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This documentary is quite a time-capsule of a by-gone era, that of Québec’s legendary former loggers.
It is a lifestyle which no longer exists. These days, logging camps are far and few between (modern loggers can “drive to work” from home), and logging methods are much different (there are no longer log-runs on rivers or lakes).
In Québec, there are many traditional stories, songs, poems and legends about this former life-style, which lasted from the 1700s until the mid-20th century. That is why this documentary is quite special. It is the last window we have into this former life-style. Had television / film been invented even 15 years later, we may have missed the opportunity to have had a documentary like this (which is why I believe it is so special).
The documentary was made in 1962 by the National Film Board of Canada.
It is set in the Haute Mauricie region of Québec. It is a region which remains sparsely populated. The town of La Tuque is the only community of any notable size in the region.
Above: Haute-Mauricie on a map
Below: The town of La Tuque
You can watch the documentary online, via the National Film Board’s website, by CLICKING BELOW
Some things in the film which stand out for me :
- The men in the film are from all regions of Québec. They congregated in the camps in search of work. Thus, you can hear various different French accents in the film (from Gaspé, Lac St-Jean, Côte Nord, and La Beace regions). These accents stand out because the documentary was from a time when regional accents continued to be much more prevalent than a standardized Québec accent.
- On that same topic (of a standardized accent), in 1962 Québec had not yet achieved a point of speaking wth today’s standardized accent. Thus, up until the early 1960’s, Québec’s television announcers and documentary narrators spoke with a very “European” intonation. This documentary is a very good example of what I mean. Narrators today would have a more noticeable “Québec” characteristic to their accent than this “faux European” accent with which the narrator speaks. I spoke about this phenomenon in an early post on accents. You can read it by clicking HERE.
- The film makes me thing of today’s modern oil & gas camps in the West and North. Especially the fact that the camps are filled from people from all parts of the country (much like these old logging camps were filled with people from all parts of Québec).
I translated the first part of the documentary, so that you can understand the generally meaning of what is being said. Here is the translation (after my translation, the scenes in the documentary speak for themselves):
0:51 – Travailleur / Worker : On dit que le thermomètre est à 23, 24 sur la route. Plus que ça, 27. Aïe, que c’est fort! T’ends un peu là. Entre 25 et 30. Entre 25 et 30. Comme la semaine passée.
Worker : You’d think the thermometre is -23 or -24 on the road. More than that, -27. Wow, that hits hard! Wait a sec. Between -25 and -30. Between -25 and -30, like last week.
2:42 – Sur la carte, un désert. Une forêt à faucher, une forêt vierge continue qui couvrirait sept fois la France. À vol d’oiseau, Trois-Rivières n’est qu’à 120 miles au sud, Montréal et Québec à 150.
On a map, it’s a desert. A forest to fell, a continuous virgin forest seven times the size of France. As the crow flies, Trois-Rivières is 120 miles to the south, Montréal and Québec City are 150 miles.
2:50 – Pourtant, avant d’atteindre la première route marquée sur la carte, il faut parcourir 140 miles de chemins privés, ou prendre le train.
Yet, before arriving to the first marked road on the map, you have to work your way through 140 miles of private roads, or take the train.
3:02 – Pour moissonner épinettes et sapins, ce matin comme les autres matins de la semaine, 165 scies de cultivateurs ont quitté leurs baraquements à 06h45.
To harvest spruce and fir trees, this morning like all the other mornings of the week, 165 harvesting saws live their camp barracks at 6:45am.
