Thursday, November 29, 2012

Murray Bay Canada Malbaie Pointe-au-Pic

By Henry Dwight Sedgwick
Pictures by W. T. Benda

View of Malbaie (Murray Bay) from the bridge
The way to go to Murray Bay is down the St. Lawrence by boat from Quebec. There is, indeed, another way, which most people take, but it should be taken only by impatient travelers who pre­fer a speedy to a picturesque arrival.

The "bateau" is one of the three paddle­wheel boats that ply between Quebec and the Saguenay River. Each bateau has its own character, its own history, its own aliases. A bateau regards shipwreck as a baptism, and thereupon takes a new name and a new coat of paint. The dean of the fleet, at least according to the Murray Bay tradition, is a sort of Methuselah. The story goes that before our Civil War, in the days when the Mississippi ran un­-vexed to the gulf, when young Sam Clem­ens was crying out "Mark Twain," a paddle-wheeler plied between New Or­leans and Vicksburg—but this gossip is beneath the dignity of history. The ba­teau, whatever its dubious past may have been, leaves the wharf at Quebec at eight o'clock in the morning and arrives at Murray Bay at half-past one. This leg­end, which I take from the Richelieu and Ontario time-table, is less trustworthy than the other. Let us come to facts. At some time or other the bateau leaves Que­bec; it passes the Ile d'Orleans, the Falls of Montmorency, and about sixty miles of beautiful shore; and after what, if the day be fine, is a most delightful sail, draws near to Bay St. Paul. This arrival is the prologue to Murray Bay. The bateau gyrates, heaves, trembles, and sidles toward the dock. Shouts from the bateau, answering shouts from the dock; the bateau hesitates, shivers, and like a tired cow comes diffidently up alongside. The passengers crowd to the landward rail; the population of Bay St. Paul crowds to the edge of the quay. A small coil of rope is hurled through the air from the bateau; it is caught by the population of Bay St. Paul; attached to the rope is the boat's hawser, which is made fast to a pile. Friends exchange joyous greetings; the charretiers, whose carriages and carts in long sequence stretch the length of the causeway from the dock to the shore, wait politely for customers.

Murray Bay from Pointe-Au-Pic
The bateau prefers to arrive at the moment when the tide either lifts it far above or leaves it far below the level of the quay; the gang-plank is al­ways at a sharp angle, and in consequence the cargo, put on or off,—barrels, bales, bundles, trunks—slides down or is rushed up with bumps, bangs, and loud shouts of "Prenez garde! Faites attention!" or less articulate expressions. For a time all is feverish excitement, joyous activity, per­spiration, and hullabaloo. Then, as the gang-plank, at a whistle from the quarter­deck, is about to, be lifted, shrieks from the quay indicate the belated arrival of a barrel, a pig, or some stout passenger wav­ing breathlessly hand-bag and umbrella. At last the bateau glides on toward Murray Bay. The same bustle which char­acterized the ar­rival at Bay St. Paul, but tempered by a higher civili­zation, marks the arrival at Murray Bay. The custom­house is a mere amiable ceremony, and the traveler is at once confronted with his first ex­ercise of choice: "Will monsieur have a caleche or a planche?"

As soon as the traveler has climbed into the caliche (the luggage is left for the charrette), the charretier gives a warning cry and swings down the long causeway, and, turning to the right, goes up the hill that buttresses the Pic. Here you learn your first vehicular lesson. At a particular point going up the hill—it will not vary six feet on any hill, for the rule is de ri­gueur, and every native boy is born, with the knowledge—the charretier leaps to the ground and drives on foot from alongside.

