Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Sainte-Adèle: redux,

 
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By rob mclennan

"le jour où il l'avait rencontrée dans un champ de fraises"
                    Un homme et son péché, Claude-Henri Grignon

Christine and I spend a week at her mother’s cottage in Sainte-Adèle, nestled in the Laurentides, otherwise known as the Laurentian Hills, arriving the last day of the August long weekend. This is her mother’s getaway from Toronto, a seasonal space shared between Christine, her mother and her brother, Michael, each arriving in turn. On this particular jaunt, her mother departing the day before we arrive to a well-stocked fridge and numerous bottles of wine. A few years ago, while talking to the poet Geoffrey Cook about Sainte-Adèle, Quebec, he said that he lived in these same greening hills, one town over. I wonder if he might still be here, writing poems. I wonder if he, or anyone else, has composed poems on the area, referencing these hills, an escape and retreat into family homes.

Usually here for no more than a couple of days, we manage a full week on the boundary of the village, both of us attempting to catch up on work, stepping aside from the daily routine of city, postal service, our tiny apartments and her job as a book conservator. Coffee in the morning, late lunch and then dinner, we keep to our corners, with her on the main floor and me in the basement. We have various projects, including individual novels and poetry manuscripts, individual ongoing genealogical projects and articles constantly due. We spend our days silently driven, with DVD evenings of the second season of the revamped Battlestar Galactica, until we run dry. Writing, for the week she has off from work, and working on a small collaboration we’ve been discussing for months.

French, based on the Roman actus. We systemize distance. Generations, at length. A blunt object of decades. Sixty years ago, my father, these hills. His own parents, too. My grandfather, his hands. His generous smile. She is shaking out nothing.

My father, these hills. Ten years old. And a cousin, long lost.

Land division, we parcel. A district of ski hills, of trees. Shoved up by the stands. We picture a river-front. We picture, a passable day.

Not simply some acres of snow. (from “Arpent,”)

Any collaboration between artists, I would suspect, requires an enormous amount of consideration, to allow the space of two separate ideas and personalities to properly blend. I’ve been long interested in collaborations generally, but more specifically, the call-and-response aspect of writerly couples, whether Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier’s (when she was still Uher) collaboration, No Longer Two People (Turnstone Press, 1978), or Roo Borson and Kim Maltman’s The Transparence of November / Snow (Quarry Press, 1985). Apparently Stephen Cain and Sharon Harris did a small collaboration that might have appeared as a chapbook, but I haven’t yet seen it. Otherwise, there was Smaro Kamboureli’s poetic travelogue about being away, in the second person (Longspoon Press, 1985), and Robert Kroetsch’s poetic work-from-home about Kamboureli being away, his Letters to Salonika (Grand Union Press, 1983), and even break-up responses made between Roy K. Kiyooka via his Pear Tree Pomes (Coach House Press, 1987) and Daphne Marlatt’s Our Lives (Truck Press, 1975; Oolichan Press, 1980). How does one work a response without making it, say, overly self-referential, speaking only to themselves? The first time we were here, near the end of August, 2008, we attempted a small piece that wasn’t entirely successful. What a difference, one might say, three years makes. How do two points of view become one? Like a series of strands wrapping into a single line, including ideas of this nearly two century-old village, hidden away among hills, and among so many other, similar, outposts.

Sainte not saint. Feminine distinct. Adele stretches, yawns, picks at her teeth. Adele is the colour of the sky. Adele is rambunctious and shivery. Adele is running in heels. Adele shakes her braids out. Adele kicks the mountain. Adele contains the forest. Adele bites the wind. Adele pushes her fists into the mud. Adele is the smell of crushed leaves. Adele creaks the thunder. Adele turns the cross into an earring. Adele hums a tune. Adele saves a pretty penny. Adele consumes peaches by the bushel. (from “mantle”)

