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Press release

The Chantecler chicken

Le Jardin des origines
Division de la gestion de documents et des archives, Université de Montréal. Fonds de l'Institut agricole d'Oka (E0082)1FP05952-2. Le frère Wilfrid avec deux élèves spécialistes.

The Chantecler is a type of chicken suitable for both egg and meat production. It is a domestic race of chicken that was selected to resist very harsh winters and satisfy agricultural production methods in Québec. As a result of its small comb and its rudimentary wattles, the Chantecler rooster is less vulnerable to freezing.

The race was created between 1908 and 1919 by Brother Wilfrid at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame (Oka abbey) by crossbreeding various races such as: the Leghorn, the Rhode Island, the Wyandotte and the Plymouth Rock. He undertook this project because he was disappointed that there was no Canadian chicken, as there was a Canadian cow and a Canadian horse. Chicken coops were not heated at the time and the Canadian chicken had to be able to lay eggs even in the absence of sunlight during the long winter months, while having an excellent laying capacity and providing good meat. As early as 1921, the American Poultry Association admitted the Chantecler into its Standard of Perfection, which officially defines the principal characteristics of the chicken.

Le Jardin des origines
Division de la gestion de documents et des archives, Université de Montréal. Fonds de l'Institut agricole d'Oka (E0082)3FP00943. Le frère Wilfrid et les poules Chantecler, basse-cour de l'Institut, 1944.

Brother Wilfrid named this new chicken after the play “Chantecler” by Edmond Rostand. He explained his choice in an article published in La Presse on July 29, 1929: “... A name profoundly French, while being easily bilingual, would be suitable for a race of chickens born in this corner of the world where traditions remain French in the shadow of a British flag.”

The Chantecler chicken was developed after more than 10 years of experimentation which Brother Wilfrid had considered for a long time, even before 1908, when he started his first crossbreeding. In 1916, after three years of selections, Brother Wilfrid had almost attained his goal. He had produced a chicken that, at the age of seven months, already weighed 3.5 kg and was an excellent laying hen. Then he crossed it with a white Plymouth Rock chicken weighing 4.55 kg. Selecting the finest specimens every spring, he finally considered his work satisfactory and completed in 1919.

The Chantecler hen and rooster are easily identifiable as a result of their snow-white feathers, their yellow skins and their bright red combs and wattles. The morphology of the rooster is somewhat particular. Although the rooster’s head is of average size and short, the skull is relatively large, with protruding eyes and a short, slightly curved beak. Its fleshy comb is very small and its wings are rather short. The hen is similar to the rooster, but its comb is almost nonexistent. Brother Wilfrid also defined the five principles that determine the chicken’s heredity: early sexual maturity, laying intensity, absence of brooding, absence of laying interruptions in the winter and, the continuation of laying throughout the year.

Le Jardin des origines
Division de la gestion de documents et des archives, Université de Montréal. Fonds de l'Institut agricole d'Oka (E0082)3FP00943. Le frère Wilfrid et les poules Chantecler, basse-cour de l'Institut, 1944.

Wilfrid Châtelain (1876-1963) was born in Ontario to a French-speaking family. He entered the Trappist monastery in Oka in September 1897 and made his profession to become a monk in 1899. In addition to being a religious man, he was also a scientist, specifically a geneticist. In 1902, he was assigned to the farmyard and in 1904 he became the steward. He worked there for 44 years. From 1908 to 1920, he crossbred chickens to produce his famous Chantecler chicken. In addition to being a professor emeritus, Brother Wilfrid was also self-taught, a naturalist by heart and had a highly-developed sense of observation. In the farmyard, he also grew flowers and trees.

In addition to being a very popular speaker, he also wrote numerous works, including: “Origine et monographie de la poule canadienne Chantecler”, “Dix années de pratique et d’expérimentation à la basse-cour”, which was re-printed four times, “Manuel des éleveurs de la poule canadienne Chantecler” and the popular work, “Pour avoir de bonnes pondeuses”.

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