Personalities that set tongues wagging

In past centuries, the ties among the inhabitants of a same village were woven as tightly as the fabric of the country. Villagers would help one another and would stand together, as if they were members of one large family. When facing death, disasters or the needs of daily life, they could count on the support of their neighbours. Several of the feast days included in the calendar, such as St. Catherine’s Day or Mardi gras, were times for celebrating but also provided opportunities for gossiping.

Before the development of the local newspaper or television, information circulated mostly by word of mouth. From household to household, various facts were reported as people came and went. They would also inquire about upcoming marriages, new babies and disputes among neighbours. As a result of this practice—it should come as no surprise—the information transmitted occasionally got weighted down with prejudices and certain people served as sources of gossip.

Thus, while certain family names from the time identified people by their occupations (Boulanger [Baker], Meunier [Miller], Boucher [Butcher]), other names more commonly served to designate a distinct character or personality who was also occasionally marginal: the rural priest, the beggar or even the old maid.

Despite people’s good manners, judging the lives of others is often part of daily life and many hours would be spent talking about the neighbours.

This series of chronicles invites you to learn about some of the people who set tongues wagging.

Personalities that set tongues wagging

© Maison Saint-Gabriel. Photo: Pierre Guzzo, photographe.

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First episode
The Beggar
The Beggar

Crédit: Maison Saint-Gabriel.
Photo: Pierre Guzzo, photographe

The memory of Quebec folklore preserves the passage of a character that was legendary in the countryside landscape: the beggar, called that because he spent his time asking for charity.

These beggars were nomadic, traveling from village to village and going from door to door, collecting a few pieces of silver, bread or practical objects. Sometimes, they would be offered a meal at a presbytery or in a home, but it was above all in the rural houses that they would be given a pittance for the evening and asylum for the night.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the settlers were generally inclined to offer these itinerants hospitality since there were very few inns or places to shelter those in need. In 1757, Bougainville mentioned that there were no inns along the road from Montréal to Québec to welcome visitors but that “many good settlers were notably hospitable and that they were paid nobly or arbitrarily”, (D’un pays à l‘autre de Guy Giguère). As for the manner in which the beggars were welcomed, this was implicitly disinterested or, in other words hospitality was offered out of “Christian charity”.

Following the example of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Roman Catholics in Québec offered charity out of religious duty, as well as out of community solidarity, namely in order to respond to a social need. Charity was exercised as of the 17th century and, despite the founding of “Bureaux des Pauvres”, begging was never eliminated. This practice was so common that certain families welcomed up to five beggars a year, as recently as 1950.

When the beggar was offered a place to stay, he generally slept in the main room of the house, on his blanket, his pouch or his rags. Occasionally, he would spend the night in the barn. In this case, he would have to leave his pipe in the house so as to limit the risk of fire. And, although the beggar was rarely given a room all alone, a beggar’s bench was set aside for him.

Placed near the door, the beggar’s bench was often a coffer-bench in which scarves, mittens and hats were stored. The tramp would sit on this bench while food was prepared for him. As a result, taking in beggars did not have too much impact on the large families the settlers frequently had, where feeding an extra mouth did not add too much to the housewife’s work. Yet, after the beggar left, the place would have to be disinfected since he often left lice in his wake.

The beggar would walk with an old twisted stave that would make it walking easier and could be used as protection against the dogs he might encounter on his way. He would have a picturesque look, with his beaver hat on his head and all his worldly belongings in a pouch he carried on his back. But not all beggars were the same. This group, which was typically marginal compared to the rest of society, included introverts as well as extroverts, honest men as well as charlatans. Some developed the art of telling stories, leaving some listeners skeptical and others mystified. Yet they were generally well-liked since they were entertaining. Moreover, the settlers attempted to make use of the beggars’ skills and would have them serve as messengers, in order to spread “hearsay reports” that would have a positive impact on the rumors circulating in the region.

And the beggar would be relatively discrete as to his origin and his destination. While some would only knock at the same door once, others would return every year. This often led to the development of a sense of belonging between the settlers and “their” beggars. In any case, it was a good idea to open the door to someone who appeared asking for “charity for the love of God”, since it was commonly believed that these people could cast curses and that certain women who had refused to give them hospitality lost their ability to bake bread!

