31 October 2019

The Golden Dog by William Kirby

Back in August, I was perusing the shelves of one of my favourite used bookstores in Québec when I came across a dark corner where stood the section with English books. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of proper lighting, my gaze fixed upon a glint of golden lettering stamped on a green spine. Before even reading the title of the book, I immediately recognized the tiny figure of a golden dog, gnawing on a bone. The original sign it is based on is a relic of New France, though the federal building on which it is fixed is not. Ever since I moved to Québec City nearly a dozen years ago, that very figure carved in stone greets me every time I walk down the Côte de la Montagne in the old walled city. The Golden Dog, as it's known, is infamous. And the book I was now holding in my hand is partly responsible for this reputation. Needless to say, after years of hearing and reading about this book, I just had to buy this copy and read it. And what better way to top off my series of Halloween blog posts than to review this Gothic novel? (Please be advised that what follows is off the cuff, without any in-depth analysis of the historical content--which would require a whole other post in and of itself).

Photo: Joseph Gagné, Oct. 2011
The author, William Kirby, was born in England in 1817. He moved to Canada in 1839, the same year he came across the mysterious stone sign bearing the phrase: "Je suis un chien qui ronge l'os/En le rongeant je prend mon repos/Un tems viendra qui nest pas venu/Que je morderay qui maura mordu" (“I am a dog that gnaws his bone/I couch and gnaw it all alone/A time will come, which is not yet,/When I'll bite him by whom I'm bit.”) After a long line of jobs and careers in what is now Ontario, Kirby spent a few weeks in Québec in 1865 where he rekindled his fascination for the strange sign. Twelve years later, he published his magnum opus, The Golden Dog

The novel begins by presenting New France as an idyllic land where the Habitants are happily governed by a just and honorable tandem of church and state. Though the war of Austrian Succession is currently taking place, the colonists seem to have only one main bother: the intendant François Bigot and his gang, busy bleeding the colony for profits through their mismanaging of the Grand Company of Traders, nicknamed the "Friponne" (the Swindle). Opposing them is the Bourgeois Philibert, the honorable owner of the Golden Dog, apparently the only rival store in Québec and the only thing preventing their complete monopoly on the sales of merchandise. 

It is in this setting that we meet Amélie de Repentigny and Angélique des Meloises, both the main focus of the story. Amélie secretly desires the love of Pierre Philibert, a colonel and honorable man like his father the Bourgeois. Angélique, however, has bigger ambitions: renown for her beauty she wields like a weapon to get anything she wants, she has set her eyes on obtaining the ultimate lavish life by marrying Bigot. Quite to her dismay, however, she discovers Bigot has a dark secret from his time spent in Acadia... Pressed by the Pompadour to marry someone else in France, he had been forced to rescind his promise to marry his fiancé, the naive but chaste Caroline de St. Castin. After Bigot's departure for Québec, Caroline ran away from her father to rejoin him. Embarrassed by the situation, the Intendant keeps her hidden away in his mansion, unable to bring himself to marry her and fearing the authorities will discover he is the reason she fled her family.

In the meantime, Angélique is being courted by Pierre Le Gardeur de Repentigny, Amélie's brother and best friend to Pierre Philibert. Though Angélique honestly loves him, her ambitions prevent her from accepting his affections. This quest for love isn't Le Gardeur's only problem: throughout the novel, Amélie and Philibert attempt to dissuade Le Gardeur from mingling with Bigot's gang. Indeed, ever the manipulator, Bigot entices Le Gardeur to remain in his inner circle through drinking and gambling.

The story reaches its climax when Angélique, desperate to secure her marriage to Bigot, hires the witch La Corriveau to poison her rival in love. Upon his discovery of Caroline's lifeless body, Bigot has no choice but to have the her buried secretly in his mansion. Following the murder, Angélique rebuffs Le Gardeur's love a final time, making it clear she is to marry Bigot. Ironically, the Intendant suspects her implication in his fiancé's death and resists her advances. In the meantime, Le Gardeur drowns his sorrows at the Friponne, drinking and gambling away his woes.

[Spoiler alert] Later, as Philibert and Amélie finally admit their love to each other and are set to be married, Le Gardeur, in a drunken tirade, accidentally stabs and kills the Bourgeois Philibert. Learning of the murder and remorseful for her brother's actions, Amélie flees to the Ursuline convent to spend the rest of her life as a nun repenting for him. Le Gardeur is sent to France by the governor to be judged by the king, only to be pardoned and left to live out his life as a model but passionless officer. Philibert, heartbroken, stops daily at the convent to beg Amélie to see him. After an unspecified amount of time goes by, she finally accepts, only to die in his arms still begging for the forgiveness he already gave years ago and kissing him one final time.

Elements of Gothic literature pervade throughout the book.
In this example, the beautiful Caroline is poisoned by
the witch La Corriveau.

The novel's bleak ending isn't the only element placing it firmly in the Gothic genre. The supernatural pervades its themes, from witches to werewolves, to many characters displaying the power of premonition. The settings themselves add to the atmosphere: mansions with hidden doors and passages, as well as dark forests and a witch's hovel. Yet, despite these literary motifs which should qualify this novel as an exciting read, the book is quite unfortunately a near absolute bore. Indeed, Kirby seems obsessed with reminding us how good or how evil each character is. More than once I caught myself screaming internally: "I know already. Get to the point!". The novel is easily twice as long as it needs to be. And that's saying something, considering this is the introduction of the edition I read(!):
In issuing a new edition of The Golden Dog it has been thought necessary to give the book thorough revision. Many errors [...] have been corrected. The author gathered together a vast amount of information bearing on the period of his story and of his characters. He saw fit, after the manner of Sir Walter Scott, to incorporate this into his novel. As a result, The Golden Dog, as originally published, contains patches of general and scientific information that mar the flow of the story and weary the reader. Much of this has been judiciously cut out, but nothing has been omitted that is essential to the narrative.
Is the book redeemable for the modern reader? Absolutely, if you're a glutton for punishment... On one hand I could be bored out of my mind by the narrative, on the other, I couldn't look away from the over the top melodrama. And despite the long dry stretches of the story, it is a fascinating excursion in the misogynist and racist mind of this author from Victorian Canada. Women are constantly woefully complaining about the weakness and faults of their gender, all wishing they were men, and the racism against Indigenous people gives us shocking--yet sometimes hilariously awful--lines like "I pray to the bon Dieu to strike you white" (p. 338).

