The hero of this legend was real. He was a coureur des bois by the name of Jean Cadieux who wasborn in Montreal on the 12th of March 1671. He died on Grand-Calumet Island in May of 17091. His tragic death was turned into a legend because of the powerful message that he left behind for his family to ponder on a piece of birch bark.
The piece of birch bark on which was inscribed the hero’s last innermost thoughts gave birth to Cadieux’s Lament, sung and popularized by generations of coureurs des bois and voyageurs2. These rugged men would kneel down in prayer when they stopped by his tomb, and they would generation after generation, raise new crosses to mark the hallowed ground3(image). They also carefully stored in their knapsacks a fragment of Cadieux’s tree, or cross, as precious relic and souvenir of their pilgrimage to the rocher de la haute montagne4 (a crag-like rock formation found at the top of the portage path which stands abreast of the majestic Grand Calumet Falls). This folk tradition was taken up and amplified by the French-Canadian and English-Canadian writers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards5.
The story of Cadieux’s Lament begins in the southern extremity of Grand-Calumet Island. Cadieux was on lookout at the head of the long portage path that circles the Grand Calumet Falls (called the Saut des sept chutes) when all of a sudden, the flottilla of canoes he has been waiting so impatiently more than a week came into sight. As agreed, he alerted his companions waiting at the next portage summit at Petit Rocher (the craggy rock at the top of the path) by sounding the cry of an owl. They immediately ran up and joined him to celebrate the arrival of the canoes filled to the brink with furs. But their joy was short-lived. They watched horrified at the sight of the Iroquois canoes chasing and closing in on their Outaouais friends. They would not have the time to unload their canoes and run down the half-league long portage- their cruel enemies would catch up with them. They had barely reached the shore when Cadieux urged them to continue and to risk everything by running the falls and the rapids. They followed his advice and they put their trust in Divine Providence. They preferred putting their lives at risk in the torrents of the river in order to escape the Iroquois’ implacable cruelty. Meanwhile, Cadieux remaind behind with a young Outaouais warrior, who he was trusted because of his friendship and bravery in a rear-guard action to stall the enemy canoes for a time. Cadieux and the warrior moved from place to place and fired at the Iroquois canoes from many directions, giving the impression that they were more numerous. From their vantage point they managed to kill and wound three of them. The irate Iroquois chieftain ordered his men to land on the island and to surround and slaughter all those that could be found. The Iroquois marauders criss-crossed the island in search of those who had dared take on the mighty warriors of the Five Great Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. Their search proved unsuccessful. They had to be satisfied with one single hostage, the young Outaouais warrior, grievously wounded, who was put to death and scalped. Cadieux, who was also wounded, remained hidden in the underbrush until the departure of the Iroquois.
In the meantime, the Outaouais canoes and their cargo safely floated down past the dangerous Great Calumet Falls and the Dargis and Mountain rapids. When they landed in Montreal, the voyageurs and Outaouais who had lived through that traumatic experience told everyone who they met that they had been saved by a “Beautiful White Lady” standing at the helm of the lead canoe. They said that she “guided the flottilla by lifting the canoes above the pointed rocks jutting out of the foamy waters.” And, if “it had not been for her, the outer skin of our frail canoes would have been ripped apart”. They marvelled at what they had seen, some saying that the “Lady” was really the Virgin Mary, others stated that it was the Good Saint Anne, Mary’s mother6.
In the days that followed, Cadieux’s relatives and familly, worring about the fate of Cadieux and his young Outaouais friend, decided to go upriver to the Grand Calumet in order to find and assist them. They finally discovered “a crude wooden cross driven into the ground at the head of a shallow grave…[in which]…lay Cadieux’s still warm corpse”7. His soul had just left his body and in his hands, “clasped on his chest”, lay “a large sheet of birch bark covered with writing”. He recounted the last dreadful moments of his earthly life and how desperate he had become. Poet in his own right, he had jotted down the first outpourings of a lament, in the way the voyageurs of the Pays-d’en-Haut were in the habit of doing. His friends were moved by this and inspired to compose the lament that would immortalize him.
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1 Louvigny de Montigny, « Cadieux et sa complainte », in Mémoires de la Société royale du Canada, vol. XLVII, Third Series, June 1953, First Section, p. 1-9 and 14-17. This Jean Cadieux is the youngest of the two sons of Jean Cadieux and Marie Valade. Pierre and Jean are active in the fur trade and hire themselves out a good number of times on a contract basis as « engagés » and « voyageurs » to « travel to the Outaouais and neighbouring nations », « to go to the said country [of Louisiana] and to return from there with the convoy that will be going down next year » or « to go to Fort De Pont Chartrain on Lake Erie », etc. Jean marries Marie, daughter of Jacques Bourdon, Notary (« notaire royal ») and bailiff, at Boucherville, on May 30th 1695. From this wedlock are born seven children. After Jean’s death, his widow, Marie Bourdon, remarries (May 26th, 1710). It’s her Jean Cadieux who dies near the « rocher de la haute montagne », on Grand-Calumet Island, in May of 1709. For close to fifteen years, Jean led the adventurous life of the Voyageurs, hiring himself out to paddle canoes to the « Pays-d’en-Haut » and to trade furs with the Amerindians. In May of 1709, at 38 years old, he is said to be posted at Grand Calumet Island, where he is to wait for « the Savages of the Island and the Courte-Oreille [Outaouais] who are to accompany him with furs as far as Montreal ». This is exactly where Cadieux’s Legend or Lament begins, of which multiple versions have survived and crossed the barrier of time.
