February 2010

Exploring Francophone and Native oral traditions in North America

For immediate release

Montreal, February 8, 2010 - Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, will be presenting Discovering Legends with Jean-Claude Dupont from February 9 to May 16, 2010. Everyone is invited to learn about the rich Francophone and Native oral heritage in North America, through the writings and paintings of ethnologist Jean-Claude Dupont.

During his field studies throughout French-speaking North America, Jean-Claude Dupont collected hundreds of legends, recording them not only in compilations and other specialized publications, but also in his naïve paintings. This exhibition presents 100 legends, part of Quebec’s heritage, illustrated with paintings, reproductions and many related artifacts. Visitors can share Mr. Dupont’s fascination with Francophone and Native legends and customs.

“Anyone who has been fortunate enough to meet Mr. Dupont and witness his passion for popular culture knows that he is one of those rare people who tirelessly devote themselves to a quest, in his case collecting and preserving the traditional knowledge of French-speaking North America. The Museum is proud to be associated with him and to present his work for the general public to admire and enjoy,” says Francine Lelièvre, Executive Director of Pointe-à-Callière.

Jean-Claude Dupont: Saving memories
Jean-Claude Dupont was born in 1934, in Saint-Antonin (Rivière-du-Loup county), and grew up in the family general store. He studied in the Beauce, the Acadian regions of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and Université Laval, where he met Luc Lacourcière, who introduced him to field studies and archival research. Over the past 30 years, Mr. Dupont has produced or contributed to an impressive number of publications on tangible and intangible Francophone culture in North America. His unique approach, combining art and ethnology (he has created close to 400 paintings illustrating legends!), has led to many exhibitions in North America, Europe, Russia and even Japan. He has received a number of distinctions, including the Prix du Québec en patrimoine, recognizing the importance of his work in conserving and safeguarding Francophone heritage.

Since Mr. Dupont’s body of work comprises close to 400 paintings, and countless legends collected through his research, it was an enormous challenge to select the pieces and legends for this exhibition. The Museum decided to focus on the regions he visited in his field research and the themes and characters that occur most frequently in these legends.

Long before television and text messaging, there were legends
There are various sources of inspiration for the legends of French-speaking North America. The French colonists who settled in New France brought their ancestors’ tales with them, in addition to discovering the rich Native mythologies already present here. Legends persisted over the years because they answered a need, and long reflected people’s daily lives. While they had a basis in reality, they were embellished with fantastic details, and passed along for various reasons. They reassured people by explaining extraordinary natural phenomena, encouraged everyone to stick to the straight and narrow as dictated by the Church, strengthened the community, and added some magic and humour to people’s often arduous daily lives.

Nature often featured prominently in legends, along with religion and the omnipresence of good and evil. This duality was represented by many different characters, some good and some less desirable – including the indisputable star of the show, the Devil. These mythical figures turn up in the legends illustrated and recounted in the exhibition, with different artifacts providing context. The exhibition also examines legends inspired by actual historic events or other phenomena appealing to people’s imaginations. Lastly, it explores the legend of the flying canoe, or chasse-galerie, looking at the many versions and adaptations of this literary classic.

Invaluable recordings
During his field research, Jean-Claude Dupont recorded many people recounting stories passed down from one generation to the next, adding an appealing human touch to his work. The recordings show the extent to which legends are part of the cultural heritage specific to a region and its inhabitants. Visitors can listen to storytellers explaining how the Devil served as a notary, or the time a werewolf was spotted licking someone’s window. There are also musical excerpts, including a fiddler’s reel and a lament recounting the legend of “the abducted bride.” These recordings were made over 40 years ago, during a series of research trips. They are now kept in the folklore and ethnology archives at Université Laval, the only such collection relating to Francophone culture in North America.

Profession: legend collector
An ethnologist studies the intangible and material culture of a society, collecting information of all kinds on traditions, lifestyles and culture in bygone times. Jean-Claude Dupont has done an exceptional job of safeguarding memories, thanks to his superb observation and analytical skills. With his meticulous field research and rigorous data-collection methods, he has bequeathed us a tremendously valuable body of knowledge. The exhibition also salutes his skills as an artist, showcasing his naïve paintings that reveal his great sensitivity. The vibrant, colourful works are sure to enchant and charm visitors.

Legends on Sunday, a special activity you won't want to miss
On Sunday, March 21, at 2 p.m., Pointe-à-Callière is offering a very special event as part of the Discovering Legends with Jean-Claude Dupont exhibition. In the midst of the archaeological remains at the Museum, storyteller Eric Michaud will entertain visitors with Quebec legends and historian Jacques Lacoursière will explain their origins.

Come discover the Francophone and Native legends of North America. Do your part to preserve collective memories!

The exhibition, produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, in partnership with the Musée québécois de culture populaire in Trois-Rivières, will be presented at Pointe-à-Callière from February 9 to May 16, 2010.

A Biography of Jean-Claude Dupont
Jean-Claude Dupont was born on April 27, 1934, the fourth of seven children, in Saint-Antonin-de-Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup county. His parents owned a small general store. After attending school in Rivière-du-Loup, he went on to complete the literature and rhetoric part of the classical program in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. He began studying philosophy at the Université du Sacré-Cœur in Bathurst, New Brunswick, and finished his courses at Université Saint-Anne in Pointe-de-l’Église, Nova Scotia, from 1959 to 1960. He then enrolled in law at Université Laval in Quebec City, but decided to switch to arts. There he met Luc Lacourcière, who became his teacher and steered him toward field studies.

Jean-Claude Dupont obtained his degree in arts from Université Laval in 1963 and that year married Jeanne Pomerleau, who went on to become his main partner in his field work in Quebec and the Maritimes. As a research assistant with the Geography Department and the Centre d’études nordiques at Université Laval, he worked on preparing two manuscripts: a toponymic inventory of the islands of the St. Lawrence and a study of place names in the Beauce. He worked at the Centre d'études nordiques with Jacques Rousseau on the ethnography of Newfoundland coastal villages and then began his career as a professor, first as a professor of French and civilization studies at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, from 1964 to 1965, and later at the Université de Moncton, New Brunswick, from 1965 to 1967. There he taught Canadian literature and French-Canadian ethnography.

As an expert in material culture, Mr. Dupont originated studies in this field of ethnology. During his thirty years of teaching, he directed over 50 master’s theses and 25 PhD dissertations. He has published an impressive number of works on the material culture of Francophones in North America, alone or with others, including Héritage d'Acadie (1972), Histoire populaire d'Acadie (1979) and L'artisan forgeron (1979). From 1976 to 1982, he directed the Centre for studies on Francophone language, arts and traditions in North America (Centre d'études sur la langue, les arts et les traditions des francophones en Amérique du Nord - CELAT), founded the previous year by Jean Hamelin. His university work and his involvement in the heritage field have earned him many distinctions over the years, including the prestigious Gérard-Morisset award for heritage, in 1998. He has also published an impressive collection of volumes on legends from all over French-speaking North America, through Éditions J.-C. Dupont.

Since 1984, along with his university work, Mr. Dupont has been illustrating legends and customs of French North America, inspired mainly by his field studies. His collection of naïve paintings includes over three hundred pieces, which have been shown in a number of exhibitions.

Pointe-à-Callière thanks Jean-Claude Dupont for his very generous co-operation, its partners the Musée québécois de culture populaire, the Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire communs and Les Éditions GID, and its sponsors Sun Life Financial, Historia, Via Rail, Archambault and La Presse.

The Museum is subsidized by the city of Montréal.