I wish I could say the book is a product of its time, but strictly speaking about style, there's little wonder this book was apparently initially rejected many times before finally being published. Kirby is no Washington Irving or Bram Stoker. Gothic it may be, but Mary Shelley it ain't. Brevity would have served this novel to its advantage, in my opinion. The story in and of itself isn't bad, so much as it is continuously bogged down in superfluous lyrical meanderings.

But despite what I may think of it, one can't deny the novel's importance. It was deemed popular enough in the day to warrant a French translation by Pamphile Lemay, after all. And as Dennis Duffy reminds us:
The cultural and political significance of The Golden Dog far outweighs its minimal belletristic graces. The novel remains of interest to literary and intellectual historians because it marks the local discovery that the Matter of Canada was ripe for fictional exploitation. After Kirby’s achievement, it became clear that a romantically conceived early colonial Canada could furnish settings for one of the nineteenth century’s most popular (and enduring) forms, the historical novel.
I would also add that the novel had a great effect on popular memory since many of its historical misconceptions and legends, both original and perpetuated, persist to this day. This said, should anyone want to read the novel for its historical and literary importance, I suggest grabbing the most recent annotated copy (a hefty 1152 pages), edited by Mary Jane Edwards. I also suggest reading Marie-Françoise Michel and Jean-François Michel's Le Chien d'Or for the historical account of the Bourgeois Philibert's life and death (as I'm about to do after reading the fictional account). [Follow up: Thanks to Martin Dozois for reminding me there's a short history of the plaque over at the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America]

On that note, Happy Halloween everyone!


  • Caron, Jean-François. "The Golden Dog", Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America, 2017. http://www.ameriquefrancaise.org/en/article-590/The_Golden_Dog.html.
  • Duffy, Dennis. Review of Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog: A Legend of Quebec, by William Kirby. University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 83 no. 2, 2014, p. 497-498. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/557178.
  • Edwards, Mary Jane. “KIRBY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 30, 2019, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kirby_william_13E.html.
  • Kirby, William. The Golden Dog. Toronto, The Musson Book Company Ltd., c1925 (1877). 580 p.
  • Kirby, William (Edited by Mary Jane Edwards). Le Chien d'or/The Golden Dog, A Legend of Quebec. Critical Edition. Montréal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1152 p. Coll. "Center for Editing Canadian Texts".
  • Michel, Marie-Françoise and Jean-François Michel. Le Chien d'or. Nicolas Jacquin-Philibert (1702-1748). Heurts et malheurs d'un Lorrain à Québec. Québec, Septentrion, 2010. 200 p.

29 October 2019

Morts insolites en Nouvelle-France

Vanité en perruque. Anonyme. Terre cuite.
Galerie d'art Colnaghi, Londres.
Source: Wall Street International Magazine

Lorsque j’étais jeune garçon, j’ai développé un penchant pour l’insolite, surtout en ce qui concerne notre relation avec la mort. Cette fascination pour le macabre a été particulièrement influencée par Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Price et combien d’autres encore... Si le sujet de la mort semble glauque pour plusieurs, je trouve au contraire qu’il est tout naturel d’en être captivé. Après tout, comme écrivait Molières, « On ne meurt qu’une fois, et c’est pour si longtemps »… Pour ceux et celles qui ont une semblable curiosité, je vous recommande l’intrigante anthologie Morts tragiques et violentes au Canada. 17e et 18e siècles par Léonard Bouchard (Québec, Publications audiovisuelles, 1982, deux tomes). Je vous partage quelques-unes de mes morts insolites préférées tirées de cet ouvrage.

D’abord, on oublie trop souvent que même après près d’un siècle de colonisation, la Nouvelle-France au début du 18e siècle demeure tout de même assez sauvage. C’est une leçon apprise aux dépens de François La Valtrie et de Louise Le Siège alors que leur fils François-Ignace, âgé de huit ans, et Jean-Baptiste, six ans, se font « égorger » dans leur sommeil par un ours à Saint-Sulpice dans la nuit du 6 au 7 novembre 1706 (p. 336). 

La forêt elle-même devient dangereuse, surtout pendant la saison des incendies : c’est le cas d’Angélique Bouteiller, âgée de 38 ans et mère de 11 enfants, qui périt dans un feu de forêt en juillet 1754 (p. 70). Il est intéressant à noter qu’au mois d’avril dernier, le blogue Journal of the American Revolution publiait l’article Killer Trees of the Revolution de Joseph Lee Boyle. Comme le titre du billet l’indique, il s’agit d’une compilation d’anecdotes portant sur les gens tués par des arbres pendant la Révolution américaine. En Nouvelle-France, les arbres sont tout aussi « agressifs », si l’on veut… Bouchard ne recense pas moins de 17 victimes! Pour ne nommer que quelques exemples, retenons entre autres Jacques Bluteau qui a « la tête écrasée par la chute d’un arbre sec » (p. 55; sans date), ou bien Louis Côté qui se fait tuer par une branche morte qui lui tombe sur la tête à Détroit en 1762 (p. 119). De plus, les accidents liés aux arbres ne sont pas tous dus au hasard : c’est le cas de Charles Goguet lorsque l’arbre qu’il coupait lui est tombé sur la tête en 1754 (p. 231). D’autre fois, ce n’est pas l’arbre lui-même qui est en cause, mais plutôt le résultat de la coupe : En novembre 1711 à Charlesbourg, Pierre Lereau se fait « écraser sous son voyage de bois » (p. 363).

