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L’Ordre de Bon Temps, 1606 par Charles William Jefferys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To brighten the atmosphere and foster the esprit de corps amongst the sieur de Poutrincourt, lord of Port-Royal’s staff members, Samuel de Champlain had the idea to create “the order of Good-Cheer” during the winter 1606-1607. In turn, the members of the small elite of Port-Royal were to prepare a gastronomical meal for their fellow-members, with the fruit of their hunting and fishing in the rich Acadian natural environment plentiful with game and fish of various kinds. From time to time, the sagamo Membertou and its close relations were also invited to share the feast during which the person in charge of the eve entered ceremoniously in the main room of the Habitation wearing around his neck the collar of the Order that he would tend to the future host of the next evening. In the current rebuilt Habitation, today a national historical place of Canada, one can easily imagine the atmosphere of these evenings. The government of the province of Nova Scotia reestablished the order of the Good Cheer and it is possible to become join it.”
(H. P. Biggar in The Works of Samuel de Champlain)
(See Order of Good Cheer, Wikipedia)


The Order of Good Cheer

The Order of Good Cheer was founded by Champlain in 1606. Champlain thought that scurvy was caused by idleness. L’Ordre de Bon Temps was chartered by Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt et de Saint-Just and Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons. In its earliest days, Huguenots came to Acadie and then Quebec City, but mostly to Acadie. They were fishing and had been fishing for a long time off the coast of the current Maritime Provinces of Canada. Acadie was founded in 1604 by Dugua de Mons, four years before Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec city. L’Ordre de bon temps could not cure scurvy, but a happy social life lessens stress. But it may have created the “race” John Neilson (1776-1848), an acquaintance of Aubert de Gaspé (1786-1871), describes to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). John Neilson depicts The French in Canada as “remarquablement sociables,” which they had to be, among themselves, and, also, in their relationship with the British. They were a conquered nation.

In an earlier post, I compared a seigneur’s dining table to Carl Larsson‘s depiction of a Christmas dinner at his house. To be more accurate, the Order of Good Cheer is the ancestor to merriment in New France, both in Seigneuries and in the humbler homes of the habitants. In fact, it characterizes the behaviour of voyageurs. Voyageurs had to have a strong upper body and a good voice. They sang as they paddled their canoe. Dissatisfied with his American canoemen, John Jacob Astor asked that an exemption be made to the Embargo Act of 1807 so he could recruit Canadiens as canoemen for the American Fur Company and its subsidiary, the Pacific Fur Company. (See the Voyageurs Posts)

A Supper at the House of a French-Canadian Seigneur

After Dumais is rescued and a doctor has been sent for, everyone thanks providence and eight persons repair to the seigneur d’Haberville’s dining-room to eat supper. Traditionally, meals in Canada were le déjeuner (breakfast), le dîner (dinner) and le souper (supper). In Cameron of Lochiel (1905), Sir Charles G. D. Roberts uses the word supper to translate le souper. In earlier days, the people of Britain used the word supper, but in provinces outside Quebec, French-speaking Canadians may say dîner-souper because people could be confused.

Aubert de Gaspé describes une armoire, a large cabinet, containing blue dishes from Marseille. So, there is a degree of opulence on the shores of the St Lawrence.

Le couvert était mis dans une chambre basse, mais spacieuse, dont les meubles, sans annoncer le luxe, ne laissaient rien à désirer de ce que les Anglais appellent confort. (VI: p.110)
[The table was spread in a low but spacious room, whose furniture, though not luxurious, lacked nothing of what an Englishman calls comfort.] (V: 76-77)

By comparing the chambre basse to English comfort, one senses that Philippe Aubert de Gaspé is seeking validation. The novel is historical and, to a large extent, biographical. Historically, New France was defeated in 1759, but Aubert de Gaspé’s novel is part of a collective effort to rebuild New France, albeit in books. The French lived comfortably. In fact, Aubert de Gaspé is a descendant of Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye (1632-1702), reportedly the richest man in New France. Aubert de la Chesnaye owned several seigneuries and he was also a fur trader. Fur traders, called bourgeois, were mostly individuals who could afford to hire voyageurs.

Louis XIV did found the Compagnie des Indes occidentales in 1664. He wanted to take the fur trade away from bourgeois, many of whom were not French. The Company closed in 1674. It had lasted a mere ten years. (See Compagnie des Indes occidentales, Canadian Encyclopedia.) The Hudson’s Bay Company, a British company, was chartered in 1670. Fur trading is no longer its main mission, but it has yet to close. Fur trading was extremely lucrative, but the North West Company, headquartered in Montreal, was not established until 1779, after the conquest, by Scottish immigrants. It closed in 1821 when it was merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company. One would presume that Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye was a bourgeois fur trader.

