French Canada’s odd tales: from the Loup Garou to the Devil’s Canoe

Henri Julien (1852–1908) Blue pencil, Study for La Chasse-galerie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Years ago I used to teach a class on Canadian folklore in art and literature. This is a lecture that I gave in the class, which covered the Devil’s Canoe and the Loup Garou. Any faculty member or teacher is free to use it in their own class.  In my lecture I sometimes noted authors, but often failed to give their full names or citation, as this was only for my use in class. Still, there are many authors listed here, who might give you further inspiration, and who were the basis for this content. If you read French, I found this work particularly helpful while writing this lecture:

Larry Gowett, “Le loups-garous dans la tradition religieuse québécoise.” PhD diss., UNIVERSITÉ DU QUÉBEC À MONTRÉAL,1982.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

The Loup Garou and the Devil’s Canoe


Loup garou



Honore Beaugrand



For an oral version of a loup garou tale:

The French Empire in the New World

  • I want to talk today about werewolf traditions in New France, and the story of the Devil’s canoe
  • These are stories about exclusion and inclusion, about the difference between urban and rural, social and deviant
  • Tell us much about French culture not only in Quebec, but also in North America
  • Worth remembering the scale of the French Empire in the Americas
  • Much larger than what we think of as French Canada today
  • Between 1608 and 1759, the French explored and controlled much of North America
  • The core of their Empire was in what is today Quebec, along the St. Lawrence River
  • From their fur traders and missionaries spread out over the continent
  • Soon reached the Mississippi
  • Established a settlement in New Orleans
  • Tried to contain the expanding English colonists, who had arrived at Jamestown in 1607, and in Massachusetts in the 1620s
  • Throughout this region they brought their traditions and beliefs from France
  • One of the most common beliefs was in the loup-garou or werewolf
  • I want to explore this tradition, which is very different from the popular culture tradition of a werewolf that you are probably familiar with today
  • But before I begin with the beliefs, it is perhaps worthwhile to talk about the culture of New France
  • The kind of society implanted in the New World
Photo by Memory Catcher on Unsplash

The culture of New France

  • In many respects, the society of New France was very dissimilar from that of the English colonies
  • Perhaps the greatest difference was in its relationship with the native American peoples, and the very different understanding that the French had of the frontier.
  • The French colony differed demographically from that of the United States
  • the French never emigrated to the New World in numbers similar to those of the English
  • at the time of the conquest, there were perhaps 70,000 people in the French Empire, and three million in the British colonies
  • the reason for this was both environmental and economic
  • a different economic basis to their colony
  • there were small colonies of farmers, who for decades lived in fear of Iroquois raids
  • but the economic basis of the colony was the fur-trade
  • New France’s economy depended on the rivers, which allowed them to explore deep into the interior
  • Voyageurs, or couriers du bois, traveled deep into the interior
  • Lived for months and years away from their culture
  • Very different from the English colonies in which there was a firm frontier, and limited cultural or economic exchange across it
  • Meant that this was a society in which their was a profound difference between the culture in the cure, and in the periphery
  • Can even see this with the Catholic Church, perhaps the most powerful institution in New France
  • Missionaries were sent out in large numbers
  • At first the Jesuits tried to profoundly change the native culture, mainly of the Algonquian peoples
  • Soon found that to be impractical
  • Shifted to trying to introduce Christianity, while respecting indigenous traditions
  • Pragmatic approach, given New France’s reliance on native allies
  • Part of this reliance was based on the fact that the French were so few, while the British colonists were so many
  • They lived in a state of constant warfare for their survival
  • The result was a garrison culture
  • Small army and intellectual elite in Montreal, Quebec City and Trois Rivieres
  • And a diffuse set of traders, trappers and missionaries spread as far as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi region
  • Society with many tensions
  • Their folklore reflected this fact