Lorsqu’on pose un piège, il y a deux règles simples à suivre : d’abord, ne pas tomber dans le sien, et ensuite, ne pas tomber dans celui d’un autre. Qu’importe à qui appartenait le piège à ours dont il est question ici, il en demeure que Pierre Joncas a eu le malheur de s’y faire prendre le 22 août 1704 (p. 273).

Lorsque les esprits s’échauffent, mieux vaut s’éloigner, surtout si son adversaire est porteur d’une épée… voilà un conseil qui aurait servi à plusieurs sous le Régime français! Retenons seulement que cet exemple puisque le sujet a déjà été touché par Aegidius Fauteux : Henri Bégard et le sergent Dubé s’affrontent en duel en 1698. Alors que Dubé réussira à s’échapper de la loi, Bégard, malchanceux, goûte la lame de son rival. La mort ne l’empêche pas d’être puni, toutefois : les autorités s’assurent « …que sa mémoire demeure condamnée, éteinte et supprimée à perpétuité, que tous ses biens soient confisqués et remis au roi, que son cadavre, après avoir été attaché par l’exécuteur des hautes œuvres au derrière d’une traîne, sur une clôture en fer, la tête en bas et la face contre terre, soit jeté aux ordures » (p. 38).

La foudre est l’un des instruments les plus spectaculaires de la Grande Faucheuse : Bouchard recense plus d’une douzaine de morts foudroyés. Ne retenons que deux exemples. Le 19 juin 1728, précisément à 18h, le cultivateur Antoine Bilodeau se fait foudroyer dans sa maison à Berthier-en-Bas (p. 50). Parfois les éclairs font d’une pierre deux coups, tel qu’il arrive à Louis Bourassa et son fils Jean, tués sur le chemin du retour entre Québec et Saint-Nicolas de Lévis en juin 1751 (p. 66).

Ces deux prochains cas dépassent le Régime français de quelques années, mais méritent tout de même une mention pour ce que je considère être mourir de manière la plus canadienne possible... Le 19 avril 1771 à Bécancour, Joseph Ducharme, 3 ans, meurt ébouillanté lorsqu’une chaudière de sirop d’érable en préparation renverse sur lui accidentellement (p. 171). Moins horrifique, mais tout aussi tragique, Jean-Baptiste Pleau meurt aux Écureuils, écrasé par sa traîne tandis qu’il tirait de l’eau d’érable (p. 465).

Parlant de liquides, gare aux puits! En juin 1755, un enfant de 3 ans, François Rognon, se noie dans un puits à Saint-Antoine de Tilly (p. 495). Les enfants ne sont pas les seuls à se noyer de la sorte : en juillet 1690, Louis Manié, 30 ans, connait une mort semblable à Québec (p. 385).

Bref, ce qui précède n’est qu’un échantillon des nombreuses façons de mourir en Nouvelle-France. Accidents, violences, maladies… autant de moyens de rejoindre l’au-delà de manière macabre et tragique.

Source: Gallica

21 October 2019

Congrès annuel de l’IHAF, édition 2019

Ce n’est pas un secret, la vie de doctorant n’est pas toujours facile. Le fameux syndrome de l’imposteur vient souvent enrayer nos pensées et ouvre la porte à l’anxiété. C’est dans cet esprit morose que je m’apprêtais à aller au congrès annuel de l’Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française (IHAF) qui avait lieu à Ottawa. Et pourtant, après coup, je suis vraiment heureux d’y être allé!

D’abord, le programme était très riche, le thème étant « Frontières ». Le dix-huitièmiste que je suis ne savait plus où se garrocher. J’ai eu des choix difficiles à faire avec autant de séances passionnantes ayant lieu en même temps. Mais à la fin, j’ai certainement profité des nombreuses communications assistées sur trois jours intenses.

Le congrès était précédé d'une visite du Musée canadien de l’histoire, récemment rénové. J’avais déjà visité les lieux auparavant, donc j’avais hâte de voir les changements. D’une part, je m’ennuie de l’ancienne reconstitution de Place Royale, mais de l’autre j’aime la nouvelle galerie dédiée à la Nouvelle-France. Néanmoins, je trouve que le xviiie siècle est sous-représenté. De plus, autant je loue les efforts d’incorporer les Autochtones tout au long de la trame chronologique des expositions, les francophones n’ont pas cette même chance. Comme Franco-Ontarien, je suis très déçu, par exemple, que l’histoire francophone pendant la période britannique se résume aux Rébellions de 1837-1838. Le focus pour cette section est surtout sur l’Ontario loyaliste. Où sont les Franco-Ontariens? C’est à croire qu’après le Régime français, l’histoire canadienne-française ne se résume qu’aux Patriotes et aux deux référendums québécois. Mais bon.

Cela dit, j’ai eu une très, très agréable surprise. D’abord, un peu de contexte : il y a plusieurs mois, je furetais la collection en ligne de la Royal Collection Trust lorsque je suis tombé sur le manteau du général James Wolfe. J’étais impressionné : je n’avais aucune idée que cet objet existait. En même temps, je m’exaspérais en pensant que je n’aurai sans doute jamais la chance de voir ce manteau en personne. Eh bien! Retour au Musée canadien de l’histoire : alors que j’admirais la section dédiée à la guerre de Sept Ans, je me suis retourné pour tomber face à face avec le manteau en question. En effet, l’objet est présentement prêté à Ottawa! Imaginez mon plaisir de pouvoir admirer de près ce remarquable artefact de la guerre que j’étudie. J’étais franchement très ému. Les objets de la Conquête qui nous sont parvenus jusqu’à aujourd’hui sont excessivement rares. Après un après-midi passé au musée, c’était le temps de retourner sur le campus de l’Université d’Ottawa pour le début officiel du congrès.