What do I know of this place? An hour or so north-west of Montreal, with a population of nearly 11,000. An area of ski hills and tourists, an industry of hotels and a whole slew of escape cottages for those who can afford them, nestled into these hills, some going back decades. Throughout the summer, the quiet scripture of the main strip, Boulevard Sainte-Adèle. How many might hold their breath for the snow and the influx of strangers, sloping down the white mountains. The Laurentians and the past seven decades of development via ski tourism, and the earlier extension of New France, and the church. One of the larger spots on these hills is Saint-Jérôme, named for the Saint best known for the Vulgate, his translation of the Bible into Latin from Greek and Hebrew. So much more than tourists and ski hills, the region that now holds Saint-Jérôme was originally granted by the marquis de la Jonquière, governor of New France, as the seignory of Augmentation des Mille-Iles in 1752. It still grows, this region. In every direction.

Sainte-Adèle, birthplace of Canadian novelist, journalist and politician Claude-Henri Grignon (1894-1976), best known for the fourth of his seven novels, Un Homme et son péché (1933), later translated into English as The Woman and the Miser (1978). Christine uses a quote from the original French for one of our drafts, slipping it slyly in, from a copy kept in the lower level, beside where I work. Sainte-Adèle, where Grignon was born, lived and died, some eight decades long. He was even mayor for a period, from 1941 to 1951, a position his father also held, twice. Might there be a building named after him, or some other memorial? The Catholic Parish of Sainte-Adèle, I suspect, named for the Catholic Saint, in the days when Parish and Village were one-and-the-same. Between the Saint and the village herself, what has one to do with the other? According to the Catholic Church website, www.catholic.org,

St. Adele, Widow. A daughter of King Dagobert II of Germany, St. Adele became a nun upon the death of her husband, making provisions for her son, the future father of St. Gregory of Utrecht. She founded a convent at Palatiolum near Trier and became its first Abbess, ruling with holiness, prudence, and compassion. St. Adele seems to have been among the disciples of St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, and a letter in his correspondence is addressed to her. After a devout life filled with good works and communion with God, she passed on to her heavenly reward in 730.

St. Adele, Catholic Saint, with a Feast Day of December 24, still some four months distant. St. Adele, daughter of Dagobert II (c. 650 - December 23, 679), one of the Frankish Kings of Austrasia, “of the Merovingian line.” It was to Dagobert II that the hoax of “the secret Merovingian line of legitimate royal succession” was attached, later discovered and (not realizing the relatively contemporary hoax) repeated by Henry Lincoln in his book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (1982). The foundation of the book came from the previously-unknown (false) fact that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had produced a secret child, whose direct descendant married into the Merovingians, through Dagobert II’s own secret male heir, spirited away at his father’s assassination. The bloodline of Christ, the “Holy Grail” itself, is then said to continue to this very day. Despite later discoveries that much of Lincoln’s thesis came out of forged documents, it didn’t stop Dan Brown from producing a bestseller triggered by Lincoln’s research, his novel The DaVinci Code (2003). St. Adele’s father, who later became St. Dagobert II, has a Feast Day as well, but a day before hers. How many Feast Days should be allowed in one family? And why so close together? Even his own father, the “do-nothing king,” Sigebert III (c. 630 - 656/660), is known as a Saint, and St. Adele’s grandson as well. How many Saints might a family proclaim? Might this, perhaps, be why they were chosen for the hoax of the “Grail”?

We name each axis, convention. The hummingbird feeder, based upon weight. Sugar water, meet porcelain skin. Formed close to earth, as two separate bodies. The gradual resolve, of honey bees. Write postcards, remarked. A mid-air perspective. Nostalgia in wavelengths, diffracting. The fierce will of things. A system of measurements, breaks. Lifts her hands high. She becomes queen of the hummingbirds.