Werewolves in History

  • While the idea of the werewolf came to be distinctive to the culture of New France, it is worth noting the antiquity of this belief
  • Belief in shape-shifting very ancient, and common in many cultures
  • In the New World, for example, some Meso-American peoples had a belief in were-jaguars
  • In Europe, you can find shape-shifting and transformation tales among the Greeks, who believed that it came when an impious man tried to feed human flesh to a god, and was punished by being turned into a werewolf
  • There are references to were-dogs in stories of the Scythians told by the Greeks
  • During late Classical antiquity, early Christian authors began to question these tales
  • St. Augustine, writing in North Africa in the fifth century, held that people did not transform from one being to another
  • rather demons tricked people into perceiving them in that fashion
  • Church figures took a dim view of shape-shifting stories
  • Nonetheless, tales of shape-shifting were common in Medieval tales and romances.
  • Often a source of humor too these tales
  • The man who told his wife he was a loup-garou, and cursed to run the wilds at night
  • Only turned out that he was in fact that using this as an excuse to visit another woman at night, as his widow discovered upon his death
  • No question, however, that wolves were deeply frightening symbols in French culture
  • But people did not only transform into wolves, but into a myriad of other animals.
  • What is a loup garou? At the core is the belief in a transformation. For this reason you could have a loup garou (Joan Finnegan, Witches, Ghosts and Loup Garous) which was a headless man
  • You could also hear of loup garous that were horses or dogs or even a pig
  • Transformation was the core of the experience, not the particular animal into which a person transformed


What Caused this transformation?

  • Why were people transformed? 
  • The English ideal that it was a disease, much like rabies, that was spread by biting, never was a common belief among the French. 
  • Rather, it was generally a religious failing. 
  • I’ve already mentioned the religiosity of Quebecois society
  • The Church held immense sway in Quebec
  • Would continue to do so after the Conquest
  • Key idea in many tales: a werewolf was someone who did not take mass for seven years. In this context, not taking mass for this length of time was an expression of being outside the social body.
  • This idea that a werewolf was someone who was excluded from the social order very important
  • I will return to it a minute
  • But the number seven was also significant
  • Werewolf beliefs elsewhere in the Americas also revolve around the number seven. 


Werewolf Beliefs in Latin America

  • In Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina there was the belief that the seventh son could become a werewolf. 
  • This belief stretches far back into the history of Spain and Portugal
  • This belief endured in South America, and caused a great deal of suffering, as the seventh male child could be excluded and ostracized within their communities
  • Such a powerful belief that legislation was passed in Argentina early in the twentieth century that made the Argentine president the godparent of these “seventh” children, to prevent their abandonment.
  •  Certain social rights came with this: scholarships for education. 
  • The idea was one of kindness: people in rural areas would no longer abandon their children. 
  • This tradition continued and led to questions of gender equity in the late twentieth century
  • only sons could collect these benefits. Legislation has now altered this, so that daughters are covered as well.
  • Key idea in Latin America, that one becomes a werewolf by fate, unlike the English and Germanic idea that one becomes a werewolf by contagion.
  • Differs from the French idea, that one becomes a werewolf by excluding oneself from Church and society
  • Worth noting. There are certain commonalities in these tales, such as the importance of the number seven
  • But there are also profound differences, such as what causes one to become a werewolf.

Social Exclusion and Deviance

  • Werewolf tales were about exclusion and then reintegration into the social body
  • They warned people to be careful around those who might appear to be entertaining companions, but who learned one away from the Church and the religious bonds that held society together.
  • This was a social world dominated by the Church, which had a long list of rules about what people were to eat, how they were to act and what they were to do
  • It was dangerous to violate these taboos.
  • One became a werewolf if one went seven years without going to mass (Dorson, 70)
  • Or you could sell your soul for money, in return for which you would run as a loup garou at night for perhaps 40 days, at which time the devil would take you, unless someone freed you from the curse (Dorson, 70)
  • Refusing to follow the Church was equivalent to being a-social, and the Church’s festivals were the center of social life (Gowett, 52-53).
  • For example, in Louis Frechette’s story, “Tom Cariboo,” there is an asocial man, who refused to go to mass on Christmas Eve (and was punished severely for this). His camp mates believed that he might be a loup garou 
  • “There were not a few in our crowd who swore to having seen him on four paws, at night, in the fields, roving about in the shape of some devilish loup garou. Frechette, 206.
  • Ultimately the man was attacked by a bear, when he went into the forest to drink whiskey on Christmas Eve, instead of going to attend the Midnight mass with his comrades
  • He was convinced the bear was Satan and repented
  • Lois Frechette’s story of the Loup Garou is in this line
  • But it goes beyond this