J’ai également eu le plaisir de constater que la twittosphère de l’IHAF était beaucoup plus garnie cette année. En suivant #IHAF2019, les chercheurs pouvaient partager leurs observations, leurs questions ou simplement des photos de leurs meilleurs moments pendant le congrès. Relativement parlant, la participation a presque triplé depuis l’an passé, passant de 4 twitteurs à mon souvenir à près d’une douzaine cette année!

D’ailleurs, les avancées en informatique commencent également à percer chez l’IHAF. Cette année, les ateliers et les communications portant sur les nouvelles technologies se sont multipliés au bonheur (ou la confusion) de plusieurs chercheurs. Je ne vais pas résumer toutes les communications que j’ai suivies, mais j’aimerais noter que la présence d’autant de projets numériques démontre que l’étude de l’histoire de l’Amérique française rattrape enfin le nouveau paradigme des humanités numériques (ou Digital Humanities). Nous sommes rendus loin de la table ronde de 2014 « L’Amérique française au numérique : enjeux et défis » où l’audience s’était démontrée frileuse par rapport aux avancées informatiques en histoire. Depuis, la nouvelle génération d’historiens se démontre amplement capable de suivre l’exemple d’historiens à la réputation « techno » comme Léon Robichaud (Université de Sherbrooke) et Donald Fyson (Université Laval). La séance « Frontière, obstacle ou passerelle : l’intégration du numérique en histoire de la Nouvelle-France » fut particulièrement impressionnante. Catherine Broué et Maxime Gohier de l’UQAR nous ont présenté la plateforme Transkribus, un outil qui permet au chercheur d’automatiser la transcription de documents manuscrits. La puissance de l’outil est à couper le souffle : un chercheur, après avoir fourni une poignée de modèles transcrits manuellement, peut soumettre ses documents manuscrits qui seront analysés par Transkribus et dactylographiés avec une précision de 90% et plus. Incroyable!

François Dominic Laramée de l’Université de Montréal a pris le relais en démontrant comment l’utilisation du Hathi Trust Extracted Features permet une analyse de masses d’informations publiées. En nous mettant en garde sur les méthodes à utiliser et les pièges analytiques à éviter, Laramée a expliqué comment un chercheur peut puiser des tendances thématiques dans des milliers de livres sans avoir à les lire manuellement. Son exemple cherchait à déterminer à quel degré le Canada figurait dans l’esprit des Français métropolitains pendant l’Ancien régime. En analysant le nombre de fois que les publications d’époque mentionnaient d’un sujet en lien avec la Nouvelle-France, il a pu démontrer que la colonie se faisait parler d’elle surtout lors des guerres.

D’autres historiens ont également présenté leurs outils informatiques préférés, mais je tiens à souligner que certains ont démontré que le numérique permet également de créer un lien avec le grand public et à franchir la frontière académique. Par exemple, même si Sam Venière ne pouvait pas être des nôtres (en passant, Sam et Bianca, si votre petit est enfin arrivé, félicitations!), sa présence était tout de même ressentie grâce à la présentation de sa reconstitution du fort de Champlain dans le jeu Minecraft. Au-delà la projection du modèle sur les écrans, les participants pouvaient porter un casque de réalité virtuelle et visiter le fort en personne. Sébastien Ivers des Tours Voir Québec était également de la partie, présentant lui aussi des casques de réalité virtuelle où on pouvait faire l’expérience d’Immersion Québec, la nouvelle attraction virtuelle dans le Vieux-Québec (que je recommande fortement, d’ailleurs!). Cette attraction s’agit d’une reconstruction en haute résolution des moments clés de l’histoire de Québec. Les participants avaient également la chance d’admirer des modèles en 3D du monastère des Ursulines de Trois-Rivières (Richard Lapointe, iScan, Expertise laser 3D) et du village acadien de la Pointe-Sainte-Anne (Stéphanie Pettigrew, Université du Nouveau Brunswick). Bref, tous ces présentations, ateliers et démonstrations étaient une invitation aux chercheurs à dorénavant penser l’histoire autrement grâce aux nouvelles technologies informatiques.

Revenons un instant à ce sale syndrome de l’imposteur qui me hantait avant le congrès. Et bien, il a été chassé rapidement en fin de semaine alors que j’ai eu mon petit moment de gloire personnel! Comme jeune chercheur, j’ai eu l’extrême plaisir de me faire citer dans deux communications! Guillaume Teasdale (« Le statut du français dans la communauté transfrontalière du Détroit du lac Érié au xixe siècle ») et Stéphanie Saint-Pierre (table ronde: « En hommage à Gaétan Gervais : regards sur l’historiographie franco-ontarienne, sa genèse, ses défis ») ont tous les deux cités mon article « Du lys naquit le trille : Survol historiographique et perspectives de recherche sur l’Ontario sous le Régime français » parue dans la Revue du Nouvel-Ontario. Mon égo s’en est retrouvé revigoré!

De plus, j’ai eu le très grand plaisir de partager la scène avec Alexandre Dubé (Washington University in Saint-Louis) et Paul Mapp (William & Mary) pour la séance « Épistémologie de la frontière coloniale », présidée par Catherine Desbarats (Université McGill). Ma présentation, qui portait sur la cartographie de la vallée de l’Ohio à des fins diplomatiques entre 1749 et 1754, fut très bien reçue.

Lors du banquet, j’ai eu l’extrême plaisir de découvrir que ma soumission pour le concours de Photovoix fut l’affiche gagnante. L’effort m’a mérité un prix de 250$. Vous pouvez voir ma contribution ci-dessous.

Enfin, à l’extérieur du colloque, j’ai pu me reposer à l’auberge internationale d’Ottawa, située dans l’ancienne prison de la ville (1862-1972). Bien entendu, comment ai-je pu résister de choisir « l’expérience authentique », soit une cellule à moi tout seul de 9 pieds de profondeur sur 3 pieds de large. Malgré sa réputation d’être hantée, j’ai tout de même très bien dormi à l'auberge. Franchement, j’ai tellement aimé mon expérience que je songe dorénavant y rester chaque fois que j’ai affaire à Ottawa. 

