Monday, July 21, 2014

La Belle

Move over, wishful Le Griffon: a bona fide Cavelier de la Salle shipwreck is in the news!  

La Belle was part of the explorer's fleet as he sailed to the Gulf of Mexico on an ill-fated search for the mouth of the Mississippi in 1685.  The ship sank in Matagorda Bay the following year, and was famously rediscovered and diligently investigated by the Texas Historical Commission between 1995 and 1997.  An astounding 700,000 artefacts were recovered.  The bottom third of the wooden hull, having been well preserved by the mud on the sea floor, was painstakingly raised and over the last several years has been stabilized in a giant freeze drier on the Riverside Campus of Texas A&M University. 


A scale model reconstruction of La Belle
(cover of Jean Boudriot's excellent
monograph on the subject). 

Reassemby of the ship was scheduled to begin in October of last year at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, but the stabilization process took somewhat longer than expected.  La Belle was in the news last week because some of its largest portions were finally loaded onto an eighteen-wheeler and transported from the Riverside Campus to the Bullock Museum.  Reassembly is set to begin this fall and should be completed around May of next year.  This October 25th, the museum will in fact launch a new exhibition, La Belle: The Ship That Changed History, which will feature the public reconstruction of the hull besides the usual artifacts, maps and pictures of the excavation and conservation.  A dramatic trailer?  Check:



The Miami Herald and always delightful History Blog offer up additional details.

P.-F.-X.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Requiescat in pace : Nicolas Sollogoub (1925-2014)


 

Détail d'un des vitraux de l'Église Saint-Paul et Saint-Pierre
de Brouage, par N. Sollogoub.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
L'artiste Nicolas Sollogoub s'est éteint le 11 juillet dernier.  Français de naissance, Sollogoub s'était installé à Montréal au début des années cinquante, œuvrant comme peintre-décorateur pour le théâtre et le cinéma et devenant grand maître du vitrail.  Grand amateur d'histoire et de patrimoine, il entreprit quelques projets au compte des mécènes David et Liliane Stewart.  Ces derniers l'approchèrent notamment au début des années quatre-vingts pour réaliser une série de vitraux à la mémoire de Samuel de Champlain pour l’église Saint-Paul et Saint-Pierre de Brouage, ville où serait né l'explorateur.  L'artiste conçut ainsi six spectaculaires fenêtres entre 1982 et 2006.

On lui doit également deux verrières panoramiques de 8m x 2m représentant « Le Chemin du Roy au Païs de Canada », exposé en 1996 à la mairie du 16e arrondissement de Paris, et la « Grande Paix de Montréal de 1701 », réalisée pour le 300e anniversaire de l’événement.  Je ne sais pas trop ce qui est advenu de la première, mais la seconde sera exposée à nouveau au Musée Pointe-à-Callière cet automne.

Lors d'entrevues au fil des ans, Sollogoub a eu l'occasion de faire plusieurs commentaires très touchant sur l'importance de l'histoire, du patrimoine et de l'art public.  Dans les pages du Devoir en 2011 : « L’histoire est une chose très fragile. Du jour au lendemain elle peut être démolie. […] On oublie parfois que l’histoire a besoin de repères. » 

Des repères, il en a créé de bien beaux.

P.-F.-X.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Canada Post, You Dissapoint!




 
As fellow-blogger Joseph Gagné has just observed, Canada Post has launched a stamp and postage paid postcard in the image of Count Frontenac as part of its "Haunted Canada" series.  I am far less flegmatic than him, however, in reporting the news.  My misgivings are legion. 

First, the portrait is as fanciful as it gets.  We do not know what Louis de Buade de Frontenac looked like, for no period portrait of him exists, but a little basic research would have allowed for a much more accurate image.  When he came to the colony he was no more the youngish to middle-aged man seemingly portrayed here: he was fifty years old when his first mandate began, and sixty-eight when he returned for a second one; he had reached the ripe old age of seventy-six when he died at Quebec in 1698. 

Which brings me to the man's outfit, which is an imaginative "musketeerish" thing more reminescent of the middle of the seventeenth century than of its last decades.  The rapier, or sword, too is out of place.  I don't know how ghosts choose what to wear, but surely they are more discriminating than this!  By the way, this is not the first time I have to berate an institution for endowing its Faux-Frontenac with a grossely inaccurate costume and accessories: long-time readers may recall my rant on the Grévin wax museum in Montréal.  People!  Why won't you hire costume historians and historical artists?  I can give you a few names if you have trouble find any.

I am also very dissapointed with Canada Post's choice of this particular "Québécois haunting".  As accompanying blurb, they explain that the stamp depicts depicts "Quebec’s Chateau Frontenac hotel’s most famous otherworldly resident: the Count of Frontenac, for whom the hotel is named. The Count died in New France while his fiancée was in Europe. Legend tells us he had his heart sent to her, but she returned it, mortified by such a grisly final gesture. The Count is said to wander hotel halls in his 17th century garb. Quebecers, share the Count’s tale with friends around the globe."

What's this?  So the Count is interested in roaming the halls of his namesake hotel for eternity, even though said hotel was built only in 1893, and much of what exists today is the fruit of even later renovations and expansions?  And he's pining for his fiancée, even though history books tell us that he had been married to Anne de la Grange for fifty years at the time of his death, and that he had a very business-like relation with her and that court gossip went so far as to claim that they could not abide by each other.  What about the heart story then?  There is a kernel, a tiny one, of truth to it.  Frontenac did request in his will that his body be interred in the Recollet Church at Québec, but that his heart be removed and placed in a lead or silver receptacle, and sent to France.  Not to his wife, though, but to the chapel of Saint-Nicholas-des-Champs in Paris, where his uncle and sister had been interred.  There was nothing "grisly" to separating the heart from the body, so that the latter might be interred and the former deposited in a more symbolic resting place.  It was a common practice among the European elites.