As for the Seigneur d’Haberville (Aubert de Gaspé himself), the jewel of his manoir‘s dining-room is its armoire. The French in Nouvelle-France had armoires as did their European ancestors. In Les Anciens Canadiens, the D’Haberville’s armoire is also called a “sideboard” or buffet, a more common piece of furniture in the dining-room of other nations.

Un immense buffet, touchant presque au plafond, étalait, sur chacune des barres transversales dont il était amplement muni, un service en vaisselle bleue de Marseille semblant, par son épaisseur, jeter un défi à la maladresse des domestiques qui en auraient laissé tomber quelques pièces.(VI: pp. 110-111)
[A great sideboard, reaching almost to the ceiling, displayed on its many shelves a service of blue Marseilles china, of a thickness to defy the awkwardness of the servants.] (V: 76-77)

On a lower part of this side board, one finds a box (une cassette) filled with silverware.

Au-dessus de la partie inférieure de ce buffet, qui servait d’armoire, et que l’on pourrait appeler le rez-de-chaussée de ce solide édifice, projetait une tablette d’au moins un pied et demi de largeur, sur laquelle était une espèce de cassette, beaucoup plus haute que large, dont les petits compartiments, bordés de drap vert, étaient garnis de couteaux et de fourchettes à manches d’argent, à l’usage du dessert. (VI: p. 111)
[Over the lower part of this sideboard, which served the purpose of a cupboard and which might be called the ground floor of the structure, projected a shelf a foot and a half wide, on which stood a sort of tall narrow cabinet, whose drawers, lined with green cloth, held the silver spoons and forks.] (V: 76-77)

Later, Aubert de Gaspé mentions silver goblets.

Eight persons were at table, which is a small number. The French faced a major difficulty: finding supplies. As for the food, Brillat-Savarin would envy the pâté :

Ce pâté, qu’aurait envié Brillat-Savarin, était composé d’une dinde, de deux poulets, de deux perdrix, de deux pigeons, du râble et des cuisses de deux lièvres : le tout recouvert de bardes de lard gras. (VI: p. 113)
[This pasty, which would have aroused the envy of Brillat-Savarin, consisted of one turkey, two chickens, two partridges, two pigeons, the backs and thighs of two rabbits, all larded with slices of fat pork.] (V: 78-79)

Aubert de Gaspé was well informed. He had read the best authors. Each chapter of Les Anciens Canadiens begins with a learned quotation, Latin is used frequently and the Seigneur d’Haberville knows about Brillat-Savarin, the author of The Physiology of Taste (Physiologie du Goût). (See Brillat-Savarin, Wikipedia.) Every chapter of his book begins with a learned quotation from writers who are not necessarily French or French Canadians. Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) is quoted in chapter VI/V. Tennyson lived in the 19th century, which reveals that Les Anciens Canadiens was written in 1863.

A seigneur, le Seigneur de Beaumont will propose a toast to Arché.

Remplissez vos gobelets ; feu partout, s’écria M. de Beaumont : je vais porter une santé qui, j’en suis sûr, sera bien accueillie. (VI: p. 118)
[“Fill your glasses! Attention, everybody,” cried the Seigneur de Beaumont. “I am going to propose a health which will, I am very sure, be received with acclamation.”] (V: 80-81)

Monsieur de Beaumont praises Archie:

Votre conduite est au-dessus de tout éloge.(VI: p. 118)
[“What you have done is beyong all praise.”] (V: 81-82)

Of special interest to us, Scots in Canada, is a reference to the Scotch reel. (p. 126) In footnote 9, we learn that the Scots brought reels to Canada shortly after the conquest. This footnote refers to the past, but events in Les Anciens Canadiens occur from 1757 until the conquest.

Les scotch reels, que les habitants appellent cosreels, étaient, à ma connaissance, dansés dans les campagnes, il y a soixante et dix ans. Les montagnards écossais, passionnés pour la danse comme nos Canadiens, les avaient sans doute introduits peu de temps après la conquête. (VI: p. 146)
[Scottish reels, which habitants call cosreels, were, to my knowledge, danced in the countryside, seventy years ago. Scottish Highlanders, who were as fond of dancing as our Canadiens, had introduced the reels shortly after the conquest.]

THE Stranger

Chapter V/VI features a stranger who does not seem altogether human.

Une longue chevelure blonde lui flottait sur les épaules ; ses beaux yeux bleus avaient une douceur angélique, et toute sa figure, sans être positivement triste, était d’une mélancolie empreinte de compassion. Il portait une longue robe bleue nouée avec une ceinture. Larouche disait n’avoir jamais rien vu de si beau que cet étranger ; que la plus belle créature était laide en comparaison. (VI: p. 133)
[“This stranger was a tall, handsome man of about thirty. Long fair hair fell about his shoulders, his blue eyes were as sweet as an angel’s, and his countenance wore a sort of tender sadness. His dress was a long blue robe tied at the waist. Larouche said he had never seen any one so beautiful as this stranger, and that the loveliest woman was ugly in comparison.”] (V: 90-94)

David Larouche meets the stranger when he is taking his tithe to his parish priest. David, also called Davi, has so much to give that he needs a sled to carry his tithe. The stranger congratulates him, but David says there could have been more. If the weather had been better, his tithe would be larger.