Bref, j’ai eu une fin de semaine magnifique en compagnie de collègues fantastiques provenant d’une poignée de pays différents. Le tout s’est terminé avec mon retour à Québec avec mon directeur Alain Laberge alors que nous admirions en chemin les feuilles d’automnes de l’Outaouais. Au plaisir de vous revoir l’an prochain à l’édition 2020 de l’IHAF à Sherbrooke!

12 October 2019

Une petite réflexion sur les propos de Mme Bombardier

Récemment, Denise Bombardier s'est plue à critiquer la qualité de la langue des Francophones de l'extérieur du Québec. J'aimerais noter que depuis mon déménagement au Québec en 2008, j'ai remarqué en effet une différence entre mon français de l'Ontario et celui du Québec. Au début, c'était difficile de m'adapter. Les gens ne comprenaient pas toujours ce que je disais. J'ai dû donc modifier mon vocabulaire pour mieux refléter mon environnement linguistique présent. Alors je vous partage ci-dessous quelques suggestions qui me viennent spontanément à l'esprit pour quiconque d'ailleurs au Canada français voudrait bien déménager au Québec. Rappelez-vous, le bon français au Québec est très, très important!

  • Au Québec, on ne dit pas "offrir un tour" mais "offrir un lift".
  • Au Québec, on ne dit pas que son automobile est manuel, mais standard (prononcé à l'anglaise).
  • Au Québec, on ne commande pas une racinette, mais de la rootbeer.
  • À Québec en particulier, on ne prend pas le bus mais la bus.
  • Au Québec on ne dit pas adaptateur mais adapteur.
  • À Québec en particulier, les gens ne te comprennent pas si tu veux une plume ou un stylo. Il faut plutôt demander un crayon (et notez qu'un crayon régulier est un crayon à mine).

Et enfin au Québec, on ne dit pas "c'est une blague", on dit "c'est une joke". Bon courage les amis!

08 October 2019

Movie Review: Eyes of Fire (1983)

A few days ago I posted a list of Colonial Horror Movies. Among the dozen or so movies I reviewed, there were three I had not yet watched. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of them, Eyes of Fire, could be watched on YouTube. In my original blog post, I wrote that watching the trailer, the movie looked hilariously bad. And boy was I not disappointed! Be warned, the following review contains spoilers, but these will probably end up whetting your appetite for more...

The movie begins in New France in 1750 (or as the subtitle puts it: "The American Frontier"...) when a woman and a child are interrogated by a surly looking officer with an outrrrrraaaaageeeous French accent straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The two claim they are the only survivors of "where the Devil-Witch lives". Cue the flash back as the two recall the events having led them there (that said, the narration gets jarring whenever it jumps from the young woman to the little girl).

The actual story begins then in a British colonial village where the local reverend, Will Smythe, is caught playing hanky panky with the village women. Smythe, or father McHorny-Pants as I nicknamed him throughout the movie, is immediately strung up for execution. But just as he drops, the rope  mysteriously breaks. However, the audience is immediately made aware that Smythe's protégée, the mute Leah, is responsible. Indeed, the young red-head is the second main character: it is explained that after her mother was executed and burned for witchcraft, the reverend took her in out of pity. But as is constantly hinted at in no subtle manner in the first act, she has clearly inherited her mother's powers.

Rob Paulson is in this movie, sadly
not talking like Pinky...
Believing the reverend's life was spared through providence, the townsfolk are not quite sure what to make of him. No matter, since Smythe, realizing his predicament, decides to skip town with his closest followers (including a young Rob Paulson of Pinky and the Brain fame!). Among the group is Eloise Dalton, the latest mistress he was caught with, and her daughter, Fanny. The band steals the local ferryboat laden with supplies ("The Lord taketh away" as Smythe justifies away).

As the band travel along the river, they are attacked by Shawnee warriors. In an attempt to escape, the group makes its way into the woods. While doing so, they are joined by Eloise's first husband, Marion Dalton, a mountain-man type who had been chasing after the group to get his daughter back. Fearing being attacked again, they press on into the forest when they come across a tree covered in feathers. It is explained to be a warning by the local Indigenous people to stay away. Dismissing this as petty superstition, they continue on. Finding a handful of abandoned cabins, the reverend sees these as a sign they should settle there and start their new lives. Sure enough, the movie forebodes otherwise when the camera pans to a face in a tree, oddly resembling Cody Iron Eyes, creepily shedding a tear like a freaky Grandmother Willow.

While fixing up the cabins and tending to chores, members of the group find a broken stone tablet with French inscriptions warning about the evil in the woods. Indeed, strange goings-on are afoot as the band keeps seing strange figures constantly running around. Who are they, they wonder. Smythe, convinced they are Indigenous, revels in the thought of converting them. 

But these are clearly not Indigenous people as Leah discovers. Thanks to her powers, she perceives them as the captive ghosts of French settlers. But then again... one morning the group wakes up to find a Indigenous child left on their doorstep, so to speak. The reverend rejoices, believing it is his duty to care for the child, despite Leah getting increasingly agitated with her presence, sensing the child isn't what she appears to be...

The rest of the story is a cumulation of creepy events that lead the characters to realize they are in mortal danger as a strange "Devil-Witch" is stealing souls. As the characters are gradually getting picked off or killed, the band must make a final stand against the ghouls in the woods. Through Leah's guidance, they must defeat the Devil-Witch and escape. Or will they?

There is little surprise Eyes of Fire is a forgotten movie. The story is hard to follow at times and the effects are often worse than many movies decades older. Most of the ghouls/ghosts are nothing more than random naked people partly covered in goopy mud. The creepy atmosphere is mostly reliant on cross-fades and negative colours. 

In the end, the movie tends to feel like a weird acid trip with some pacing issues (to quote one of the French ghosts staring right at the camera upon her release from the Devil-Witch, once you're done watching, you'll be "enfin libre".)