Today, while poverty still exists, the traditional figure of the beggar tramping from village to village no longer exists. And people no longer give shelter to travelers. This sociocultural change came about as a result of the upheaval that occurred as of the time referred to as the “Grande Noirceur” and the period of the “Quiet Revolution”.

Values embedded in the Church and rural life were transformed with the implementation of social policies that were both secular and liberal. The rural exodus, which accompanied the emergence of suburbs and the middle class, modified the daily lives of most Quebecers, including those of the beggars. They are now relegated to shelters for the homeless, charitable institutions and other measures provided under social assistance programmes. The beggar still exists today, but he makes his way in a context marked by urban sprawl rather than by traveling from village to village.

We invite you to return on October 20, 2009.

  • CLICHE, Marie-Aimée, Les Pratiques de dévotion en Nouvelle-France. [Québec],
    Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1998. 354 p.
  • COURNOYER, Jean, La Mémoire du Québec de 1534 à nos jours. [Montréal],
    les Éditions internationales Alain Stanké, 2001. 1861 p.
  • DESAUTELS, Yvon, Les coutumes de nos ancêtres. [Montréal], Éditions Paulines, 1984. 55 p.
  • GIGUÈRE, Guy, D’un pays à l’autre. [Sainte-Foy], Éditions Anne Sigier, 1994. 215 p.
  • GRENON, Hector, Us et coutumes du Québec. [Montréal], La Presse, 1974. 334 p.

Second episode
The Old Maid as defined in past centuries
The Old Maid as defined in past centuries

Dessin, mine de plomb sur papier: Eugène Hamel, Jeune fille soutenant une vieille femme, 1869 ?
Source: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
Crédit: Collection permanente/99.502.12 / Don de Pierre-E. Hamel

Look at that spinster of a certain age, she’s an ‘old maid’ people said in centuries gone by. She would be called that, in a teasing or mocking tone, with a small smile at the corner of one’s lips... The adjective "old" would cling to her until the day she died. Up to the 1960s, a girl either got married or she joined a religious order, but she was never, ever supposed to remain single.

The old maid had a “pinched look” and very frequently dressed in out-dated clothes. At gatherings, she was often the target of boys. People insisted on the adjective “old”. The single girl was considered an old maid as soon as she turned 25 and it didn’t take much for her to become the target of prejudice. After all, there had to be a reason she was an old maid...

Occasionally, a young girl would remain single because she was needed at home to help her mother raise the younger children. If her mother died while giving birth, the girl would become the housekeeper for the orphaned family. As a result, she had no time to meet a young man. Very often, the village teacher would be an old maid. On Sundays, she would play the organ for the parish mass. Old maids also served as the priest’s servant or “bonniche”.

The “old maid” was also the one who would remain seated while everyone else danced. The caricature would become perfect if she displayed a bitter or jealous temperament to the point of being mean. In that case, people would say: she’s an old maid and she’ll die an old maid. Disappointed by life, she would smile awkwardly to hide her discomfort and bitterness when, resigned, she would remain aloof to avoid teasing while the young, single people “coiffent la Sainte-Catherine” (decorated St. Catherine).

In the socio-economic situation that prevailed up to the 1960s, women were completely financially dependent. If they remained single, they were forced to live off their families. As a result, generations of young girls experienced the hope of marriage mingled with the fear of being stuck with the scornful label of... “Poor old maid”. A similar label could also be affixed to the young man who remained single. The expression “Poor old bachelor” was just as pejorative as “Poor old maid”.

We invite you to return on November 3, 2009.

  • DUMONT, Micheline et al. (Collectif Clio), L'Histoire des femmes au Québec depuis quatrth centurys, [Montréal], Le jour, 1992. 646 p.
  • LANDRY, Yves, Orphelines en France, pionnières au Canada: les Filles du roi au XVIIth century ; suivi d'un Répertoire biographique des Filles du roi, [Montréal], Leméac, 1992. 434 p.
  • SAUVAGEAU, Thérèse, Au matin de notre histoire. Souvenirs de nos ancêtres, [Sainte-Foy], Éditions Anne Sigier, 1992. 223 p.

Third episode
The Parish Priesan important person in parish life in past centuries
The Parish Priesan important person in parish life in past centuries

Dessin, fusain sur papier: Jobson Paradis, Un curé, entre 1900 et 1915
Source: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
Crédit: Collection permanente/78.278

As an authority figure, the parish priest inspired order and confidence. Although his primary role was to guide souls and oversee parish property, he also served as a major advisor. More educated than the average person, he had a great deal of influence over his parishioners. People would say, “Well, if the priest said it then it must be true!” or even “You should ask the priest what he thinks!”