I enjoy a good ghost story as much as the next guy, but here Canada Post has chosen to highlight a particularly mediocre one.  I have not been able to retrace the origin of this particular haunting story, but it strikes me as very "commercial", i.e. plausibly encouraged by the Château Frontenac staff as a way to lend the premise some authenticity and playfulness.  Every great hotel needs a ghost, right?  If any readers are aware of when this tale first started to circulate, I would be very grateful to know.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it only emerged in recent decades, and is very much a fruit of travel magazine and internet hack writing.

In publicizing this particularly mediocre story, Post Canada has erred.  All the more so in urging "Quebecers, share the Count’s tale with friends around the globe".  What's the matter, Canada Post, do you hate history?  Would La Corriveau not have been a more appropriate choice, with its far richer legend? Surely so!

P.-F.-X.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Le Griffon -- ou non?

Désolé, chers lecteurs, de ne pas avoir blogué avec plus de régularité ces dernières semaines : l'été, on le sait bien, c'est fait pour jouer!  La Nouvelle-France n'a pas pour autant cessé de faire la manchette.  Prenons par exemple le cas du Griffon, navire du Cavelier de La Salle qui sombra au fond du lac Michigan pendant son voyage inaugural en 1679.
 
L'an passé, comme Charlevoix le rapportait ici et ici, Steve Libert et son Great Lakes Exploration Group avaient fait les manchettes en annonçant la découverte d'un site sous-marin d'intérêt.  Ayant obtenu la permission d'y entreprendre des fouilles préliminaires, ils avaient prélevé une poutre pour fins d'analyse. 


Steve Libert stands beside a 20-foot-long timber slab as it gets a CT scan in 2013, done in an attempt to date the wood and determine if it’s part of Le Griffon.
Steve Libert et sa poutre, subissant un scan CT l'an passé. 
Photo: John Flesher/AP.
Les plus récents articles du New York Daily News et de Fox News nous apprennent qu'un différend existe entre les "scientifiques" et les autres -- appelons les, avec un peu de cynisme, les "chasseurs de trésors".  Libert, le chasseur-de-trésor-en-chef, demeure convaincu.  "It's the Griffin." affirme-t-il au reporter, "I'm 99.9% sure it is."  Les trois archéologues français qui ont pris part aux fouilles de l'an passé n'en sont cependant pas si sûrs, mais affichent tout de même un certain optimisme.  Michel L'Hour, leur chef, se dit "encouragé".  Or, l'archéologue en chef de l'état du Michigan, Dean Anderson, affirme pour sa part que "In my opinion, I haven't seen any evidence that suggests that anyone has found wreckage of The Griffon there," Selon lui, il s'agirait plutôt d'un pieux d'amarre de filet de pêche -- rien à voir avec l'exploration française au XVIIe siècle.

Libert espère obtenir l'autorisation de reprendre les fouilles au mois de septembre.  C'est à suivre.

P.-F.-X.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Columbusing

Have you heard of Columbusing yet?  It's all the rage. 


In the Canadian context, I suppose we might call it Cartiering, or perhaps Caboting.

P.-F.-X.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

L'école est finie... pour les Ursulines

Quelques mois seulement après la canonisation de Marie de l'Incarnation, les Ursulines de Québec remettent à des laïques la direction de l'école dont elle a été la fondatrice et dont cette année marque le 375e anniversaire.  L'École des Ursulines de Québec est d'ailleurs la plus ancienne institution d'enseignement pour les jeunes filles en Amérique du Nord.  Louis XIII en avait autorisé l'établissement en 1639, confiant aux Ursulines la « charge [...] à perpétuité [...] d'instruire les petites filles sauvages en la religion catholique ».  Face aux échecs de la politique d'assimilation, les religieuses s'étaient repliées sur la formation des jeunes filles françaises.  Depuis 2010, leur école accueillait aussi les garçons.


"Vue du premier monastère des Ursulines de Québec",
tel qu'imaginé par Joseph Légaré vers 1847.

L'École des Ursulines de Québec conservera son nom et, dans une certaine mesure, sa mission religieuse, mais sera désormais officiellement dirigée par des laïcs.  Les bâtiments du Vieux-Québec demeurent propriété de la communauté religieuse, qui conservera d'autre part deux sièges sur les onze du conseil d'administration et un droit de véto sur le choix de la directrice ou du directeur de l'école.  Un cours de religion demeurera obligatoire. 

Le Soleil de Québec annonce la nouvelle.

P.-F.-X.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Museum Cuts

Le Devoir reports that the Musées de la civilisation de Québec, after several years of budgetary cutbacks, will be cancelling two forthcoming major exhibitions, reducing its overall public programming, turning some staff positions into part-time ones.  At the Musée de l’Amérique francophone, one of the MCQ's sites, no new exhibition will be offered this year.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Citizen is reporting that at the Canadian Museum of History (formerly of Civilization) five staff are losing their jobs.  Of those, one was a curator of archeology and the other of decorative arts, both focused on Quebec.  The curator of archeology in question, Yves Monette, is to be even more precise a specialist of New France who has been publishing interesting work on how geochemistry can shed light on the production and distribution of imported and locally-made ceramics.  In the Citizen article the museum's spokesperson attemps to reassure, saying that Quebec will feature prominently in the new permanent exhibition.  I don't doubt it.  But surely as far as the museum's research capacity in the field of New France is concerned, there's no way to positively spin this.

Bad news all around.

P.-F.-X.