My main qualm thematically with this movie is how Indigenous people are merely treated like plot conveniences. Horror has always been used as a mirror for societal issues. This movie could have done so much more with its Indigenous characters and themes had they taken them seriously (by the way, I'm no linguist, but I'm willing to bet any Shawnee spoken in the movie was pure gibberish). Take this line from the reverend, for example: "Yes yes, it's true, they're savage, but they're also a noble people. And with a little help, they can become Christians." This line was the perfect occasion to foreshadow a gruesome death and have a missionary have his comeuppance in a twisted, ironic way tied to his arrogant belief that Indigenous people need "civilizing". Though Smythe is constantly portrayed as a slimy, misogynist character, I do wish the movie would have had done more than simply making him commit an off-screen suicide by gunshot. Something a little more historically cathartic would have been appreciated.

The other element that is off-putting as we are grappling today with the history of residential schools is having the figure of an Indigenous child be one of the main ghouls. Mind you, this character had the potential of being a substantive social criticism of this history. Considering how many missionaries terrorized indigenous children out of their native cultures and languages, having the child terrorize the missionary would have been a brilliant cathartic turning of the table. Instead, the character ends up being nothing more than a scary prop with no agency other than to be a throwaway "creepy" element that does little more more than harass the white children. That said, I have a very, very slight inclination to be a bit more lenient considering this movie came out in 1983 before Indigenous issues were on the forefront of political news. This is also the decade, after all, that created the cliché of Indigenous supernatural malevolence in horror movies. And finally, this character gave us the best accidentally hilarious scene in the movie: as the child reveals herself to be a ghoul, she runs away and Marion takes aim to shoot her. As he finally pulls the trigger, she friggin' explodes to everyone's surprise, even the French ghosts'!

The other true horror of this movie is the wardrobe: once again, the costumes, mainly the women's, are very much reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie. Surprisingly for a movie like this, at least none of the men are wearing the cliché, anachronistic fringed buckskin, however.

Is this movie redeemable? Absolutely. This is a B-Movie that is solidly in the "so-bad-it's-good" category. There are so many accidentally funny scenes and random nude scenes, this movie can be more easily labeled a comedy than horror. I strongly suggest watching with friends who love riffing movies, accompanied by a copious amount of booze. And if you're alone watching the movie off of YouTube, watching it at one-and-a-half-speed is also an enjoyable experience to tickle your funny bone. 

I'll also give it to this movie that every once in a while, the ghouls can be creepy despite the reliance on simple cross-fade transitions. Also, not gonna lie, as bad as this movie is, I'll give it props for one seriously creepy moment: at one point the characters are defending their rickety fort against the ghosts when random things are being thrown at them over the palissade. For a moment, you think they're just rocks. But then the camera shifts to the inside the fort, when you realize the ghosts are chucking the skulls and bones of their last victims...  

All in all, bring your friends, bring your favourite drinks, and enjoy.

Both Eyes of Fire and Michael Jackson's Thriller video
come out in 1983. Both end with creepy ghoul eyes.

05 October 2019

État du français Paw Paw

Suivant une discussion sur un forum au sujet du français Paw Paw du Missouri et de l'Illinois (cliquez ici pour en apprendre plus à son sujet), j'ai croisé ce vidéo de 2014. Merci à Dave Horne pour l'avoir signalé.

03 October 2019

Colonial Horror Movies

Well before film, colonial horror was a
great setting in literature.

It’s that time of year again! The leaves are changing, the air is crisper, and my headphones are blaring the soundtrack to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Yes indeed, Halloween will soon be with us. Meaning that I have a lot of catching up to do watching spooky movies. There is, however, a genre of movies I feel is criminally underrated and not seen enough in theatres: colonial horror. It's barely surprising so few films belong to this genre: when thinking about period horror movies, Victorian Gothic horror is what comes to most people's minds (for example, who can forget Guillermo del Toro's haunting Crimson Peak?). Heck, we owe most of our classic movie monsters to Gothic horror: Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, etc. Yet, colonial horror can be just as captivating. There's just something that ads to the creepy atmosphere when a movie is set in the colonial period. After all, wasn’t H.P. Lovecraft himself one to constantly hark back to colonial days in his stories? (Speaking of literature, may I digress a moment and also suggest Graeme Davis’s anthology Colonial Horrors?)

After perusing my personal collection as well as the Internet Movie Database, here are all the colonial horror movies I could identify, in no particular order and with the exception of a handful of extra Salem and Sleepy Hollow movies. From the corny to the truly scary, I'm hoping this list is exhaustive. And of course, as is to be expected, historical accuracy is rarely a priority in these movies. Now, if you know of any titles I've missed, please let me know! That said, please note I might have expanded this list by a tiny bit to include a few movies I just couldn’t bear not to share.

Movies I've Watched:

Le Poil de la Bête (A Hair Raising Tale) (2010)


It's 1665 and criminal Joseph Côté, escaping from prison, stumbles on the corpse of a dead Jesuit. Disguising himself in the priest's clothing, he befriends a handful of settlers in some rural parish. Unbeknownst to him, werewolves are prowling about and his new friends look up to him for protection, believing him to be the famous werewolf-killer priest.

This movie is by far one of my favourite guilty pleasures: it isn't high art, some of the costumes look rented on a budget, the effects are sometimes laughably bad, and the origins of the werewolves are... questionable. Yet all the actors clearly know what movie they're in and they're obviously having a ball. And oh boy, if you're into terrible puns, this is the movie for you, doggone it! Considering the rarity  of movies set in New France (and quality--who can forget the mindbogglingly terrible Nouvelle-France?), this movie is a fun period monster movie that doesn't take itself seriously at all but delivers at being perfectly entertaining in the "so bad, it's good" department.

(IMDb link here).

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

This film is so well known, do I even need to explain the story at this point? Louis is a Creole plantation owner who has lost his lust for life after the death of his wife and child. One night, he is accosted by the vampire Lestat who offers him the choice to begin a new life as a vampire himself.