A veritable reference, the parish priest served as the intermediary between “God the Father” and the parishioners. Some people even attributed occult powers to the “holy man”. Wasn’t he responsible for administering the sacraments, denouncing bad behavior and excommunicating impious souls? In any case, the spiritual leader of the community had his own little quirks, which the parishioners would notice on occasion...

On Sundays, when preaching his sermon from up in the pulpit, the parish priest would proclaim the Word of God and use life on earth to make his message current. Regardless of whether his lecture was moralizing, boring or encouraging, he was heard. It was also an opportunity to mention a few points to parishioners whose behavior required improvement. Certain priests excelled in the art of publicly denouncing the abusive use of alcohol, excessive dancing or the failure on the part of couples to produce children. During the week every one would be talking about it: Did he criticize so and so? How did he view his parishioners? It didn’t take much more for his manner, his character and his behavior to become the topics of conversations as well.

Certain priests preached by example and served as farmers. In this way they showed their flocks that nothing came easily. But generally the priest had a housekeeper to help with the tasks of daily life and a sexton to take care of maintenance work.

In his home, the presbytery, a room reserved for the settlers was used to hold meetings to discuss the solutions for problems that affected the parish. In return, the parishioners welcomed the priest into their homes with a great deal of honor. As soon as he would arrive, the family members, dressed in their Sunday best, would kneel down to receive his blessing. The priest would visit each household at least twice every year, particularly during the grand Advent tour and for the “quête de l’Enfant-Jésus”.

In this manner, a sense of belonging developed between the parishioners and “their” priest over the years. One day, he would be assigned to a new parish by the bishop and everyone would have to adapt to the change and get to know a new priest. Would he be more severe or more benevolent?

We invite you to return on November 17, 2009.

  • SAUVAGEAU, Thérèse, Au matin de notre histoire. Souvenirs de nos ancêtres, [Sainte-Foy], Éditions Anne Sigier, 1992. 223 p.
  • DESAUTELS, Yvon, Les coutumes de nos ancêtres. [Montréal], Éditions Paulines, 1984. 55 p.
  • DOUVILLE, Raymond et Jacques-Donat CASANOVA, La Vie quotidienne en Nouvelle-France: le Canada, de Champlain à Montcalm, [Paris], Hachette, 1964. 268 p.

Fourth episode
The Country Doctor, a heroic character from days gone by
The Country Doctor, a heroic character from days gone by

Dessin, fusain sur papier: Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, Le Médecin. Illustration pour «Maria Chapdelaine» de Louis Hémon, 1916.
Source: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
Crédit: Collection permanente/34.95 Achat en 1927

Day and night, in good weather or bad, people could count on this man, who made house calls to be at the bedside of the patient who was unable to go out. The country doctor went to the most distant sites, taking roads that were hazardous, even obstructed, to care for the ill. Depending on the season, he would travel by snowshoe, sled, sleigh or car. The country doctor was prepared for everything when it came to treating a patient.

Responding to a wide variety of needs, from general practice to extracting teeth, from setting fractures to amputating limbs, and from surgical operations to delivering babies, the country doctor became a “savior for many families”. Often he prepared his own medications and even, occasionally, served as a veterinarian. Valliant and essential, this “health official” also contributed to the colonization of the country with those who settled outside the urban centers.

A charitable person, the physician practically never refused to care for someone who was ill, even if that individual was unable to pay. Although some paid him for his visits with cash, farmers often offered to remunerate him with goods and services.

The country doctor developed a relationship with his patients based on trust. His empathy enabled him to understand their problems and contribute to their healing. This sort of psychology was provided in addition to the advice he gave on matters of hygiene as well as many other topics. Occasionally, he also served as a confidant.

A veritable reference for the community, the country doctor was educated and cultivated. His humanistic and humanitarian qualities, his moral dignity and his forward-looking qualities meant that he was often asked for his opinions when it came to settling disputes.

He attained a certain degree of renown as a result of his professional title as a doctor and this notable and distinguished individual was often appointed to serve as the village mayor. He would live in a home in the centre of the village, where his office and, very often, the mayor’s office were also located.

When illness struck a member of the family, people looked on with hope when this heroic individual would arrive, carrying his bag of miraculous instruments and medications. The country doctor was even authorized to provide the last sacraments when the priest was not present.

