, malgré son immobilité, n’avait pourtant rien perdu de tout ce qui se passait. Un rayon d’espoir, bien vite évanoui, avait lui au fond de son cœur déchiré par tant d’émotions sanglantes à la vue des premières tentatives de son libérateur, mais cette espérance s’était ravivée de nouveau en voyant le bond surhumain que fit de Locheill s’élançant de la cime du rocher. Celui-ci avait à peine, en effet, atteint la glace où il se cramponnait d’une seule main, pour dégager, de l’autre, le rouleau de corde qui l’enlaçait, que Dumais, lâchant le cèdre protecteur, prit un tel élan sur sa jambe unique, qu’il vint tomber dans les bras d’Arché.
(V: p. 102)
[Dumais, in spite of his apparent stupor, had lost nothing of what was passing. A ray of hope had struggled through his despair at sight of Lochiel’s tremendous leap from the summit of the rock. Scarcely had the latter, indeed, reached the edge of the ice, where he clung with one hand while loosening with the other the coil of rope, than Dumais, dropping his hold on the cedar, took such a leap upon his one uninjured leg that he fell into Archie’s very arms.]
(IV: 71-72)

Dumais is very thankful. How can Dumais repay? He will.

– Comment m’acquitter envers vous, dit-il, de ce que vous avez fait pour moi, pour ma pauvre femme et pour mes pauvres enfants !
Dumais à Arché (V: p. 106)
[“How can I ever repay you,” said he, “for all you have done for me, for my poor wife, and for my children?”]
Dumais to Arché (IV: 73-74)

Our noble Arché tells Dumais that he need simply recover.

En recouvrant promptement la santé, répondit gaiement de Locheill.
Arché à Dumais (V: p. 106)
[“By getting well again as soon as possible,” answered Lochiel gayly.] 
Arché to Dumais (IV: 74)

A Night Among the Savages

Dumais saves Arché’s life

Dumais will repay Arché. He will save him from being tortured by Amerindians. To Amerindians, Arché must be tortured. First, Dumais tells la Grand’ Loutre that Arché is not an Englishman. He is Scottish.

– Que mon frère écoute, dit Dumais, et qu’il fasse attention aux paroles du visage-pâle. Le prisonnier n’est pas Anglais, mais Écossais ; et les Écossais sont les sauvages des Anglais. Que mon frère regarde le vêtement du prisonnier, et il verra qu’il est presque semblable à celui du guerrier sauvage.
Dumais à la Grand’ Loutre (XIII: p. 291)
[“Let my brother heed my words,” said Dumais. “The prisoner is not an Englishman, but a Scotchman, and the Scotch are the savages of the English. Let my brother observe the prisoner’s clothing, and see how like it is to that of a savage warrior.”]
Dumais to Grand-Loutre (XII: 185-186)

Dumais then tells Grand-Loutre that the prisoner, Arché, is the one who saved Dumais’ life.

– Eh bien ! reprit Dumais en se levant et ôtant sa casquette, ton frère déclare, en présence du Grand-Esprit, que le prisonnier est le jeune Écossais qui lui a sauvé la vie !
Dumais à la Grand’Loutre (XIII: p. 302)
[“Very well!” replied Dumais, rising and taking off his cap, “thy brother swears in the presence of the Great Spirit that the prisoner is none other than the young Scotchman who saved his life!”] (XII: 192-193)


The novel is binary. In Chapter V (FR), Arché has saved Dumais’s life. In Chapter XIII (FR), Dumais saves Arché’s life. It is near-perfect symmetry. Moreover, we are witnesses to a friendly, brotherly, relationship between the French and New France’s natives. The French could not arrive in North America as conquerors. They were dying of scurvy. Nor could they harvest precious pelts, without a canoe and snow-shoes. As for Scottish explorers, they needed voyageurs and Amerindians. There is considerable truth to Montesquieu‘s théorie des climats.

Dumais’s comment according to which the Scots are the savages of the English is extremely funny. But Dumais must be understood. La Grand’Loutre would not hurt a person of is considered a savage by the English. Nor would he hurt a person who saved his “brother.” But one could say that Dumais is Les Anciens Canadiens‘ voyageur or Métis.


Sources and Ressources
Les Anciens Canadiens (ebooksgratuits.com). FR
Cameron of Lochiel (Archive.org ), Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, translator. EN
Cameron of Lochiel is Gutenberg [EBook#53154], Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, translator. EN

[1] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Noble savage”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 Apr. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/art/noble-savage. Accessed 13 June 2021.

Cornelius Krieghoff (to Scottish music)
Aubert de Gaspé‘s manoir, restored (fr Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
13 June 2021