The legend of the Boisé de la Pointe St-Gilles


Nature sometimes hides big secrets. There is a legend engraved in stony accesses of the bay of Comeau. Let me tell you a story as true as the water that flows through the currents of the Saint Lawrence River, a legend that even time itself could not erase.

We are in the first day of September of year 1808. A small schooner transporting three men, a woman swollen with child and some farm animals had meandered all areas of the Saint-Lawrence River for over a week, from Betsiamite to Pointe des Monts.

At the time, the North Shore area was often described as harsh and wild, although it was alleged that American Indians and Montagnais-Naskapi Indians had hunting territories and participated in the fur trade with the white man.

Finding the large entrance which constitutes the Manicouagan River inviting, the young captain, a native of the Côte de Beaupré, tried repeatedly to enter there. Knowing the recklessness of her fiery spouse, the young woman imposed herself by her advanced motherhood. She begged her husband not to persist in forcing the nature of things… and things in nature. In response, the young captain by passed the long sandbanks and some reefs. Long before the dusk he cast anchor not far from the Old Post of the Hautes Rives, where they all could come back if they did not find the ideal haven.

Barely anchored, they noticed in the distance, a greener site - which caught their attention. The beauty of this woodland of deciduous and evergreens seemed to be calling them; they would set up the tent in the shelter of the large trees. The crew decided to approach carefully near the stony bank and to disembark there. The birds flew two by two cavorted to welcome them and settled on their shoulders. Squirrels climbed up their boots and nibbled some wheat grains glued to their soles. Paths lined with yew trees in thick masses emerged and it was possible to see hares hopping not at all frightened by the foreigners there. A small stream of crystal clear water seemed to emerge right out of the bushes. The high ferns provided a sense of purity, as though they were entering a new world. Had it not been for the scent of smoke, they would have believed themselves to have discovered the third America. "This place pleases me. We will have neighbours. Let us settle here at least for some time ", said the young captain to his wife.

On these words they liberated the cow ready to calve, the sow already pregnant, two scared hens, a rooster sure of himself, a very fat cat and a small doe whose udder hung low as it was engorged with milk. Upon disembarking, the animals drank and nibbled on the edge of the stream. Let us put an end to this long preamble and let us come to the basics of this legend!

The future mother settled herself in the tent to rest, while the three men surveyed the vicinity. In the course of a small cove, they discovered a wooden camp which seemed inhabited. Some hot embers gave away a wisp of smoke from the baked clay basket. Herbs and water stewed in a large pot. Confident in the hospitality of this inhabitant, they knocked. Surprised, they discovered an old man lying on his wooden bed. " Old man, are you sick and dying or are you so exhausted that you must lie down before the end of day? " In a hushed voice, the old man with copper-coloured complexion answered:

"I am suffering from the three misfortunes which you name, foreigner; I am hurt, exhausted and I am undoubtedly going to die. I have not eaten for two days and a stray arrow has made a hole in my knee. "

" Stay strong old man! We will come back to treat you and you will be back on your feet by the end of day. "

The three energetic young men hurried of to gather some provisions and brought back with them the doe. One of them, relieving the little doe, drew a big bowl of milk which he held out to the old man. " Drink old man! " This doe's warm milk will bring back your good mood and make you as strong as a horse. "

The old man drank and ate. The three energetic young men helped him to apply herbs to the infected knee. He held it in place with bark and thanked the young foreigners who got ready to return to their tent. No sooner had the young men made a few steps away that the old man called to them:

" Wait, young lords? You did come all the way here to watch me die? "

" My wife is about to give birth, old man…, said one of them. I have to do my best to assist her. My first child …"

Without any more fuss, the old man invited: " Your wife will be better lying on my pallet than in the tent. Bring her here! "

The three young men stood dumbfounded-eyes wide open. The captain pulled himself together. Raising his arms in the sky he cried: " By Saint Gilles, my patron saint whose holiday it is today! It is him which led us to you. As you say old man, in the given circumstances - this place is more suitable than the tent. Your goodness is big to want to receive us the time when the child appears. May heaven protect you! "