We invite you to return on December 1, 2009.

  • SAUVAGEAU, Thérèse, Au matin de notre histoire. Souvenirs de nos ancêtres, [Sainte-Foy], Éditions Anne Sigier, 1992. 223 p.

Fifth episode
The School Inspector
The School Inspector

Photographie: William Notman, Lieutenant Louis-Hector Bellerose, entre 1856 et 1891. Inspecteur d'école de 1892 à 1902
Crédit: Musée de la civilisation, fonds d'archives du Séminaire de Québec / N° Ph1992-0112

Starting in 1840, as municipal territories were being created and governments started financing public services through taxation, education was increasingly recognized as a right and offered to all children of school age. To turn this trend into a concrete fact, small schools were built, teachers were hired and commissioners, elected by the public, collected the income taxes needed to finance schools. The government established the department of public education and an inspector was appointed to ensure the application of its requirements in the field.

The inspector would visit each school in the district he was assigner at least once per year. He would evaluate the condition of the site, the school equipment and the teacher’s skill. The announcement of his arrival would set tongues wagging. In fact, his visit would set nerves on edge because he would give the teacher a grade that could have heavy consequences since it had a direct impact on her reputation.

Housed and paid “directly from the taxpayers’ pockets”, the teacher was supervised closely. She was required to dedicate herself completely to her duties, to behave in an exemplary manner, to manage her students’ results and to maintain the school. She was responsible for sweeping and cleaning the floors, operating the stove, removing snow from the steps and washing the blackboards. Some settlers, however, were not prepared to be indulgent with respect to the teacher since everyone had to pay for the school, regardless of the needs of each family and the number of children who, when they attended school, were not available to work the land... They would say, “The school teacher had better be good!”

As a result, the teacher prepared for the inspector’s visit carefully. Painstaking care was taken to impress this influential protagonist. She would train her students to keep their notebooks tidy and, throughout the year, she would maintain discipline in her classroom,
not only to keep the upper hand over her class, which included students of different ages, but also because the inspector could appear unexpectedly.

As soon as he stepped over the threshold of the door, the students would greet him warmly, clearly reciting, “Good day, Mr. Inspector.” They would then pass a test in which they demonstrated their knowledge. The subjects included: reading, dictation, arithmetic and the catechism. They would even sing a song to perfect their skills at harmony.

As of the middle of the 19th century, there were 23 inspectors in the province of Québec and as of 1882, the Code de l’Instruction publique (Code of public instruction) stated:

“No one can be appointed to serve as a school inspector unless he is 25 years old, has obtained a certificate of competency or a diploma from an academy, a model school or an elementary school , has taught for more than five years, and has been examined by the Roman Catholic or Protestant committee of the public instruction council.” (GARANT)

The position required qualities such as thoroughness, authority, an acute sense of observation, and a concern for excellence, which were combined with an all-round education and an undeniable power to influence.

As a result of the recommendations he submitted to the school commissioners, many situations were resolved: finishing the school porch, digging a well, increasing the teacher’s salary, etc. But in addition to such tasks, in many schools, the outside evaluation of this nomadic and observant agent served to develop the means to be taken to improve this service, which has become a fundamental value of Québec society today.

We invite you to return on December 15, 2009.

  • SAUVAGEAU, Thérèse, Au matin de notre histoire. Souvenirs de nos ancêtres, [Sainte-Foy], Éditions Anne Sigier, 1992. 223 p.
  • GARANT, André, Site Internet du Comité Culturel et Patrimonial de Beauceville. (

Sixth episode
Bonhomme Sept-Heures (a Québec bogeyman)
Bonhomme Sept-Heures (a Québec bogeyman)

Nom de l'artiste: Michel Duguay
Titre de l'oeuvre: Le Bonhomme sept heures
Titre de la collection: Les légendes acadiennes
Propriétaire de la collection: Caisses populaires acadiennes

The personalities that “set tongues wagging” definitely included those who lived in imaginary places. From Santa Claus to werewolves, including witches, those who cast spells and ghosts, an entire population of legendary beings played the lead roles in stories that were often told in order to discipline children. In this respect, the legend of Bonhomme Sept-Heures (a Québec bogeyman) is certainly one of the most popular in Québec.

