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!



  1. Flegmatic? Rather, I was frugal with my comments thinking by now my readers knew I don't expect much historical accuracy from the federal government anyways (see, for example, my take on the Seven Years' War commemoration). However, the friendly backlash I got from many readers regarding my post will encourage me to carefully lay out my full opinions in the future... I totally agree with you regarding this representation of Frontenac and its lack of accuracy and rather fanciful depiction of his "ghostly legend". As far as I can tell from living in Québec, the haunting of the hotel is nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek story to wow tourists (as are most of Québec's modern ghost stories regarding Champlain or the victimes of the plains of Abraham as well...). In fact, Frontenac's ghost story doesn't even register on the radar of the two local ghost tour companies. This should suffice to prove that the tale of his so called spectral presence is really not ingrained in local lore, contrary to what Post Canada says.

  2. I lived in Quebec City for many years and my father was the manager of the Hotel in the early 1960's. I do not remember this story being told. This is pure invention probably from a marketing squad who took too many liberties in fabricating a tall tale.
    Sad that our Government does not stick to facts but in the current climate and general ignorance I am not surprised. In many ways this stamp and the series belittle those it seeks to represent.

    1. May I add that they name legends that are not popular, but don't bother naming classic ones. In the case of the ghost ships, for example, I am amazed they simply did not mention the Mary-Celeste instead. Its legend is world renown.

  3. Many thanks, Jos and Laurent, for these insiders' insights!