This particular story can be traced back to a French legend about a rich nobleman named Gallery who loved to hunt. He loved it so much that he refused to attend Sunday mass. As punishment for this sin he was condemned to forever fly through the night skies, chased by galloping horses and howling wolves, in a fashion reminiscent of the Wild Hunt.
After a night of heavy drinking on New Year's Eve, one of the voyageurs, missing his sweetheart, has made a pact with the Devil (le Diable). The Devil assures him that they would be back by morning and would not miss work. He is proposing they make the “chasse-galerie,” in a flying canoe. If they agree, they had to carefully follow the conditions set down by the Devil: they must not mention God's ("Le Seigneur's") name and make sure no one touched the crosses on any of the church steeples as they whisk by in the flying canoe. Just to be on the safe side, the men who are going promise not to touch another drop of rum. They need clear heads when dealing with the Devil, otherwise he would have their souls! The crew take their places in the canoe which then rises off the ground, and they start to paddle. Far below they see the frozen Gatineau River, many villages, shiny church steeples and then the lights of Montreal. The bewitched canoe reaches a house where New Year's Eve festivities are in full swing. No one wonders at the trappers'/loggers' sudden arrival. They are embraced with open arms and soon are dancing and celebrating as merrily as everyone else. Soon it is late and the men must leave if they are to get back to the logging camp in time for work. As they fly through the moonless night they are drunk and dangerously unsteady. While passing over Montreal they almost steer into a church steeple. They do not get much further before they land in a deep snowdrift. Terrified "le Diable" will steal their souls, the men agree to bind and gag their navigator and elect another to steer. But, the drunken navigator breaks his bonds and swears, taking the Lord's name in vain! The men are again horrified that their friend has broken another cardinal rule, speaking God's name! Shaken and terrified, they steer the bewitched canoe right into a tall pine, the men spill out and are knocked unconscious (or pass out). Notably the ending of the story changes from version to version. Sometimes the men are condemned to fly the canoe through hell and appear in the sky every New Year's Eve, but in other versions all, or all but one, escape the terms the Devil made.
Several different versions of this tale exist. The Acadian version involves an axe handle. It stretches to accommodate as many as climb on.
Another variation holds the Devil himself steers and is deliberately trying to break the rules on the return journey. At which point they threw him out of the canoe to save themselves.
In English this particular legend is known as The Canoe, or The Wild Hunt Bewitched. The second name is used to translate precisely "chasse-galerie" as it is known in French Canadian, the other term is much broader.
In Quebec, the best known version is written by Honoré Beaugrand. This is the story of the Gatineau loggers who make a pact with the devil in order to steal a boat so they can visit their women. They are warned, however, not to blaspheme during the voyage, or touch crosses atop church steeples, and they must be back before six o'clock the next morning. Otherwise they would lose their souls. Beaugrand was a Freemason Luciferian. Luciferians were inspired by the ancient myths of Egypt, Rome and Greece, Gnosticism and traditional Western occultism. They considered Lucifer as an angelic light bearer. In his version, the Devil (Lucifer) is rather generous, and allows the men to return unhurt and undamaged.
The tale appeared in a book of french canadian folktales called Legends of French Canada by Edward C. Woodley, published in 1931, republished in 1938. The tale is told as a recollection of one of the men who made chasse-galerie. The men travel from St. Maurice to St. Jeanne. The return accident is credited to whiskey-blanc.
A Canadian 40c postage stamp was issued in 1991 (as the Witched Canoe), illustrating this legend (Canadian Scott #1334 or #1445), which forms part of a series on Canadian folktales. It caused quite a stir.
One of the oldest rides at Montreal's La Ronde amusement park, La Pitoune, uses this legend as inspiration. It is a basic sawmill log ride, but overhead is a representation of the flying canoe, with the devil perched behind the terrified men. The high bench at the back of the log-cars is therefore referred to as "the devil-seat."
Claude Dubois sings a song called Chasse Galerie on album "Rencontre de rêves live (1992)."
Media Advisory/Major Art Exhibition at Galerie Pierre Seguin Sunday, September 18: 125 Art Works-24 Artists to Raise Funds for the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation
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