The old man asked him nimbly to go and get his wife before she begins to worry. Before leaving, the captain came, as well as his two brothers, held the hands of the old man with concern and made the sign of the cross. " My name is Gilles. And you old man, what is your name and how many years do you have behind you? "

The old man weighed each of his words before he answered: " In my first language, my name makes the noise of the wind …and as for years, there are only those in front of me that count. " Let us skip the details of how the men and the animals settled near the shack of the old man, and how they made further acquaintance. The time is precious; a woman in pain moves us along. The day slipped away between the trees. Evening freshness fell on the foam of the great pines. The end of the summer manifested itself in all its freshness. The young woman no longer hid the pain which had stabbed her since the afternoon. She started to wail and to hold her belly with both hands, when suddenly the water and the blood flew under the skirts.

" The woman and the child are in danger, said the old man. The blood should not precede the child. "

" But, how do you know it old man? Are you a sorcerer? " " Neither sorcerer nor soothsayer, I am old. I have often seen death passing. " Pensive he added: " My wife forty years ago, she died with the child in the belly… When the child hangs on by the top, it is necessary to help get him out, before the mother empties of her blood. " And with a remarkable humility, he looked at the young father in the eyes and added: "I learnt how the child is taken out. " And he bustled about to wash his hands up to shoulders.

The young woman pushed a howl which each felt in his flesh. The blood cast of her as a rivulet which elbowed in across the wooden logs of floor. The three young men grew more concerned as the young woman wailed. Outside, the scared animals issued, in turn, a howl and a call. The whole forest heard the cries of the mother in pain and the call of the animals. Hundreds and hundreds of gaggling geese passed above the shack.

" Old man, all this makes sense. It is a sign from heaven. Several times today I asked my patron saint to protect us. He will help you to take care of my wife and my offshoot. I, in return, will watch over you until the end of your life", said the captain. " You are already under the protection of your Saint. The heaven already spoke. It is in the earth where it is necessary to give thanks. Spirits are waiting", retorted him the old man.

The young man understood therefore that spirits of the earth and the saints in heaven knew each other.

The young man knelt near his wife and prayed: " I, Gilles, the redhead of Beaupré, promise to my patron Saint Gilles, to watch over the places where he has guided me. These woodlands will carry his name and I will make sure that all my descendants renew this promise each time their feet will mill on the path which led me to the old man who will save my wife and my child...."

A moan cut into his incantation. He finished his prayer with: "…with the help of good spirits of the earth. Amen!

" It seemed that the prayer was answered, because the old man hermit cleaned the area and spread the cover made of hare skin in the firewood box. "Your wife and your daughter will come to walk in my woodland for a long time, young man. It is my promise. " The end of history is going to please you.

The old Innu delivered the child of Gilles before night and the small girl issued her first cry at the same time as an owl hooted in the woodland. Gilles and the old Innu slept on improvised beds of hay and pine branches. The brothers of Gilles walked all night under the beautiful stars thanking heaven and earth for having protected a mother and her child of a sad fate. They say that during that night the pebbles from the paths shone under the stars and birds did not sleep. Their most beautiful songs were heard across the forest. Geese flew so low it would have been possible to touch their wings. They also say that the old man mumbled in his sleep; that he crooned in his language of Innu and that he raised his hand as if to bless the mother and the child who slept quietly in his shack.

Gilles gave the Innu his doe as a gift and he made sure that the old man never had to go hunting to survive. The name of the old man was never known. They say that the old man went for long walks with his doe, distributing crumbs to birds and small mammals, so much that the wildlife of the woodland lived a rare effervescence during the years that followed.

And we relive the old Innu over and over... until ever after. The best part of this legend: The promise to protect the Pointe Saint-Gilles was kept to this day. And they are numerous those who swore to keep the poetry, providing proof to this incredible story that the woodland remains enchanted.


© Denise Therriault-Ruest/October 2008
Traduction, Paul Ruest