2 Louvigny de Montigny, op. cit., p. 28-30.
3 The circa 1880 Picturesque Canada description needs to be quoted at length : « As we reach the summit of the hill, the guide bids us pause beside a mound covered with stones and fenced with a rude railing. The railing and a rough attempt at a memorial cross have nearly all been cut away by the knives of visitors – not in desecrating curiosity but in veneration for the sanctity of him who sleeps beneath! It is the grave of Cadieux…The French lumbermen and Indians still come here to pray – to do this brings good luck on forest and river – and the trees all around are carved with votive crosses, cut by the pen-knives of the devout among the lumbermen. » . George Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, volume 1, p. 202-203.
4 Many writers bear witness to the existence of the legend. George Nelson, who visits Grand-Calumet Island in 1802, reports its existence in his journal (See : Louvigny de Montigny, op. cit., p. 4-5). Nicholas Garry does the same thing around 1821 (« Diary of Nicholas Garry, Deputy-Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1822-1835. A Detailed Narrative of His Travels in the Northwest Territories of British North America in 1821 », in Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Section I, 1900, p. 73.). So does John J. Bigsby in 1821 (John J. Bigsby, The Shoe and Canoe…, volume 1, New York, Paladin Press, 1969, p. 155-156) and Father G.-A. Belcourt (« Mon itinéraire du lac des Deux-Montagnes à la Rivière Rouge » in La Revue canadienne, Montréal, New Series, X, 1912.
5 Noteworthy among others : J.-C. Taché, « Forestiers et voyageurs », in Les Soirées canadiennes, Third Year, Québec, Brousseau, 1863, p. 178-190; F.-H.-A. La Rue, « Les chansons populaires et historiques du Canada », in Le Foyer canadien, vol.1, 1863, p. 371-372; Ernest Gagnon, Chansons populaires du Canada, Québec, Darveau, 1894, p. 200-208; George Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, volume 1, p. 202-203; J.D. Edgar, Canada and Its Capital, Toronto, Morang, 1898, p. 26-34; James McPherson LeMoine, The Legends of the St. Lawrence, Quebec, Holiwell, 1898, p. 1-11; Edward C. Woodley, Legends of French Canada, Toronto, Thomas Nelson, 1931, p. 19-25.
6 This justifies it is said the choice of Saint Anne as the titular saint of the only Roman Catholic parish on the island, « Sainte-Anne-du-Grand Calumet », founded in 1840.
7 J.-C. Taché, « La légende de Cadieux », in Louis Taché and al, Le Nord de l’Outaouais…, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, p. 118-123.
PHOTO No 1
Source: Edward C. Woodley, Legends of French Canada, Toronto, Thomas Nelson, 1931, p. 19. Drawing by Kathleen Shackleton.
Caption: The artist imagines Cadieux , dying and despairing. He is shown cutting out the sheet of birch bark on which he intends to write his lament.
PHOTO No 2
Source: Canada, Department of Mines, Principal Amber Mica Mines and Occurrences of the Province de Quebec, Sheet 703, scale of 1/250 000 (3,95 miles to the inch), 1929. Extract.
Caption: Grand-Calumet Island and the two arms of the Ottawa River as well as the falls and rapids that are to be found there before they were submerged by the hydro-electric dams. Calumet Falls and the Saut des sept chutes are the same place.
PHOTO No 3
Source: George Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, volume 1, p. 204. Photographer unknown.
Caption: This is a photograph of Calumet Falls, otherwise known as the Saut des sept chutes, around 1880.
PHOTO No 4
Source: Louis Taché and al., Le Nord de l’Outaouais…, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, p. 121. Drawing by Father Laurent.
Caption: Father Laurent imagines Cadieux on his death-bed, clutching on his heart “a large piece of birch bark covered with writing”, his lament.
PHOTO No 5
Source: Louis Taché and al., Le Nord de l’Outaouais…, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, p. 122.
Caption: One version of the musical score of the Complainte de Cadieux (“Cadieux’s Lament”).
PHOTO No 6
Source: Louis Taché and al., Le Nord de l’Outaouais…, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, p. 123.
Caption: The words of the Complainte de Cadieux (“Cadieux’s Lament”), as given in Joseph-Charles Taché’s Forestiers et voyageurs.
PHOTO No 7
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photograph from Pierre Louis Lapointe, 1974.
Caption: The Cadieux monument was erected on the site of the drama, in 1891, by businessman Joseph Bourque. He was in charge of constructing the Justice Hall in Bryson. Nowadays, the monument is located in a small municipal park, near Sainte-Anne’s church, in the village of Calumet.
PHOTO No 8
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: When the Cadieux monument was located on its original site, it was repeatedly vandalized. Irritated, the municipal authorities chose to displace the monument near the church; this move stopped the vandals once and for all!