Once free of the dock and over the hill, the traveler drives down the long village street. Every French-Canadian village properly consists of one long street. This is partly in order to economize shoveling and plank-walk during the winter, and partly because Latin sociability and democracy hold that every house has a right to front on the main street. Here the traveler sees the most charming touch of art in Murray Bay architecture, the curve of the gable-roof. In old times all the native houses, or most of them, had this curving roof; but of late years desire for space and lack of taste betray themselves in repeating the ugly roofs familiar to the south of the Canadian border. Noth­ing in architecture is more soothing than this curve in the gabled roof; it contains all the picturesqueness, all the poetry, that the patron saint of roofs—is it, per­chance, St. Rufinus?—allows to them.

Church of St. Etienne at Murray Bay,
 with Teaching Brothers
The traveler who means to put up at a hotel has an ample range of choice. The Man­oir Richelieu, a younger sister to the Chateau Fron­tenac of Quebec, gazes over a glori­ous expanse of river from the heights above the quay. It supplies its guests with comfort moderne soft­ened to the native simplicity of Mur­ray Bay, but it can hardly count as a part of the village; it is too young, it is an interloper. There is also the Chateau Murray, on the main street, which looks over the bay, and presents a comfortable air of seeming to receive, as no doubt it does, the compliments of departing guests; and, though even younger than the Manoir Richelieu, it is much more in accord with Murray Bay habits and traditions. But be­yond cavil the hotel of Murray Bay is the Lorne House, as it calls itself on its letter-paper, which is known to its familiars, and to all the world, as Chamard's. Architects, builders, upholsterers, and tinsmiths can create Manoirs Richelieu ad libitum; so, with the addition of a French sense of proportion, they can also create Chateaux Murray; nobody except the late Monsieur Chamard could have created Chamard's. It is a personality expressed in the form of a hotel; it is a spirit embodied in din­ing-room, parlors, office, veranda, and partitions. The partitions remind the guest of Shakespeare's lines, like "cloud­capp'd towers" and "gorgeous palaces": he expects them to dissolve, melt into thin air, and "leave not a rack behind." Cha­mard's is the one hotel, I should suppose, in all the world that rises triumphantly above material things. The table, no doubt, is wholesome and exhilarating, but nobody cares; for at Chamard's, quite un­like other human abodes, the table is not the center of gravity. The place is a club, gathered about Monsieur Chamard's in­teresting and attractive personality, and, now that he is gone, prospering upon his memory and Mademoiselle Chamard's dis­position and character. The physical structure used to stand about where the Manoir Richelieu now is; but it flitted away, or, like the phenix, was reborn, on a bold eminence above the golf-links, where half a dozen cottages, seedlings from the parent plant, have grown up about it. But Chamard's is not a hotel for chance comers; it demands, so one of the guests assures me, an introduction from someone known to a guest, at least.

The first thing for a new-comer to do is to take a drive; and the first drive should be up the rive droite of the Murray River as far as the red bridge and down the rive gauche, or, for custom is liberal in this matter, up the rive gauche and back by the rive droite. This drive uncovers all that is typical in the scenery of Murray Bay.

Besides introducing the traveler at once to the scenery, the Murray River drive has another advantage—it takes him past the principal sights. The road skirts the golf-links, turns sharp at the Village Mailloux, and then cuts the links in two just before the path that leads to the famous sixth tee, the pons dufforum. Here the charre­tier, if he is a good cicerone, points his whip to a house that stands in a little gar­den radiant with bright flowers: "Voila, monsieur, la maison de Mademoiselle Anger." One may draw aside the veil that has been very transparent ever since the French Academy crowned "L'Ou­blie," and say that Mademoiselle Anger is Laure Conan, the novelist. A few min­utes further, to the left, on the edge of the bay, stands the manor-house of the seign­iory.