The capsule, a final flight. It soars through the mesosphere. (from “Apogee,”)

During one of my jaunts at home, digging around the farmhouse for photographs, I discovered a snapshot of my grandparents with an unknown man, taken outside Sainte-Adèle’s Mont Gabriel Club, part of the Mont Gabriel Hotel. In 2008, after I was first here, my father talked of a cousin of his father’s that lived in the area, and visits he remembers when he might have been ten or twelve years old, running up a steep hill with his father. A Welchman, he says. Oh yes, my mother said at the time, I know where that is. Was I the only one who hadn’t heard of this small town?

Through my ongoing genealogical research, I found a William Ernest Welchman (1868-1951) who married Mary Ann “Mamie” McLennan (1882-1962), a first cousin of my grandfather, John Duncan McLennan (1907-1969). Wouldn’t the man pictured here on the right be too young? He doesn’t look nearly the 40 years older than my grandfather he should be. He looks slightly younger, perhaps. And I haven’t been able to find any further information to suggest they had children. Did they have children I simply haven’t found records for? Is this simply a friend of my grandparents, unrelated to all these connections? According to my research:

In 1904, Mary Ann married William Ernest Welchman, an employee of The Imperial Bank of Canada and resided in Montreal, later at Ste. Marguerite, Quebec. Will is buried outside Maxville at the McRae plot, with his wife, her sister and their mother. Mamie moved to Lumsden, Saskatchewan in June 1958, and died in Regina.

After our initial conversation on the subject, Christine provides this, from an internet search: “1951: Sainte-Marguerite-Station demands the right to secede from Sainte-Adèle. Ste-Marguerite (pop. 2,250) is alongside the large Lac Masson and home to Bistro à Champlain, one of the prime restaurant destinations in the region. To get there, take Exit 69 off of Autoroute 15. Or, if driving from Ste-Adèle, look for a street heading northeast named Chemin Pierre-Péladeau (Rte. 370). It becomes a narrow road that crosses the 30-foot-wide Rivière du Nord and then winds through evergreen forests past upscale vacation homes. The road dead-ends at the lake, with the restaurant at the intersection. Ste-Marguerite is 96km (60 miles) north of Montréal.” She also found a telephone listing for 1956, “+ Welchman, Mme W, Ste-Marguerite-Station, 608-R-2.,” placing them square, that is, until 1951, in Ste-Adele.

More recently, I find a promising reference to a “Sergeant William Ernest Welchman” in a photograph up at auction at Christie’s, Lot 495 / Sale 1264: “A Boer War D.C.M. Group of Four to Sergeant W.E. Welchman, Coldstream Guards, Distinguished Conduct Medal, V.R.” sold for £1,955 ($2,778). If this is the same man, what brought him from there back to here? What brought him to Mamie and up into these hills?

Sergeant William Ernest Welchman, D.C.M., was born in Birmingham and enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in July 1894, aged 23 years. Advanced to Lance-Sergeant in November 1897, he was temporarily attached to the West African Frontier Force as a Corporal in February of the following year and served in the operations of that period. Rejoining the Coldstreams in the rank of Sergeant in early 1899, he went on to distinguish himself in the Boer War, being awarded the D.C.M. and Mentioned in Despatches for his services in the 1st Battalion (London Gazette 10.9.1901 refers). Welchman was discharged in July 1906.

As Christine says, the Hôtel Mont Gabriel sits along the south edge, some 12 minutes by car. We circle south between hills, floating around and across Highway 15, turning west, nearly straight up Mont Gabriel. Pulling up through the gate, stepping inside the grand entrance, pulling print of my historical picture out for the concierge and asking directions. Hôtel Mont Gabriel, where we attempted a new photo, in the footsteps of another, my father’s parents with a man we don’t know. The grandfather I never met. Christine dressed deliberately in one of her mother’s dresses, found in a closet. By the pool, realizing theirs was a mid-autumn pose, while ours is mid-August warm, crowded and overdressed. Even the bartenders gave us strange looks. Ten minutes walking around the outdoor heated pool before we realized the original picture’s vantage, because the “Mont Gabriel Club” sign is long gone and the stone wall of the lounge is replaced with large windows. A girl in pink bikini snapped a couple of photos. I stood with hands in pockets, much like my grandfather, not nearly as relaxed. Christine replicated my grandmother perfectly, even down to the dress. We confused many swimmers. As we left, catching full view of the scale of this tourist mecca, large buildings and stretches of golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts and a chalet-stretch of buildings that went as far as the hills. It’s one thing to visit a friend or a relative, but what would my grandparents have been doing visiting such a stately, imposing and, dare I say, expensive hotel?

