It is said that reality trumps fiction. But is it always true? In the series “Stories and Facts” The duty examines the real and fictional dimensions of Quebec’s legendary stories and narratives. Today the first text in the series, the terrifying fate of Auguste Lemieux that led to the writing of the novel Maria Chapdelaine.
In Louis Hémon’s novel, Maria Chapdelaine’s heart beats for the adventurer François Paradis, who gets lost in the forest during an expedition and dies. “He moved away,” wrote Louis Hémon simply as an explanation for the disappearance of François Paradis.
But reality often trumps fiction. And in real life, the character of François Paradis would be inspired by Auguste Lemieux, a hunting guide who died in the forest in much more gruesome conditions. The man was probably devoured by his companions in 1907, a few years before Louis Hémon arrived in Péribonka. At least that’s what Damase Potvin, himself from the region, says in his book The novel by A novelpublished in 1950, retracing the writer’s stay in this village.
The story was already at the beginning of the XXe 19th century: Auguste Lemieux, returning for Christmas in the autumn, disappeared with two Europeans, Belgian Gabriel Bernard and French Joseph Grasset, during a hunting expedition in the forest to bring back furs. A year later he was found dead, skinned and partially devoured, possibly by a human. Like François Paradis, Auguste Lemieux comes from Mistassini. But Lemieux is already married to a woman named Maria and has several children.
When Lemieux’s body was discovered, a search warrant was issued to locate the two Europeans who accompanied him. To this day, Gabriel Bernard has not been found. But Joseph Grasset, who allegedly ran to James Bay, returned to face justice and was acquitted of Auguste Lemieux’s murder. According to Damase Potvin, who may have heard it from a former Hudson’s Bay employee, one Grasset, postal chief of Revillon Frères in 1910, was “a misanthropic and gloomy man. He had made the journey from Lac Saint-Jean to James Bay on foot and arrived half dead, having nearly starved to death on the way. He drank much, and when he was in the Lord’s vineyards he used to say he had eaten his companion; which he denied when he returned with an empty stomach and was told what he had said”.
“I was looking for the truth and couldn’t find it,” says Josie-Anne Lemieux, unpacking a large folder of old press clippings. Auguste’s great-granddaughter researched her great-grandfather to clarify his origins and also made an experimental short film about it.
“When I was little, I was told that my great-grandfather had died when he was eaten by two French people,” she said in an interview. So she wanted to know more. After Auguste Lemieux’s wife had to remarry after the death of her husband, Josie-Anne’s grandfather was placed with the Trappist fathers at a very early age. When he in turn marries his wife, Laura likes her Maria ChapdelaineShe took no pleasure in clearing ever more distant lands and the couple moved to Abitibi, says Josie-Anne Lemieux.
Fear of Windigo
In this world of blurred boundaries, where rangers meet pioneer pioneers and sedentary ones portrayed as new to the film Maria Chapdelaine, brought to the screen by Sébastien Pilote, the whole country reveals its pitfalls. On the edge of colonization, beyond the lands cleared by Samuel Chapdelaine or by those who inspired his character in Louis Hémon, kilometer after kilometer of a wild universe unfolds northwards.
In this universe at the beginning of the XXe In the late 19th century, local native Malec Bégin was the first to find several items that had belonged to Auguste Lemieux, as well as a leather case 50 miles from his body with a human bone next to him. “Men of the medical arts found that the bone came from Lemieux’s body and that the shreds of flesh from the fleshy part of the leg had been eaten by some animal or human,” says an article in the Sun dated April 10, 1909 about the event and titled Who killed and ate Lemieux?.
During a second journey, Bégin turns back, startled by noises he hears in the forest. “He says he heard him walking in the water and lumbering in the forest: he thinks it’s a windigo, that is, given the circumstances, he thought it was Bernard transformed into a wolf garou,” read we still in the newspapers of the time.
In the mythologies of several indigenous peoples, the windigo is a supernatural, cannibalistic creature that afflicts people who have been forced into cannibalism by hunger, cold, and extreme loneliness.
The story of Auguste Lemieux, told many times to Samuel Bédard Louis Hémon, when the French writer worked at home as a stooge during the few months he spent forever in Peribonka in 1911. For Damase Potvin, it is neither more nor less the story of Auguste Lemieux who was born Maria Chapdelaine, the world literary success of the time, is still being brought to the screen today. “This drama is the one whose victim François Paradis is in the novel. Hémon modified it because he undoubtedly wanted to lessen his terrors,” Potvin writes in The novel of a novel.
A story that still fascinates
Between reality and fiction, David Bélanger chose fiction. Based on the story of the murder of Auguste Lemieux, he developed a reading with Thomas Carrier Maria Chapdelaine to make the murder of François Paradis the hidden text of the novel.
Her book He moved away, investigation into the death of François Paradis, Published in 2019 by Nota Bene, explores a subtext that would make the conquest of Maria Chapdelaine the motive for the assassination of Paradis by one of his other two suitors, Lorenzo and Eutrope. “The inspiration of this detective reading” of the work Maria Chapdelainesays David Bélanger in an interview, “because the death of François Paradis secretly tells the death of Auguste Lemieux”.
If the story is translated into fiction and reduced to the question of a love square, the other two suitors of Maria can only dream of achieving their goal when François Paradis, the chosen lover, the desirable adventurer, disappears into the forest goals, with her. Meanwhile, the horrific and gruesome death of Auguste Lemieux remains unsolved.