La Chasse-Galerie

chasse-galerie-July 18

Reverse Glass painting on clear glass with enamels.

La Chasse-Galerie also known as “The Bewitched Canoe” or “The Flying Canoe” is a popular French-Canadian tale of Courreur des bois who make a deal with the devil, a variant of the Wild Hunt. Its best-known version was written by Honoré Beaugrand (1848–1906). It was published in The Century Magazine in August 1892.

According to French Canadian Legend, La Chasse-Galerie tells the tale of a group of voyageurs in a remote lumber camp. On New Year’s Eve, while drinking rum at the lumber camp, they start missing their sweethearts, who live in a town 300 miles away. They hatch a plan to visit them, by running the Chasse-Galerie, which involves making a pact with the devil so their canoe will fly through the air, getting them to their destination quickly. The only stipulation is that they cannot mention God’s name, touch the cross of any church steeple in the night sky and they must be back before six o’clock the next morning. If they fail, the devil will steal their souls.

They make a pact to not touch another drop of rum and keep their heads clear for the voyage. They take their places in the canoe on the ground, and start to paddle, and very soon they are lifted into the air. Below, is the frozen Gatineau River, the villages, church steeples and the lights of Montreal. The canoe eventually touches down near a brightly lit home, where music and dancing is underway in celebration of New Year’s Eve. They are embraced with open arms and are soon dancing and celebrating with their sweethearts and friends. It soon becomes late and the men must leave to return to camp so that they arrive by 6 am.

As they fly through the night, the navigator appears to have enjoyed too many spirits and steers the canoe dangerously and unsteadily. While passing over Montreal they barely avoid a church steeple, and soon after, the canoe is ultimately stuck in a deep snowdrift. At this point the drunken navigator begins swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain. Terrified the devil will take their souls, the men bind and gag their friend and elect another to steer. The navigator soon breaks his bonds and begins swearing again. The crew become more and more shaken at the possibility of losing their souls, and they eventually steer the bewitched canoe right into a tall pine. The men spill out of the canoe falling into the deep darkness are are never seen or heard from again.

Every New Year’s Eve though, near Montreal, over the frozen Gatineau River, there are sounds coming from the night sky. Men are heard shouting wildly. Wood thuds like paddles against a wooden canoe. As one looks up into the sky, a wooden canoe with paddles is seen furiously paddling through the winter moonlight.

This is the tale of the Chasse-Galerie !

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