3:28 – Deux par deux, quatre par quatre, les Breton, Le Guen, Kérisoré et Naffe, venus de vieux pays du Morbihan et Finistère (des régions en Breton en France)… Et le cuisinier Émile, et l’assistant cuisinier Lucien dit Beau-Sourire, Alphonse Lacasse, Candide Malenfant, Julien Gagnon, Marcel Piché, Henri Frenette, Jean-Charles Charon, Guy Charon, Flavien Charon, Normand Lafontaine, Henri-Paul Labonté – tous venus de vieilles paroisses aux sols maigres et revêches…
Two-by-two, four-by-four, the (Family names) Bretons, Le Guen, Kérisoré, Naffe, from the old country of Morbihan and Finistère (regions of Breton in France), and Émile the cook, Lucien the assistant cook who is nicknamed Cute-Smile, Alphonse Lacasse, Candide Malenfant, Julien Gagnon, Marcel Piché, Henri Frenette, Jean-Charles Charon, Guy Charon, Flavien Charon, Normand Lafontaine, Henri-Paul Labonté – all have comme from parishes with poor and unproductive soil…
4:00 – … Des Laurentides à la Gaspésie, de la Beauce au Lac St-Jean, pour accomplir des travaux exemplaires.
From the Laurentians to Gaspé, from the Beauce region to Lac St-Jean, they have come to do what could be held up as a model of work.
5:36 – Dallaire, il est canadien français. Il ne parle pas anglais. Il ignore Cuba et le marché commun, le Congo et l’Algérie. Il coupe le bois pour six dollars la corde à neuf miles du camp.
Dallaire is French Canadian. He doesn’t speak English. He knows nothing of Cuba or the free market, nor the Congo nor Algeria. He cuts wood for six dollars a cord, nine miles from camp.
6:06 – Son ami A.S. Pérot (?) dépique les arbres et empile la pitoune de quatre pieds. Une chorde, quatre pieds de large, 8 pieds de longue, quatre pieds de haut, cent billots et six dollars à partager entre deux.
His friend A.S.(?) Pérot takes the branches off the trees and piles the pitoune (a 4 x 8 ft cord or wood). A cord, 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, 4 feet high, 100 blocks and six dollars to share between the two of them.
7:30 – Travailleur / worker : Il y a des moyens l’bois ça vend.
There are ways to sell the wood.
7:37 – La Rochelle et son ami sont aussi entrepreneurs. 3,55$ par corde transporté sur une distance de six miles. 2,35$ pour le camion, 60 sous pour chacun. Quatre cordes par voyage. Et, avec de la chance, six voyages par jour.
La Rochelle (family name) and his friend are also entrepreneurs. They receive $3.55 per cord which is transported at a distance of six miles. $2.35 for the truck, 60 cents each. For cords per trip, and with any luck, six trips per day.
8:01 – C’était le 1e février. Le dernier voyage en bateau sur la (rivière) Manouane en aval du barrage. En amont, sur la glace du lac Chateauvert, des tracteurs à chenille remorquaient des trainouches rangés de bois.
It was February 1st. The last trip by boat on the Manouane River downstream from the dam. Downstream on the ice of Lake Chateauver, tank-track tractors which were pulling chain-trains full of wood.
En aval, dans l’eau courante, 35 camions jetaient 52,000 cordes de bois à la rivière, de quoi alimenter en papier en 18 mois le quotidien la Presse, et pendant les deux mois le New York Times.
Downstream, in flowing water, 35 trucks were dumping 52,000 cords of wood into the river, serving to supply 18 months worth of paper to the daily La Presse newspaper, and two months worth for the New York Times.
Flotterons ainsi sur la Manouane, puis sur la St-Maurice, et rejoindrons les deux millions d’arbres coupés pas huit mille bûcherons.
Let’s sail down the Manouane, and then to the St-Maurice river to meet up with 2 million felled trees by 8000 loggers.
Les 125 million de billes de quatre pieds qui chaque année voguent vers La Tuque, Grande Mère, Shawinigan, et Trois-Rivières pour produire autant de papier que l’en exporte toute la Scandanavie.
The 125 bundles of 4 foot logs, which each year sail down to (the towns of) La Tuque, Grande Mère, Shawinigan, and Trois-rivières to produce as much paper as what Scandanavia exports.
8:58 – Vingt-deux indiens de la tribu des Têtes de bulls travaillent ici pendant quinze jours. Ils vivent sous la tente. Albert Connolly est leur chef et son jeune fils l’aide à empiler un bois dont la coupe est peu rentable car il est petit.
22 indians from the Bulls Head tribe work here for 15 days. They live in tents. Albert Connolly is their Chief, and his young son helps him to pile wood which has little value because it is too small.
