Old Québec

Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver

- Gilles Vigneault

Tenth-century Viking navigator Leif Eriksson set out from Greenland on a westerly course and reached Baffin Island, which he named Helluland (Land of Stone). From there his dragon ship and crew sailed on to the timbered shores of Labrador, christened Markland (Land of Forest), pushing south into the Gulf of St. Lawrence region. Natural beauty and bounty were good reasons for settlement and the first buildings were raised at L’Anse aux Meadows. Natural resources were culled and brought back to Greenland. Despite several summers spent coming to know the lay of the topography and trading for commodities with the Skraelings (natives), fierce conflicts with the Indians made permanent settlement impossible. The fledgling colony was abandoned about 15 years later.

Iroquois’ presence in 17th century French Canada was a deciding factor in Québec’s balance of Francophone and Anglophone power. Their Leadership of Nations was referred to as the Haudenosaunee, (People Building a Long House), reaching its zenith during the advent of settlements along the St. Lawrence River. In Québec’s mountainous Laurentian region, confederacy with the Hurons prevented blood feuds. Their village capital of Ossossane was a place of singular native architecture. Bark longhouses, each sheltering several communal families, could reach a length of 200 feet.

French immigrants cleared homestead sites and built in the characteristic habitant style. Sloping roofs, round or square cut logs, and massive stone foundations withstood the assaults of brutal winters. Harsh realities of life for early Québécois were balanced by celebrations such as Révellion on December 24. Festivities kicked off at midnight, continuing with the wooden clogged fiddler and jigs until dawn. Early folk songs extol the virtues of plentiful ale and meat pie, with its bouquet of ground pork. Modern kitchens invigorate traditions of French Canadian cooking. Here is a variation of one of the best tourtieres by Madame Jehanne Benoit.

1 lb. ground pork
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup beef broth
2 medium potatoes, boiled with skins on, peeled and mashed
Pastry for a double-crust pie

Place all ingredients except potatoes in a casserole and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until liquid forms and is reduced by half. Remove from heat and fold in mashed potatoes. Prepare pie, brush with milk, and bake at 400 degrees F until crust is golden brown. Traditionally served with green or red chow chow (regular ketchup works fine).

Felix Leclerc’s canny fusion of American blues, swing, and jazz was steeped in his Québécois cultural values. To conclude we’ll chug to St. Adèle aboard “L’Train Du Nord.”

Dans l’train pour St-Adèle,
Y’avait un homme qui voulait débarquer.
Mais allez donc débarquer
Quand l’train file cinquante milles B l’heure
Et qu’en plus vous Ates le conducteur.
Tchoutchou, tchoutchou.
Le train du nord, le train du nord.

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