Urban Rural divide

  • These stories also reflected the discomfort in French-Canadian society about the distance between society in the core and the periphery
  • In the center, you had a tightly controlled culture
  • In the periphery, people had immense freedom
  • Loup Garou stories are also about the lure and the wish to escape from the restrictions of this religious culture
  • People were tempted to be werewolves
  • That is, being a werewolf could be viewed as an attractive option
  • Honore Beaugrand begins his story of the Chasse Gallerie by having his narrator say that he wants to give a warning to all the young men who want to run as loup garous or ride the Chasse Gallerie. Beaugrand, La Chasse Galerie, p. 1.
  • The idea of having fun, even at the risk of their souls, was an attractive one
  • But these stories are also about people being scared about being too far outside the social order
  • And their wish to be reintegrated
  • The urban-rural divide was central in these stories, and the distance in these stories was as much moral as it was physical.
  • Young men went out of the social order in these camps
  • Louis Frechette’s story (titled “Titange”) about the bottle, which could be used to imprison God.  Fréchette, L. H. (1899). Christmas in French Canada. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 231-232.
  • This is about being beyond the reach of God: “Beyond the Pointe-aux-Baptèmes, God is nowhere,” Frechette, 234.
  • Coming home in this context meant returning not only to a social order, but also a moral one
  • When these two were divorced, the results were terrible
  • You can see this with the story of the witches canoe: TELL STORY: for a summary of the tale see
  • Men in remote shantytowns and logging camps lured to travel home for an event (a dance, Christmas eve celebration) in their home towns, by placing their immortal souls at risk
  • But after all, in the story of the witches canoes the young men were trying to return to their home culture
  • And they were always reintegrated into the social order.
  • Every time someone told the story of the witches canoe, they always ended up returning home, and vowing never to do it again
  • These stories are about people testing the moral order.

Spouses and Werewolves

  • It is this separation from the social and moral order which is the most frightening part of the loup garou, even more than their physical transformation
  • This comes through in stories about werewolves who had wives.
  • In one, a woman confides a man’s workmate that she believes her husband runs with loup garous at night, in the form of a great black dog, and eats dead bodies in the cemetery: Edith Fowke, Folk Tales of French Canada, NC Press, 1981, pp. 102-103.
  • The story is told by an older man, Alexis, who travels each day to work
  • His notices that his coworker always begins the day half-dead from exhaustion
  • He stops by the man’s house one weekday morning
  • The man says that he is too tired to go to work
  • His wife says: “You are going to work, if you are strong enough to go out traveling all night.”
  • Alexis says, “What, he spends the whole night away from home?”
  • And the wife says, “You understand that this man has been married to me for thirteen years, and he has never spent a night in this house.”
  • The husband then says: “What is it to you when I go around with my friends in the evening? Walking with friends in the evening is entertaining. The others will have some enjoyment, and me, I’ll be bored like a poor dog.”
  • The man then got dressed and goes to work with Alexis.
  • On Sunday, the old man went to mass 
  • On the way home he stopped by his co-workers’ house
  • The door was open and the woman was crying
  • The man walked into the house and asked what was wrong
  • She shut the door to the room where the man was sleeping
  • Then she said: “I’m afraid sir. I saw something for a moment that really upset me. I tried to fight my husband’s boredom. I’ve always had a wicked suspicion, and now I’m convinced of what I thought. It’s the truth, my husband runs in the form of a loup garou.” (wording changed slightly from Fowkes’ version)
  • The man said loudly “A loup-garou!”
  • The woman signed for him to be quiet, afraid that he will wake her husband
  • Then she said that her neighbor had just died, and before the funeral she had sewn a cap for him. When she woke up in the morning, there were threads from the nightcap that she had made in her husbands teeth.
  • The wife believed that there were several men who ran as a loup garou, and that they went to the cemetery to dig up the dead and eat them.
  • Shortly after that the woman’s husband died
  • A big black dog then came and kept guard over the corpse, until they drove it off to have the funeral (Fowke, 102-103).

Questions: What strikes you about this story? How can we interpret it?

On a deeper level, what kind of topics or issues is this story be about?