One if not the most well-known vampire movie, Interview is the piece that started the craze of making films from the blood-sucker's point of view. However, the first half of the movie always captivates me in how well it represents colonial Louisiana. Moody, dramatic, and beautifully shot, if you haven't seen this film yet, well, you suck (pun intended). 

(IMDb link here).

Sleepy Hollow(s) (1949, 2009 & 2013-2017)

Not strictly colonial per say, the story is nonetheless set in the early years of the United States and so it does carry over colonial vibes. And who doesn't like the story of Washington Irving's Headless Horseman? The two most well known cinematic versions of his book are the 1949 Disney animated feature and Tim Burton's 1999 total reimagining. 

The Disney animation is fairly faithful to the original tale of a schoolmaster frightened out of the town of Sleepy Hollow by his rival who, competing for the love of the daughter of a wealthy local, pranked him into believing the stories of a headless horseman. This adaptation gets bonus points for the narration by Bing Crosby. Also, be warned, if you're looking for the DVD, the feature is technically called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and features another animated short which, let's be honest, we all skip to get to the good stuff.

Burton's movie is a crazy blood-spattered ode to old Hammer films. That is, the story barely resembles the source material and revels in fun, over the top horror. In this version, Ichabod Crane is not a school teacher but rather a detective come to town to solve a series of murders. Little does he suspect that the supernatural is afoot...

Finally, the 2013 TV series has even less to do with the original tale, where Ichabod is an agent of the American Revolution who must travel to modern-day Sleepy Hollow to stop the Headless Horseman who happens to be... one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse! Say what you will about the changes, but seing the Headless Horseman wield a machine gun in the pilot episode was pretty badass. Beyond the overarching narrative of the race to stop the end of the world, the series often follows a monster-of-the-week format that should please anyone who is into supernatural creature-features. I've only seen the first season so far, and so far so good.

(IMDb link here, here and here.)

The Witch (2015)

In my entire list, this is my favourite movie. To quote my previous review of this film, "Directed by Robert Eggers, The VVitch takes place in the early 17th century in the vicinity of an unnamed English colony (Jamestown? Plymouth? Take your pick). The story centers on a puritan family that decides to leave their town to strike out on their own in the wilderness. Headed by patriarch William, they settle in, believing they are following God’s will. Soon, however, something seems amiss... the cumulating crop failures, hunting accidents, and strange goings-on lead them to believe they are cursed by God... or is it something more sinister? Indeed, as each family member starts believing a witch is the cause of their woes, accusations run amok..."

For anyone interested in reading my in-depth, spoiler-free review, you can find it here. For our purposes in this list, suffice to quote this passage: "What makes this movie a true gem however is the care invested in establishing the historical setting. I can never hope to do a better historical commentary on this movie than Alexandra Montgomery’s review, Discovering Witches, over at the Junto. But, I will repeat what is being said all over the media: the main strength of this film is the director’s obsession with historical accuracy. The viewer’s anxiety and dread, as well as the efficacy of the witch as a terrifying antagonist, all depend on this fact and its resulting atmosphere oozing with superstition, fear, loneliness, and the unknown."

(IMDb link here)

The Crucible (1996)

Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller, the movie is a highly fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials of 1692. The movie is less an exploration of the history of the event rather than an exploration of how paranoia can disintegrate communal ties.

Originally written as an allegory for McCarthyism, the movie still stands as proof that horror doesn't always require the supernatural... 

(IMDb link here)

Le pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) (2001)

I love hating this movie just as much as I hate loving it. This film is a full-fledged tricorne-wearing fantastical romp in crazy land:
  • Kung-fu wielding Iroquois? Check.
  • Matrix-style slo-mo action? Check.
  • A scantily-clad sexy Monica Bellucci? Check.
  • An awesome soundtrack by Joseph LoDuca? Check.
  • A crazy cool monster created by Jim Henson's creature shop? Double check.
The movie is (very) loosely based on the so-called Beast of Gévaudan's reign of terror between 1764-1767. The story follows Grégoire de Fronsac, the King's naturalist, recently back from New France. He is travelling with his Indigenous friend, Mani, to the French province of Gévaudan in hopes of solving the case of the mysterious savage killings of local peasants. The local authorities blame the deaths on a monstrous beast, meanwhile Fronsac, ever a man of the Enlightenment, is far from sharing their opinion...

I include this title in this list because of the loose (mostly factually incorrect) references to colonial history brought about by the two main characters. Speaking of which, the movie has no pretenses to accuracy whatsoever and 18th century stereotypes abound (so Historians be warned, please check your brains at the door). Nonetheless, the movie remains a fascinating mish-mash of so-bad-it's-good fun with honest, good film-making nonetheless sprinkled about. Think of it as an artsy, high-concept B-movie.

(IMDb link here)

Dark Shadows (2012)

Of course only Tim Burton could pull off having another movie on this list. For having spurned the love of witch Angélique Bouchard, Barnabas Collins is turned into a vampire and then buried alive. Centuries later, he is accidentally released in 1972 to discover his descendants are struggling with the family canning company. Despite being a vampire, Barnabas helps his dysfunctional family regain its former glory all the while running into a former foe...

Tenuously included in this list because the introduction is set in colonial Maine. Also, an extra point for Angélique Bouchard being, I presume, French-Canadian (a nice wink to neighbouring New France). More of a comedy and homage to the original TV series, the movie does suffer a lackluster second half that doesn't live up to the better crafted first half of the movie.

I give this movie 3 Johnny Depps out of 5.

(IMDb link here)

Hocus Pocus (1993)

In 1690s Salem, the Sanderson sisters are executed for using witchcraft to steal the youth from the village children. Three hundred years later, on Halloween night, Max Dennison unwittingly brings back the sisters from beyond the grave after lighting a magical candle. It's now up to Max, his little sister Dani, love-interest Allison, and talking black cat Thackary Binx to stop the Sanderson's sisters from putting a spell on the local children once more. 