9:43 – Trente-cinq camions, soixante-cinq chevaux, huit tracteurs à chenille, 165 hommes pendant neuf mois, 22 indiens pendant 20 jours, et six ans de labeur pour jeter dans la rivière quarante miles carrés de forêt.
Thirty five trucks, sixty five horses, eight tank-track tractors, 165 men during 9 month, 22 indians during 20 days, and six years of (combined) labour to dump 40 square miles of forest into the river.
11:47 – Travailleur / worker : En hiver dans l’bois on va manger de bonne viande. À part d’t’ (de) ça un couple de bières tranquillement pas vite. La première fois que j’étais en chantier de l’hiver de bois je me demandais qu’est-ce que je fais. Je vais me prendre une assiettée de bines, pis un bon petit bone steak, pis je va leur montrer aux bines comment je mange ça un steak!
Travailleur / worker (in a very heavy accent which I think is from North-East of Baie Commeau, further East along the North Coast region of Québec, if I’m not mistaken) : In the woods in the winter, we’s be eatin’ good meat, along with a couple beers which we down nice ‘n slow. The first time I was in the winter camp, I wondered how the heck I’d I find my way. I just took a plate of (pork and) beans, and a ‘lil chunk of T-bone, and I showed ‘em all (my co-workers) how to down a steak! (Laughs).
Once my translation stops…
In the documentary, they later they talk about how the aboriginals workers came to eat in the camp once, how they live in their own camps outside with their families. The narrator says they continue to eat food they hunt.
At 21:20 they show workers who have been injured and are left to their own misery because they have no medical insurance (and no means to purchase medicine). Basically, you were screwed if you fell ill.
Later they talk about what different men plan to do during the summer for work once the camp closes. The camp only operates in the winter (when the ground is frozen and it is easier to work). Many men will be without work if they cannot pre-arrange summer jobs.
This documentary, “Le Garage”, caught my eye the moment I first saw a short 20 second clip, and now I’m hooked!
I’ll provide you with trailers, and an official link for online viewing a little further below.
This is one of the most “real” documentaries I think I have ever seen. I have never seen a documentary quite like this one before; one which has surprisingly left me with a feeling of having a strange bond with the people featured in it, despite never having met them.
At the very bottom, I’ll provide you with links to official sites where you can watch the full hour-long documentary, officially approved for internet viewing.
The Trailer: Here’s how the film maker, Michel Demers, describes his film (translation) : “It is along the banks of the North Coast where we find The Garage. Between forest and sea, adults, children, and grand-parents all gather in the garage to tell their stories and to gossip. In an atmosphere in which everyone has each other’s back, you can sample the moose meat, trout, and mussels that everyone has pitched in to bring home together. Norman and his sons are mechanics, and are under the ever-so-watchful eyes of those who drop in and who watch from the side-lines”.
C’est à Longue-Rive sur La Côte-Nord que nous retrouvons LE GARAGE. Entre mer et forêt, adultes, enfants et grands-parents s’y rencontrent pour raconter histoires et menteries. Dans une atmosphère de solidarité et d’entraide, on déguste orignal, truites et moules que l’on a capturé ensemble. Normand et ses fils y font de la mécanique sous les yeux des gens qui “veillent” dans le côté salon.
THE STORY LINE:
The film maker’s brother, Norm, lives in a very small village, Longue-Rive, in the relatively remote region known as Québec’s North Shore. Norm is a mechanic in the village, and works out of his garage set up on his property. In small towns and villages across Canada, particularly those which are quite remote, neighbours have grown up together and/or know each other very well. In such places, people often do not lock their doors at night, and villages take on a family atmosphere of sorts (you can walk into your neighbour’s homes without knocking, everyone knows where everyone’s chilren are at all times, and adults spend a lot of time with each other.
In Longue-Rive, there is no bar or cafe. But the blue-collar nature of the small town makes it so everyone has a garage where they work (either professionally or as a hobby), and everyday life revolves around the garage (much like everyday life may have revolved around kitchens 50, 70 or 100 years ago).