I begin to suspect this feminine Sainte-Adèle, trickster, bringing up further questions and distractions with each small reveal. Which came first, the hotel or the municipality? According to Wikipedia, “The Mont-Gabriel” became a municipality in 1954, quite possibly the same era as my grandparents’ snapshot, “with only nine citizens.” I’d suspect the mountain came first, slowly naming all else. According to various websites, this “logwood hotel anchored in the heart of the Laurentians, atop beautiful Mont Gabriel” is “imprinted with history, comfort, modernism and charm,” but none of these sites want to tell me that history. The closest I can get to any history, apart from a French site or two, poorly translated by Google, is on the Come Explore Canada website, repeated nearly verbatim on Wikipedia:

Sainte-Adèle, Quebec is part of the Les Pays-d'en-Haut Regional County Municipality. It lies on the Trans-Canada Highway about 70 km north-west of Montreal. Its tourism-based economy centres on its skiing and hotel industry.

In 1842 Augustin-Norbert Morin purchased land in the area that would become Sainte-Adèle for 8¢ per arpent, which colonists arriving soon after then purchased from him for $8 CAD per arpent. The town of Sainte-Adèle was founded in 1855. A rail line was constructed and the first Canadian Pacific Railway train arrived in the town in 1891. The railway was used primarily to transport wood, cattle, dairy products, and mail.

The first "ski resort", Chalet Cochand, was built in 1914, followed by Le Alpine Inn in 1924. More hotels and expansions of local ski slopes followed. Sainte-Adèle's local newspaper, Le Journal des Pays d'en Haut, was established in 1967. Supporting the thriving hotel and resort business of the time, the École Hôtelières des Laurentides (Hotel School of the Laurentians) opened in 1983. In 1991 the railway was decommissioned and converted to a park for cyclists and skiers.

Perhaps one has nothing to do with the other. Sainte-Adèle, Quebec, founded and named by former Seminarian, lawyer and Joint Premier of the Province of Canada from Canada East, Augustin-Norbert Morin (1803-1865), who helped found and give name to both Morin-Heights and Val-Morin. Digging deeper on Morin, I discover a reference that he named the Parish of Sainte-Adèle after his wife, Adèle Raymond, sister of Roman Catholic priest, professor, vicar general and author, Joseph-Sabin Raymond (1810-1887). Adèle Raymond Morin, not the daughter of forgotten Frankish kings, or a Catholic Saint, but possibly saintly, in her own way. Sainte-Adèle, neither woman nor Saint, originally created as Parish, evolving into ski village, and now municipality. Sainte-Adèle herself, begun as a collaboration between husband and wife, including elements of all that came before, but none of the above. Evolving into something far more.

Hark, bicycle paths. What once held a line. Rail, passing. Canadian Pacific. Transporting wood, cattle, dairy and Canada Post. We could stare up each hill. Particle trails, and lost puppets. Pink bicycles, restive, no longer. A red balloon, sings.

Agricultural, presence. We would argue, a nation. Montagnais. Laurentides, with the moon.

The air fills with, curlicues. Misinformed, by shortsightedness. What did Voltaire know.

A few acres of ice. We bastardize trees. (from “Arpent,”)


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011) and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 2010), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottwater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com) . He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

Photo of rob mclennan by Christine McNair


1 comment

What about Catherine Owen and Joe Rosenblatt? Their latest collaboration is dark fish and other infernos.

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