  • In Joan Finnegan’s Witches, Ghosts and Loup Garous, there is a modern version of a loup garou story, set in the nineteenth century in the Ottawa valley
  • A woman’s new husband tells her to look for a cart being driven by a dog at the end of the day
  • She ignores him
  • But then a cart approaches her being driven by a great black dog
  • She is terrified, until it transforms into her husband
  • He thinks it is very funny
  • She leaves him
  • In both cases, one has the sense that the husband enjoyed being a loup garou. It let them escape social restrictions, or enjoy frightening their wife.
  • There is also the sense of horror on the part of their wives
  • They have married someone who was not what they seemed
  • Interesting that women are always images of piety in these loup garou stories (Gowett, 69)
  • The only exception is in a story by Honore Beaugrand (Beaugrand, page ?)
  • In that case, the woman was an Algonquian woman, and thus outside the French Canadian social order.
  • Larry Gowett has commented that in many loup garou stories one of the central themes is that of innocence confronted by impurity (p. 78)
  • This interests me, and I wonder how a feminist might interpret these tales?
  • If anyone has any ideas about this, I am curious to hear them.
  • Gowett notes that many of the authors of loup garou tales in nineteenth century were authors who warned about the danger that the corrupt city posed
  • The city was the source of impurity and the breakdown of traditional morales (Gowett, 80-81).
  • Montreal in particular was a source of moral corruption, according to Honore Beaugrand, probably the most famous author of loup garou tales (Gowett, p. 81-83)
  • An inversion of the older opposition, in which the wilderness was apart from the moral order.
  • Perhaps this reflects fears about women’s changing roles, which are no longer threatened when young men leave for the wilderness, but now by young single women traveling to the cities
  • Certainly, loup garou tales are about the breakdown of the moral order.
  • No coincidence that many authors who tried to capture the oral traditions were conservatives, such as Honore Beaugrand, who as a young man fought to try to place a French king on the Mexican throne
  • We’ll return to this issue of the loup garou and politics –for this is a tie- later.


  • But first I want to think about the moments at which a loup garou appeared in the stories, and why that might be
  • Many Quebecois stories warn of the danger of succumbing to pleasure. 
  • This is probably why so many folktales circle around the idea of the interrupted party. 
  • Pierre Rajotte argues that parties are liminal moments that threaten the social order. 
  • Some of you may have been at a party at which moral rules started to break down, to the point where it became disturbing

Why do you think that the loup garou shows up at the end of the party?

  • One possibility, according to some scholars, is that these stories all reveal a deep distrust of pleasure
  • The dancing and dating possibilities at a party are fun
  • They also threaten the existing order
  • This is why the devil may arrive to take away the young woman who has been flirting with young men, even though her fiancé is at the party.
  • Similar to Mexican tales in which a woman dances with a handsome man, only to have someone realize that he has hooves
  • In the Amazon, where I have spent some time, they tell different stories
  • They believe that the pink dolphins that live in the river come out of the water at night, and try to seduce young men or women
  • You can pick them out at the party, because they are the unexpected stranger who is an unbelievably good dancer
  • This is how unexplained pregnancies used to be explained in some Amazonian communities
  • In all these tales across cultures there is an outside threat to the social order
  • At the core of the story, is the resolution of this threat
  • tales of the loup garou are about the limits of difference

Curing a Werewolf

  • For this reason, it is possible –and even common- to cure a werewolf in French Canadian folktales.
  • If a person could draw blood, the person would return to human form and be freed from the curse. 
  • Very often in these stories someone wounds a werewolf, only to find that it was their closest friend
  • These stories are really about the reestablishment of friendship, and the social world
  • In these stories, the person would only be freed if the person who wounded them kept their secret for a period of time plus one day, usually a 101 days.
  • In folklore, this would seem to raise all kinds of interesting possibilities, in which the person would reveal the secret at the last possible second
  • What is interesting to me, is that I have never found even a single story in which this happened
  • The friend always keeps the secret
  • People only note that their friend was unusually kind to their saviour.
  • Perhaps in Quebecois culture you would become suspicious if someone began to treat a friend with unusual kindness. 