The following year, he is carrying his thite because the bundle is so small. But the weather was as he wished, but too much so, as in the proverb.

– Jamais souhait ne vint plus à propos, répondit Larouche, car je crois que le diable est entré dans ma maison, où il tient son sabbat jour et nuit ; ma femme me dévore depuis le matin jusqu’au soir, mes enfants me boudent, quand ils ne font pas pis ; et tous mes voisins sont déchaînés contre moi. (VI: p. 136)
[“‘Never was wish more appropriate,’ answered Larouche, ‘for I believe the devil himself has got into my house, and is kicking up his pranks there day and night. My wife scolds me to death from morn till eve, my children sulk when they are not doing worse, and all my neighbors are set against me.'”] (V: 93-94)
(David Larouche)

The French in North America had to trust in Providence. Hostile Iroquois could kidnap children, but they could also listen to Dumais and release Arché. Moreover, colonies were at the mercy of victories and defeats between colonial powers.

This character, the stranger, is a bit of an archetype. He may be the stranger who comes to the door and whom one believes is Jesus. (Notre Seigneur en pauvre). Novelist Germaine Guèvremont introduces a stranger in her 1945 Le Survenant (The Outlander). (See RELATED ARTILES) This novel, a trilogy, was made into a very popular television serial and is the subject of two films. Aubert de Gaspé, however, depicts a stranger who can predict the future and, in 1757, the future is ominous. We are two years away from the conquest. Montcalm will lose the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759.

Les Anciens Canadiens also has it sorceress, other than la Corriveau. When the sorceress sees Archie, she knows that he will harm the family.

Va-t’en ! va-t’en ! c’est toi qui amènes l’Anglais pour dévorer le Français ! (IX: p. 208)
[“Avaunt! Avaunt!” continued the witch with the same gestures, “you that are bringing the English to eat up the French.”] (VIII: 134)
(Marie, the sorceress)

Between Christmas and Lent

On the shores of the St Lawrence, there are very few stores. Preparing a meal is difficult. As well, habitants are scattered over a large territory. Consequently, there are good months and bad months. But winter comes bringing “lavish abundance.” Between Christmas time and Lent, there are gatherings and one feasts.

Nos habitants, dispersés à distance les uns des autres sur toute l’étendue de la Nouvelle-France, et partant privés de marchés, ne vivent, pendant le printemps, l’été et l’automne que de salaisons, pain et laitage (…)
Il se fait, en revanche, pendant l’hiver, une grande consommation de viandes fraîches de toutes espèces ; c’est bombance générale : l’hospitalité est poussée jusqu’à ses dernières limites, depuis Noël jusqu’au carême. C’est un va-et-vient de visites continuelles pendant ce temps. Quatre ou cinq carrioles contenant une douzaine de personnes arrivent ; on dételle aussitôt les voitures, après avoir prié les amis de se dégrayer (dégréer); la table se dresse, et, à l’expiration d’une heure tout au plus, cette même table est chargée de viandes fumantes. (VII: p.169)
[“Our habitants, scattered wide apart over all New France, and consequently deprived of markets during spring, summer, and autumn, live then on nothing but salt meat, bread, and milk, and, except in the infrequent case of a wedding, they rarely give a feast at either of those seasons. In winter, on the other hand, there is a lavish abundance of fresh meats of all kinds; there is a universal feasting, and hospitality is carried to an extreme from Christmas time to Lent; there is a perpetual interchange of visits. Four or five carrioles, containing a dozen people, drive up; the horses are unhitched, the visitors take off their wraps, the table is set, and in an hour or so it is loaded down with smoking dishes.”] (VI: 113-114)


Jules and Archie are about to leave for Europe. Archie will return as a British soldier and will set ablaze his friend’s manoir. But the Order of Good Cheer still inhabits the mind of a people who have otherwise lost everything. One rebuilds. Blanche will not marry Archie, but he will live nearby and never marry. A humbler manoir has been rebuilt and Aubert de Gaspé remembers the dinners of old. It seems a duty to share meals, not so lavish as before, but generous. The Order of Good Cheer, myrth, is a constant in the literature of the conquered Canadiens.

As Philippe Aubert de Gaspé chronicles the past, building a literary homeland, he also creates Cameron of Lochiel, an intriguing figure, bridging a past and a future.


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
Une Colonie féodale en Amérique: l’Acadie 1604 – 17 (Rameau, Google Books)


Love to everyone 💕

Sir Ernest MacMillan’s Notre Seigneur en pauvre
Un Ancien Canadien

© Micheline Walker
19 June 2021