This movie is my second guilty pleasure in this list. Yes, I know, I know, it's not "horror", per say, unless you count how obsessed this movie is with virginity. Infamously popular nowadays, it seems cliché to highlight just how much this movie is a delight. However, if you haven't seen this picture yet, let me share this anecdote: A few years ago, we were a few friends (historians, archaeologists, and history enthusiasts) gathered to watch the movie out of nostalgia. Obviously no one expected any historical accuracy from a Disney movie. Yet imagine our surprise when in the one scene where people would be expected to be wearing silly colonial costumes at a Halloween party, our jaws dropped to the floor over how perfect they were. Turns out, for the scene where Max and Dani meet up with Allison, the costumes were apparently recycled from 1988's Dangerous Liaisons. Shout out to Marie-Hélaine over at Mlle Canadienne for the trivia!

Bonus: Doug Jones delights in one of his earlier roles as zombie Billy Butcherson.

Double bonus: As soon as I see a leaf turn colour in late August, the soundtrack is my work jam.

(IMDb link here)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Do I even bother explaining the plot? Pirates are hunting for treasure. In a twist, they're returning the treasure where they found it. Second twist: they're undead. Nuff said. 

Why the heck am I including this blockbuster in this list? Well, come on: Undead. Freaking. Pirates. Even though the franchise has overstayed its welcome long ago, we must still admire how unlikely it is that a movie like this was ever made in the first place. By the way, if you have 20 minutes to spare, swing over to Lindsay Ellis' channel and check out her amazing exploration of this very question. We also tend to forget how this movie was an amazing blend of swashbuckling action and spooky ghost story. To this day, I still get chills from Geoffrey Rush's telling of his captain's plight.

I give this movie 5 Johnny Depps out of 5.

(IMDb link here)

Ravenous (1999)

Second Lieutenant John Boyd is sent to winter in a remote outpost of the American army at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. A veteran of the Mexican-American War, Boyd is struggling with... something... inside him. Barely arrived among the handful of other military rejects, he must join a rescue party to save what is left of a group of settlers possibly cannibalizing each other. Little does Boyd know he'll soon have more than his inner demons to fight with...

I'm sneaking this movie into the "colonial horror" genre because though technically taking place in the 19th century, the story's setting is when the United States were colonizing the west. I'm also using the shoe-horn argument that I can't think of any movie taking place during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), a period that also deserves a bit more love. And, final argument, this movie has a special place in my heart and I try to promote it anytime I can. The first time I've ever watched this movie, my girlfriend bluntly said during the credits: "What the hell was that, and why did I love it?". Indeed, the movie defies classification: Is it horror or is it comedy? Is it action or is it drama? Is it a weird allegory where cannibalism stands in for Manifest Destiny? Who knows. This movie tightropes over so many genres that it doesn't fit anywhere and yet fits everywhere. Though it flopped at the box office, it's gained a cult following, even being recently released on Blu-ray. People who love this movie love it a lot. This must be gratifying for the crew considering the hell they went through filming this movie in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Mexico. Production was so troubled by studio meddling that director Antonia Bird was technically the third director hired on this movie! Yet, despite the hang-ups during filming and bad reception, we end up with a terrific, strange little gem of a movie. I didn't want to spoil much of the plot, suffice to say it is also infused with the legend of the Windigo, a figure of Algonquian oral culture. Cinema has since dragged the Windigo too far from its original roots in the fear of cannibalism and has turned it into a generic movie monster. [Edit: coincidentally, a few days after writing this review, I stumbled on this amazing breakdown of the Windigo legend.] Asides that, Guy Pierce is terrific as the cowardly Boyd, and Robert Carlyle is mesmerizing as Colqhoun. On a final note, the soundtrack by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn is like nothing you've ever heard. Give this one a good watch, and hopefully you'll be hungry for more...

(IMDb link here)

Prey (2022)

Northern great plains, September 1719. A young Comanche woman and mean French fur traders squares off against Hollywood's favourite crab-faced alien big game hunter. I've recently reviewed this colonial-era monster movie here.
Easily the best addition to the Predator franchise since the original.

(IMDB link here)

Movies I Haven't Seen Yet

Lost Colony: The Legend of Roanoke/Wraiths of Roanoke (2007)

Quoting IMDB: "In the 1580's English colonists arrive in what was to become North Carolina and find supernatural terror."

You know your movie is top notch quality when you can't even settle on a title *sarcasm*. I'm dying to see how bad this movie is (no pun intended). But based on the trailer, it doesn't bode well... Here's to hoping it's in the so-bad-it's-good category.

(IMDb link here)

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)

The Fitzgerald sisters arrive at a remote trading post run by the Hudson's Bay, besieged by werewolves.

This is the second movie on this list to feature werewolves. A sequel to the original 2000 Ginger Snaps, the movie inexplicably has the same main characters but in a colonial setting. Can't wait to get my claws on this one and see how bad/good it is.

(IMDb link here)

Eyes of fire (1983)

Quoting IMDb once more: "A preacher is accused of adultery, and he and his followers are chased out of town. They become stranded in an isolated forest, which is haunted by the spirits of long dead Native Americans."

Can't say I've ever heard of this movie. But watching the trailer, it looks hilariously bad. And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this movie seems to inject steroids into the Indian burial ground trope common in the 1980s.

UPDATE: I watched it and wrote a review! Read it here.


Just like after a hefty meal, perhaps you need a little something sweet after all these movies. I present to you 1985's Garfield's Halloween Adventure, where Garfield faces off against ghost pirates. Folks, my love for Halloween movies would not exist without this gem from my childhood. To this day, I'm convinced I don't simply have a nostalgic sweet spot for this special but that's it's honestly the next best cartoon Halloween special after It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! The music is great, the jokes actually hit the mark, and dare I say, those pirates actually are creepier than many horror movies today, thanks in large part to C. Lindsay Workman's vocal performance as the Old Man. Truth be told, the only movie this short reminds me of is John Carpenter's The Fog, both sharing a maritime ghost story vibe. On that note, Happy Halloween to you all!