These tales as a Reflection of Society

  • In many ways, these tales are a reflection of the culture
  • They certainly reflect the religiosity of the society (Gowett, Le Loup Garou dans la tradition religieuse Quebecois)
  • As I have argued, the central theme in these stories about an individuals’ exclusion from society because of their lack of religion
  • In other words, the stories tell of an individual who breaks the culture’s religious rules
  • Usually have an element of conversion
  • In this sense, the climax is usually not the destruction of the werewolf, but rather their reinclusion to their society
  • The reestablishment of order
  • In many of these stories (Gowett, 54) there is a moment when the person who becomes a loup garou, or is about to be threatened by one, says that they are not sorry for some taboo that they have broken
  • The next moment the loup garou appears, or they are cursed
  • This is what Larry Gowett says: “A history of the loup-garou is thus located in the story in order to illustrate the chastisement that falls upon those who transgress religious practices, and above all Church duties,” (Gowett, 54. See also p. 76).
  • Clearly, these stories emphasize the importance of the Church
  • This is why some loup garous could be warded off by the sign of the cross, or other religious symbols might be used to destroy a loup garou, such as dipping musket balls in holy water (Gowett, 56-58, 60).
  • The mass was of critical importance in this culture, and so it often played a prominent role in these stories
  • One of the most common sins of those who became werewolves was blasphemy (Gowett, 73)
  • Complex set of Church rules governed all of society
  • These stories emphasized the importance of these rules
  • They also emphasized the importance of the cure or priest (for the definition of the cure, see Gowett, 66).
  • True in a broader sense: in much of Quebecois folklore, the local priest outsmarts the devil
  • May for example, trap the devil and compel him to build a church
  • In this sense, I think you have a sense of an optimistic society
  • Believed that people could be redeemed
  • There are exceptions
  • But very few of these stories are really dark and disturbing
  • The witches canoe will ultimately bring people home safely, and the devil will fail to capture their souls
  • The person who was once the dangerous werewolf will be transformed back into a human
  • Larry Gowett points out that these are stories of transgression and rehabilitation, in which the story usually ends when the person repents and is brought back both into the Church and society (86)
  • I think that we can also see other aspects of Quebecois society in these stories
  • It was a profoundly social world
  • Stories set in a rich set of social events: festivals, church going, dances, and parties
  • Very difficult in this society to be outsider
  • The pull of these stories is towards inclusion
  • Also a rich sense of humor
  • But in describing these stories, I am focusing on stories focused in Quebec itself, and particularly those collected in 19th century, or converted into written form during this period
  • These were only one part of a broader tradition

Cultural mixing with indigenous beliefs

  • Werewolf tales widespread in the francophone world: Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, Haiti (see Erika Bourguignon, “The Persistence of Folk Belief: Some Notes on Cannibalism and Zombies in Haiti,” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 72, No. 283 (Jan. – Mar., 1959), pp. 36-46), Lousiana, the U.S. Midwest.
  • What is amazing is both the area over which these stories have been told in North America, and how long they have survived after French rule ended
  • What also is interesting is how these stories were changed through contact with Indigenous peoples
  • New France: garrison culture with its heart in Quebec
  • Sent fur traders deep into the continent
  • fur traders who lived and traveled for years among the Native Americans. They brought their beliefs in werewolves with them.
  • These beliefs blended with the Algonquian belief in the windigo, a cannibal spirit which could transform a person into a murderous outcast
  • Discuss windigo. 
  • Similarities between the Algonquian tales of the windigo, and the French Canadian tales of the loup garou
  • Carolyn Podruchny has a wonderful article about this: Podruchny, C. (2004). Werewolves and windigos: Narratives of cannibal monsters in French-Canadian voyageur oral tradition. Ethnohistory51(4), 677-700.
  • Both are stories of a person being transformed into an a-social other
  • Often this metamorphosis comes about because of the violation of taboos
  • And with this transformation comes power in many forms (there are also similarities with the Beaver peoples’ wechuge figure. Sanday, 111-113).
  • Not only a physical power that makes these individuals so strong as to be dangerous
  • Also a freedom from social norms and rules.
  • We know that these two traditions influenced each other, as the French traded throughout the Great Lakes region for a century before the English conquest
  • See this mixing of beliefs in Metis culture on the Canadian prairie
  • The Rodgeroo (spelling).
  •  Also see this aspect in tales told well into the mid-twentieth century in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
  • In the work Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers, Richard Dorson talks about the fear that people of Quebecois descent had of these animals. 
  • In Dorson’s version of these stories, you have tales in which the werewolf is associated with the owl
  • Owls are linked to windigos in Algonquin belief: Hewson, J. (1992). Owls and windigos. International Journal of American Linguistics58(2), 234-235.
  • Also viewed as shaman’s tools, particularly evil shamans
  • Owls could be used as messengers or tools by shamans seeking to send madness or the windigo spirit into their enemies
  • Clearly seen in twentieth century folk-tales collected in the U.S. mid-West. 
  • One story Dorson connected: an owl came to an aunt’s window, and stared at it
  • The woman inside believed that she was choking
  • The people believed that it was a roup garou, which was coming to throw evil medicine through the window and bewitch them
  • They shoot the owl
  • When they go to find it, the owl has disappeared
  • But the old lady next door is crawling back to her house and soon dies (Dorson, 74-75)
  • This tale is actually an old Cree tale, which has little in common with the rodgeroo, except that the people referred to the owl as a rodgeroo
  • Interestingly, they also referred to it by the Cree term for owl
  • There was also a spectrum of hybridity as these stories mixed
  • This story was heavily native-american in its inspiration.
  • Important to note that there is a class based aspect to beliefs
  • These mixed beliefs were held by the Metis, people who worked in remote lumber camps, fur trappers
  • Not held by the intellectual elites, the priests, government officials and merchants
  • You would not hear these stories in Montreal or Quebec cities
  • But you would in lumbering communities in Michigan
  • But these stories would change as oral tradition shifted to a literate one