According to the legend, this man, who was hideous and dressed in rages, carried off all children who were not in bed by the time the clock struck 7:00 p.m., collecting them in a large bag he carried on his back in order to take them to his home. His dwelling was a sort of cart where it was cold and as dark as the night. Once there, he would cut off their ears and chop the rest of their bodies into pieces to make soap. Certain versions of the legend describe Bonhomme Sept-Heures as a creature with a body as hairy as that of a beast or with crossed eyes, the ears of a sprite and horns. Regardless of the variations, he was always a fearsome individual. Depending on how gullible the children were, their parents would add more details to make sure that merely mentioning the upcoming arrival of this bogeyman would make them come inside and go to bed for the night, where they would be safe since this creature could only catch them when they were awake...

Borrowing the powerful image of the ogre and the killer of children from traditional tales, this legend comes from a cultural context that is typically québécois. The origin of the name, Bonhomme Sept-Heures, comes from the use of an English word initially used to refer to the individual who came to houses after dinner to set the bones of those who had problems with their backs, legs or arms. This person was called a “ramancheur” (or bone-setter). At the time, the country doctors discredited his illegal and dangerous practice and the children would fear him since his treatments would generally cause their father to scream in pain. As a result, no child wanted anything to do with this frightful individual. The fact that the parents, who lived in a French-speaking setting, used the English term no doubt magnified the mysterious side of this personality and the phonetic similarities between ‘setter’ and ‘sept-heures’ also helped them achieve their goals...

Québec was not the only place where stories were used as tactics. Several cultures have a frightful individual who makes it easier to get children to go to bed. In southern France, this fearsome creature is an old woman called Trimarde. In the United States and English, there is the Bogeyman; in Scotland, the Boggart; in Mexico and Spain, El Coco; in Bulgaria, the Torbalan; in Italy, the Uomo Nero and in the Philippines, the Pugot Mamu...

Even today, Bonhomme Sept-Heures is a character that sets the tongues of young and old alike wagging. Although he is imaginary, he gives people goose bumps and is always around to help make sure a curfew is respected.

We invite you to return on January 19, 2010.

  • GIRARD, Alexandre, Créatures fantastiques du Québec, Tome II, [Montréal], Les intouchables, 2009, 141 p.
  • TJ Marsh, Weblog, 2009:

Seventh episode
“Old wives” remedies
“Old wives” remedies

Burin, épreuve Before la lettre: Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808), Bonne femme de Normandie, ?
Source: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal / Don de Francis McLennan, C.R. / No Gr.1986(1929).680
Crédit photographique: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Jean-François Brière.

Things that are simple and effective can often become ridiculous. This is what often happened with the “remèdes de bonne femme” or as we call them in English, “old wives” recipes and remedies. And yet...!

“Old wives” remedies are often practical solutions for domestic problems and daily difficulties that are passed down by clever women from one generation to the next, such as the skills they developed through experience.

A woman of the common people, the “old wife” would use the products and means to which she had access and would always find a solution to the problems of the moment, whether this involved loosening someone’s clothing or treating swelling. Of course, these means could not be used to treat serious illness but, when administered with love and care, they relieved many problems and ensured well-being.

From the mustard plaster to the salt water foot bath, to the cabbage leaf poultices and even dandelion tea, the ingredients of “old wives” remedies are often so simple that it would seem unlikely that they could be effective. Yet, when someone returns to normal after following this type of advice, it is highly likely that they will pass it on in turn to someone afflicted with the same problem or a similar one.

Affordable and effective, “old wives” remedies make tongues wag and grow increasingly popular. Who doesn’t have an aunt, a sister-in-law or a neighborhood who occasionally advises just such means which has miraculous results? Get rid of your sore throat by gargling with salted water; Eating an apple a day keeps the doctor away; Clean tin plate by rubbing it with a cloth that has been dipped in oil and wood ashes, etc.

According to one hypothesis, the French expression “remède de bonne femme” comes from the old French expression “remède de bonne fâme”; the Latin root of this, bona fama, means having a “good reputation”. Yet, according to another hypothesis, it was those who believed in a more sophisticated science, promoting the use of more serious drugs, produced in keeping with patented formulas or using only products that are rare or of superior quality, who scornfully qualified this type of medicine as common, empirical and out-of-date.

In any case, remedies that involve the use of flowers, fruits, seeds and leaves are rarely harmful for one’s health. Moreover, the only way to prove or disprove the effectiveness of means and techniques that may leave more than one person skeptical is to try them!