I’ve personally driven through Long-Rive a while back, as well as many other communities like it along the North Shore, and all across Canada. In villages like these, it tends to be more cultural the norm, rather than the exception, to see homes with detached garages, in which residents work or whittle away their time (even in my own family, we I have a number of relatives whose lives semi-revolve around their garage).
Culturally, it is very Canadian to see this phenomenon in remote, rural settings, in all provinces. It’s something I have never really thought of before, but I think it’s an aspect of our rural culture. It’s a part of our culture which the film maker, Michel Demers, has captured beautifully.
In the absence of a bar or café in town, Norm’s garage doubles as the local hang-out for family and friends. People drop by in their free time, pull up a chair (or a “living room recliner”) and meet for a beer, to chat, to eat, organize group activities and just pass away the time. And it’s not only the village men who have turned Norm’s garage into their local “hang-out”. Women and children also gather to gossip, joke, and play.
Because everyone shares the same lifestyle (a love of the outdoors, catching up on community news, bonding as a community, hunting, trapping, fishing, clam digging, ski-dooing, etc.), there are more than enough topics for everyone to talk and laugh about. There is rarely a dull moment. People bond, and the entire village becomes one big family.
WHAT I TOOK AWAY FROM WATCHING THIS DOCUMENTARY:
What I love about the film is its simple and genuine nature, its innocence, and how life is uncomplicated for those we see on the screen. If one member of the community falls on hard times, there will be a whole network of others around to help pick him/her up by their bootstraps and step in until that individual is back on their feet.
Although I now living in our largest city (with Toronto at the heart of the “Golden Horseshoe” which counts over 10 million people), and even though I have lived in a few cities overseas which have ranged from 8 million, to 17 million, to 25 million people people, a film like this still resonates so strongly with me because I see so many echoes of my own early childhood in it; be it clam-digging close to home with my family, ski-dooing with my dad and his buddies, spending time with my dad as he did odd things around his own garage, or simply growing up in a small, isolated community in which neighbours spent the bulk of their time together. I talked about many of these things in a couple of earlier posts:
It find it quite interesting that so many aspects of life on the North Coast of Québec (where the St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic) are almost identical to many aspects of life on the North Coast of British Columbia (where the Skeena meets the Pacific), and a good number of other places. Fascinating stuff!
Apart from the various Canadian cities in which this documentary has or will be screened (both inside and outside of Québec), it is also set to be screened or has been screened in cities as far away as Moscow, Marseilles, Brussels, Chicago and Mexico.
A NOTE ON THE STYLE OF FRENCH USED :
The French accents and expressions spoken are those commonly heard in Québec’s North Coast region. This style of French has more in common with French spoken in Québec’s Gaspé region, the Atlantic Province’s Acadian regions, and the older generations of Prairie French speakers than it does Western Québec (which includes Montréal) or Ontario. (You can click the above links for more information on these various accent styles).
However, if your French is at an upper advanced level, and if you’re used to hearing a couple of different Canadian French accents to a fluent level, you should not have much difficulty understanding what is being said. Just be aware that even if your French is perfectly fluent, or even if French is your first language (such as for those from Montréal or Québec City), but if you are not used to hearing a North Coast accent, the super-strong accents of a couple of Normand’s buddies may throw you off here and there (there were a couple of times when I had to rewind to catch the words in a couple of different phrases).
SOME ADDITIONAL OUT-TAKES:
Here are some clips of people in the documentary talking about their lives and their”Garage” culture:
Here are some clips of reactions from local residents in Long-Rive when they first viewed a showing of “Bienvenue chez Normand”.
The documentary’s official website: http://www.micheldemers.com/?cat=67
HOW TO VIEW THE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY ONLINE, FOR APPROVED VIEWING:
The documentary will be available on Radio-Canada’s “Tou.tv” website for free viewing until approximately September 2015.
The direct link is as follows: http://ici.tou.tv/les-grands-reportages/S2015E189
Subtitles (in French) are available in the video if you need them (click the subtitle button at the the bottom of the screen).
Happy viewing !!