Transition to a Literate Culture

  • Werewolf stories were part of an oral tradition, which seldom made it into the printed word
  • Occasional exceptions: reports of a werewolf in the late eighteenth century in Quebec, for example in an English-language newspaper shortly after the British conquest, 1766 and 1767. Lambert, R. S. (1955). Exploring the Supernatural: The Weird in Canadian Folklore. A. Barker. 
  • Here is a quote from the Quebec Gazette: “Kamouraska, December 2nd. We learn that a Ware-wolf, which has roamed through this province for several Years, and done great Destruction in the province of Quebec, has received several considerable Attacks in the Month of October last, by different animals, which they had armed and incensed against this Monster; and especially, the 3d of November following, he received such a furious Blow, from a small lean Beast, that it was thought they were entirely delivered from this fatal Animal, as it some Time after retired into its Hole, to the great satisfaction of the Public. But they have just learn’d, as the most surest Misforture, that this Beast is not entirely destroyed, but begins again to show itself, more furious than ever, and makes terrible Havock wherever it goes.- Beware then of the Wiles of this malicious Beast, and take good Care of falling into its claws.” Colombo, Ghost Stories of Canada, 64. (If you just want a collection of good Canadian ghost stories, Colombo’s work is great)
  • Interesting that in the earlier report of this werewolf the story was about a beggar, who was believed to be a threat to the community
  • One author (Seguin) suggests that this story was told to a British boat crew shortly after the conquest, who took the story literally
  • One man wrote a letter to the editor about the first account of the werewolf, to say that this was a superstitious tale, and that the newspaper should not be encouraging this kind of belief
  • Worth noting that there were Eastern cougars during this period
  • Easy to believe that people might see their farm animals killed by a cougar, and attribute it to a loup-garou
  • In either case, it was likely that the journalist was acting to incorporate an oral tradition into a written for
  • There are very few such written examples of the tradition though
  • But a rich oral tradition around this in poetry, voyageur songs, and folktales
  • In the late, nineteenth century, this culture began to be lost
  • The fur trade was ending
  • People were attending school
  • These tales survived in lumber camps, and among French Canadian guides who worked with Anglophones from the United States and Ontario who went on hunting and fishing trips to the north
  • But people were aware that they were losing these tales