And what if these “old wives” remedies were simply lessons filled with wisdom and common sense?

We invite you to return on February 2, 2010.

  • DESAUTELS, Yvon, Les coutumes de nos ancêtres. [Montréal], Éditions Paulines, 1984. 55 p.
  • ROUSSELET-BLANC, Josette et Vincent, Les recettes de bonne femme: la réponse à tous vos soucis domestiques, Paris, Michel Lafond, 2002, 328 p.
  • DELALANDE, Églantine et Francine Pages, Les remèdes et astuces de nos grand-mères, Croissy-sur-Seine, Anagramme, 320 p.
  • COUILLARD, Suzette et Roseline Normand, Souvenirs d’hier pour aujourd’hui. Trucs de grand-maman, L'Islet-sur-mer, DSC, 1982, 114 p.

Eighth episode
The groundhog and his shadow
The groundhog and his shadow

Nom de l'artiste: Ginette Boyer
Titre et date de l’oeuvre: «Marmotte commune, la voit-elle?», 2010
Dimensions: 9" x 12"
Médium: Crayons couleurs sur papier Stonehenge

The animal world, which is intimately connected with the laws of nature, has been a satisfying source of instruction for humankind since the beginning of time. Deeply rooted in our culture, the qualities of various species transform beasts into meaningful animal personalities that we can recognize through the study of both ancient rites and more recent animations. One such animal is the groundhog, a hibernating rodent that is reputed to announce the end of winter through instinct.

According to tradition, which has developed into “Groundhog Day”, people are supposed to watch the entrance to the animal’s den on February 2, as the creature’s hibernation period draws to a close. According to the legend, if the animal does not see its shadow because the day is cloudy when it steps outside of its den to check the temperature, winter will end soon. However, if the day is bright and sunny, the groundhog will be frightened by its shadow and go back into its lair. In this case, winter will continue for another 40 days.

This observation, which is intended to indicate if spring will come soon is of course very approximate, but it has been in use for a very long time, much like the way in which the end of winter darkness has been celebrated for eons. The Celts celebrated Imbolc, and the Romans, Lupercalia. During these festivities, processions and torch races were organized to highlight the return of light and celebrate fertility and purification. Moreover, the month of February was named in Antiquity in keeping with Roman mythology in honour of Februa, god of death and purification.

In the Fifth century, at the initiative of Pope Gelasius I, Christians replaced these pagan traditions by candlelit processions in the churches. This Christian festival was known as Candelmas, and also went by the name of “Pancake Day” since it was a day for eating pancakes, which represented the sun as a result of their colour and shape. The same pope would distribute pancakes to pilgrims for this occasion. Then, over the years, the Roman Catholic religion came to associate Candlemas with the themes of the Purification of the Virgin and the presentation of Jesus at the temple, which are described in the New Testament.

In New France, under the French régime, the settlers were eager for Candlemas to arrive. Smoke would rise from the fireplaces heating the thatched houses in the St. Lawrence River Valley, which was still buried under snow. At the beginning of the month of February, the colonists would be hibernating in their homes. The women would be busy with various tasks such as spinning and weaving and they would complain about their husbands, who would be under foot, saying “They drag their heels, soul weighted down, and complain if we encourage them to get up and about” (Provencher).

Soon, man’s internal clock, like that of the groundhog, would sound the return of spring. Buds would open, animals would be taken out of their stables and ships would be able to leave the port. Even the dead, which had been stored in the charnel-house, could be buried once the soil in the cemetery thawed. The farmer would prepare his seed and the cycle of life would start anew... After several weeks of winter and heavy snowfalls, a few hours of mild weather were more than enough to raise hopes about the return of spring. Given the climate, isn’t it normal for us to spend so much time talking about the weather? To place so much hope in it?

“Come on, groundhog, don’t be afraid of your shadow!”

This is the last in the series of chronicles about characters that set tongues wagging.

  • PROVENCHER, Jean, C'était l'hiver: la vie rurale traditionnelle dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent, [Montréal], Éditions du Boréal Express, 1986, 278 p.
  • HILL, Susanna Leonard, Debout, marmotte!, illustrations de Jeffrey Ebbeler; texte français de Louise Sasseville, [Toronto], Éditions Scholastic, 2007, n.p.
  • Vie des Saints, [Mont-Tremblant], Éditions Magnificat, 2006:


Candlemas or the Festival of Candles
Candles represent Jesus, the light of the world: the wax, produced by the bee’s labour, is Christ’s Flesh; the wick is His Soul; and the flame that burns at the top of the candle is His Divinity.

