Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
The Bewitched Canoe (La Chasse-galerie) is a French Canadian tale of voyageurs who were unfortunate enough to have made a deal with the Devil, which is never a good thing to do!
The legend originated from a French legend about a man named Gallery, a rich nobleman who loved to hunt. In fact, he loved to hunt so much that he even skipped the Sunday mass to do so. He was condemned to fly forever through the night skies, being chased by galloping horses and howling wolves, which is reminiscent of the hunts he so loved.
French people who settled in Canada swapped stories with the native people and eventually the tale of Gallery was combined with a legend the natives had about a flying canoe. Thus we have a tale of "The Bewitched Canoe" or "La Chasse-galerie." This legend was published in The Century in August of 1892. It was written by Honore Beaugrand (1848 - 1906).
The Bewitched Canoe
retold by Phyllis Doyle Burns
It is New Year's Eve, at a camp situated deep in the forest near the Gatineau River. The land is deep in winter, snow piled high up the sides of the logging cabins. The camp boss has passed out the customary small casks of potent rum, and Joe, the cook, has had too much and falls into a deep sleep.
After midnight Joe is roughly shaken awake by Baptiste Durand, who outlines his plans to go to Lavaltrie to visit his sweetheart. It is New Year's Eve, after all, and he misses her. Baptiste assures Joe that they would be back by morning and would not miss work. Joe is amazed. How did Baptiste propose to travel 300 miles through dark forest and deep snow, and then return in time for work?! “Why, in our canoe,” Baptiste replies with a wink.
Joe realises there is but one explanation. His friend Baptiste has made a pact with le Diable (the Devil). He is proposing they make the “chasse-galerie”. If they did, they had to carefully follow the conditions set down by le Diable: that they not mention Le Seigneur's (the Lord’s) name and make sure no one touched the crosses on any of the church steeples as they whisked by in the canoe.
Just to be on the safe side, Baptiste tells Joe, he has made the other eight men who are going with them swear not to touch another drop of rum. They needed clear heads when dealing with the Devil, otherwise he would have their souls!
Joe and the rest of the crew take their places in the canoe which then rises off the ground, and they start to paddle. Far below Joe sees the frozen Gatineau River, many villages, shiny church steeples and then the lights of Montreal. Soon the craft nears its destination.
Moments later the witched canoe reaches Batisette Auge's house where New Year's Eve festivities are in full swing. No one wonders at the loggers' sudden arrival. They are embraced with open arms and soon are dancing and celebrating as merrily as everyone else.
Soon it is 4 am and the men must leave if they are to get back to the logging camp in time for work. Joe searches for Baptiste, and to his horror finds him drunk. This cannot be! Baptiste had to steer the canoe! As they fly through the moonless night Baptiste's hand is dangerously unsteady. While passing over Montreal he almost steers them into a church steeple. They do not get much further before Baptiste lands them in a deep snowdrift.
Terrified le Diable will steal their souls, the men agree to bind and gag Baptiste, then elect Joe to steer. All is well for a few miles. Suddenly Baptiste breaks his bonds and swears like a sailor! The men are again horrified. Their friend has broken another cardinal rule!
Shaken and terrified, Joe steers the witched canoe right into a tall pine. The men spill out and it is here that their fellows find them the next morning, none the worse for wear, and thinking the eight men had staggered outside to sleep off the effects of too much rum. Thankful that le Diable had not collected his unholy payment, Joe and the others dare not tell their friends the truth.
The image of the canoe and it's unfortunate voyageurs was retrieved from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lachassegalerie.jpg and is in the Public Domain.
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