Intellectual versions of these tales

  • Concentrated effort to record these stories for a popular audience
  • A sense that this heritage was being lost, so people scrambled to save it
  • These stories were remembered for a reason
  • In part, they served to meet a sense of nostalgia among an urbanizing populace that still had ties to the small towns and farms where they had grown up
  • Around 1900, approximately 70% of Quebec’s population was still rural (Gowett, 80)
  • This meant that even though there was an intellectual class emerging in the cities, they still had ties to the land
  • Period when popular journals had appeared, much as in Europe, that told short stories
  • Many stories that tried to create this sense of romance about an imagined past, which was simpler, and focused on the family
  • Many stories written in popular magazines and books about the loup garou
  • On the surface, these seem to be faithful recreations of the folklore
  • The stories are usually set around a fire, perhaps on Christmas evening, and describe the performance of the story
  • Give the feeling that they are recreating a performance that the author has actually heard
  • But there are also changes, of course, created when these stories move to a written format
  • This is a period when Quebecois authors were trying to create a sense of national identity, and to prove that they had a literature separate from that of Europe
  • These stories were consciously created to show what was distinctive about Quebec
  • This was also the period of struggle between the blues –conservatives, who held to rural values, and upheld the power of the Church- and the reds, who believed in the power of the Church. (Gowett, 83-84.)
  • Some of these stories were recounted by conservative authors, such as Honore Beaugrand, who viewed them as a means to emphasize the importance of traditional values: Beaugrand, H. (1900). La chasse galerie: légendes canadiennes. Beauchemin.
  • The fact that the power of the Church was always central to these stories became particularly important
  • Many of these popular stories from the period were set during a religious festival, such as the Christmas eve mass
  • The person was punished for disobeying the Church, and reintegrated into the social body
  • The stories celebrated the wisdom of the rural folk, and warned against adopting the beliefs of urban intellectuals
  • Dorson, R. M. (2008). Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Univ of Wisconsin Press. began one story with a storyteller saying that his audience were all lawyers from Montreal, who mocked stories of loup garous
  • He then had the storyteller tell the lawyers –who in the tale had come to a rural town to campaign for the liberal candidate- a story of the loup garou, to show that they did not really understand Quebec and its values.
  • These were some of the clear oppositions in these stories: the lawyers and the cure, the urban and the rural, the secular powers against the religious authorities.

Legacy of these Tales

  • Written versions of the loup garou tale did not eliminate folklore.
  • Key point: these two forms existed side by side throughout the twentieth century, and each influenced the other
  • Difficult to view the “folk” oral versions of these stories as being  truly authentic, as people also knew of popular written versions of the tales
  • And these tales have been enduring and widespread
  • Have survived everywhere the French held power in the New World
  • Interesting that more than two centuries after the French gave up their claim to Louisiana and the states along the Mississippi, these tales are still told in the United States, where the French language has long since disappeared
  • WPA writers collected stories in the 1930s that were clearly influenced by very old ideals. See The Loup-Garou legends of Old Vincennes,” at, which was collected in Vincenes, Indiana.
  • In the lumber camps and rural communities of the upper-Midwest in the 1950s, you could still hear tales that were shaped in detail by Algonquian beliefs about shamanic traditions. See the following source: Dorson, R. M. (2008). Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Univ of Wisconsin Press.
  •  These traditions survive in southern Manitoba, and in many francophone areas of the Canadian north
  • I have found one from the 1890s recorded in a French language newspaper in Manitoba
  • aspects of these stories that echo tales recorded in the early medieval period. Harf-Lancner, L. (1985, February). La métamorphose illusoire: des théories chrétiennes de la métamorphose aux images médiévales du loup-garou. In Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales (Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 208-226). Cambridge University Press.
  • I am not trying to suggest that there is some sort of “authentic” French tradition of the loup garou circulating in remote areas
  • William Hopper’s article in Maclean’s, “A Werewolf of our Own.” In Anglophone Canada there is not widespread awareness of the loup garou. But in francophone Canada, and the “Little North,” of Ontario, and in the Ottawa valley, these stories remain: Hopper, W. (2002). A Werewolf of Our Own. Maclean’s20.
  • Aspect of French-Canadian identity
  • it is also true that these stories were confined to the former French speaking world
  • What Phillipe Marchand called the “Ghost Empire.” Phillip
    Marchand, Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America (Praeger, 2007
  • Perhaps that was because these stories were culturally specific
  • They reflected a society not only Catholic, but almost entirely dominated by the Church
  • As such, these tales never spread into English-speaking regions of North America
  • But they have not died and become static
  • Quite the opposite. These tales have morphed, evolved, and are now found on the internet
  • The setting for the stories has changed, but the stories themselves have survived.
  • These tales are not fading, as the Quebecois literati of the 1890s feared
  • Instead, they have as wide an audience as they ever did, only in different forms, no longer the folk-poetry of the voyageurs, but the internet and novels of contemporary Canada.
  • Now live on as stories in the CBC archives, or a stamp issued by the Canadian government

If you are interested in Canadian folklore or Indigenous religion, please see my own work:

Smallman, S. (2015). Dangerous spirits: The windigo in myth and history. Heritage House Publishing Co.


Smallman’s book on Amazon.
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