The procession of candles represents the passage of the Holy Family in the Temple.

At Candlemas, Christians would have their candles blessed and then take them home for protection. This gave rise to the French expression, “le cierge de la Chandeleur protège du malheur” (translation: the Candlemas candle protects against misfortune).
Legendary beings
Legendary beings have characteristics that are similar to those of real people or even animals, but when they are transformed through the imagination they take on a fantastic dimension
Dandelion tea
Reduces cellulite, cures small gall bladder and liver problems and gets rid of facial pimples.
Cabbage leaf poultice
Relieves muscular pain.
Salt water foot bath
Soothes tired feet and revives the entire body.
Mustard plaster
Preparation of flour and dried mustard mixed with water and spread on a cloth that is placed on one’s chest to treat bronchitis.
“Quête de l’Enfant-Jésus”
The “Quête de l’Enfant-Jésus” took place after Christmas during the first week of January. The priest and the sextons would go from door to door to collect goods (grain, lard, thread and tow), which would then be sold in an auction on the steps of the church, for the benefit of the parish. The tithe was also collected at this time.
Advent is a four-week period in the liturgical year that precedes and is used to prepare for the Christmas festivities. The priest would tour his entire parish to bless the family members and the crucifixes in each home. He would also count the number of parishioners and announce the total population, once his tour had been completed, during the announcements. At the end of the mass, the priest would announce all of the news concerning the parish (masses for the coming week, marriages, etc.).
The sexton was a lay employee of the parish. He was responsible for seeing that services ran efficiently as well as for assisting the priest with his day-to-day activities. His home was generally close to the cemetery.
This term is used to refer to sheep or to Christians in their relationship to the priest.
The pulpit is an elevated place from which the speaker addresses his audience. It looks down on the nave and the speaker reaches it by climbing stairs.
Decorated St. Catherine
On November 25, St. Catherine's day, young girls aged 25 or under were given the honorable mission of decorating the statute of their patron saint. Only virgins, who were called “Catherinettes”, were allowed to do this.

Catherine of Alexandria, virgin martyr, patron saint of philosophers and young girls, apparently defied Emperor Maximinus in the Fourth Century. In 1970, she was withdrawn from the Roman Catholic calendar as a result of the legendary nature of her biography.
Pejorative word for “bonne” in French, which means servant.
La «Révolution tranquille»
L’arrivée des libéraux de Jean Lesage au pouvoir, en 1960, est le point de départ de la Révolution tranquille, une expression qui apparaît d’abord en anglais (Quiet revolution) sous la plume d’un journaliste du quotidien torontois Globe and Mail. On désigne par cette expression la période du règne des libéraux, soit jusqu’en 1966, marquée par l’ensemble des changements reliés à l’évolution séculaire de la société québécoise et l’affirmation d’une identité nationale en rupture avec l’idéologie de la survivance.
La «Grande Noirceur»
L’expression désigne la période allant de la Late de la 2e Guerre mondiale jusqu’au décès de Maurice Duplessis (1945 à 1959) et vise les figures du cléricalisme et du nationalisme qui, aux yeux de la nouvelle intelligentsia, apparaissent comme un obstacle à l'édification d'une société moderne.
Bureau des Pauvres
After l’intendance de Jean Talon vient celle de Jacques Duchesneau de la Doussinière et d’Ambault, en poste de 1675 à 1682. En 1676, Duchesneau fait interdire la mendicité dans la colonie dans le but de limiter les désordres qu’elle peut entraîner et éviter la vie oisive facilitée par l’obtention de dons aux portes. L’ordonnance mentionne la présence de 300 mendiants dans la ville de Québec cet été là. L’intendant qui succède à Duchesneau, Jean Bochart de Champigny, en poste jusqu’en 1702, instaure quant à lui un Bureau des Pauvres dans les villes de Québec, de Trois-Rivières et de Ville-Marie. On souhaite alors que désormais, dans les villes, les dames quêteuses aillent aux portes des habitants recueillir l’aumône pour les pauvres. Ces dernières remettent la quête au directeur du Bureau, qui se charge de la distribution auprès des personnes recommandées par le curé de la paroisse et jugées dignes d’assistance.