A road near Murray Bay
From the manor-house the road runs along the edge of the bay, where pictur­esque schooners float or lie on their sides, according to the tide, and then on to the village of Malbaie, or Murray Bay. Americans call it the Far Village, but the native resident of Pointe-au-Pic, who wishes Monsieur Anger, le notaire, brother to Laure Conan, to draw up a legal document, or Monsieur Perron to cut him a suit of homespun, or Monsieur Shea to sell him a clock or a banjo-string, says, "Je vais au village" ("I am going to the village"), just as a suburban resident says, "I am going to town." At the end of the bay stands the Far Village church in all her kindly, simple seriousness. Her bells ring out the angelus over the waters of the bay, along the shores, and back into the uplands, proclaiming that she is ready, like a hen gathering her chickens under her wings, to receive and comfort all the faithful. On the facade, if three door­ways and a barn-like front can count as a facade, there is a statue of the Madonna that has drawn to itself some of the beauty of the place. Hard by is the residence of Monsieur le Cure and his assistants. The younger priests officiate in the church and also teach school. It is pleasant, when driving by during recess, to see these seri­ous-faced young men, dressed in their long black cassocks, playing with the chil­dren, or, when off duty, refreshing them­selves with a pipe and animated conversa­tion.

The Far Village has a little inn of its own, but it is undisturbed by foreigners; it is sufficient to itself, with its shops, its bank, its ecclesiastical edifices, its little houses, some of which back on the river, in fact, lean perilously over the brink, strongly reminding one of the old Floren­tine houses along the Arno. The court­house is on the rive gauche, and somewhat away from the village. To say the truth, its bald, rather brazen, aspect suggests the less amiable side of the law, and it seems singularly out of keeping with the general innocence of Malbaie. There is a story that Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, when at the bar, long before he became chief-justice of Canada, went there to argue a case, carrying only one book under his arm. A na­tive remarked this penury of legal preparation: "C'est fort peu de chose; it ne reussira pas avec M'sieur le juge" ("That's too little; he won't win his case"). The next time Sir Charles car­ried several large volumes: "A la bonne heure; cette fois-ci it est serieux" ("Good; this time he means business").

Now and then, whether on your first drive up the Murray River, or on your second up Maltais's Hill and on the way to St. Agnes to see mountains rise be­hind mountains in deepening hues of violet and blue, you pass a plain, black cross. These crosses stand in little enclosures, eight feet square, which are filled with monk's-hood. At these places the people of the neighborhood gather in the month of May to say a prayer, and ask la Sainte Vierge to bless the sowing of the grain. Sometimes you pass one of the old baking-ovens, and, if you are in luck, a pretty girl examining the condition of the loaves.

View across the bay from the hillside
The traveler who is used to the more gingerly driven horses of other places need not fear lest the wiry little horse, which ends his course downhill at a canter and starts uphill at a gallop, will tire himself out. The charretier always spares his horse by jumping out himself as soon as the first uphill gallop is over. This is a comfort to the tender-hearted traveler, for as soon as he leaves the Far Village he is, or seems to be, going up or down hill all the time.

Beyond the Murray River, on the high bluffs overlooking the St. Lawrence, lies the village of Cap-A-l'Aigle. The rela­tions of Cap-A-l’Aigle to Pointe-au-Pic would require a chapter by themselves; they seem to present the difference be­tween slap-everlasting and auction bridge; some like one game and some the other. Even the views are very different. Noth­ing can be finer in its way—one feels that here the player makes a most successful slap—than the view over the St. Law­rence; and there are notable objects of pilgrimage at Cap-A-l’Aigle. There is nothing north of the St. Lawrence—one may hazard the assertion—more charming in its way than the garden of Mount Murray manor, the seigniory that was al­lotted to Colonel Fraser at the time the seigniory on the west side of the Murray River was allotted to Colonel Nairne. It is hard to say what makes a garden charm­ing, or what makes a garden old-fash­ioned, or why we praise old fashions when all the world is agog for new fashions; but whatever the causes, they are operative here, and most successfully. There is a glorious prodigality of color and sweet odor, an inspiriting sense that the flowers are all animated by as reckless a purpose to enjoy life as is compatible with floral variety and picturesqueness, which is asso­ciated with memories of President Taft and of the late Mr. Justice Harlan; there is tennis; there is the Sunday afternoon walk. There is canoeing for those propriety; and all is hedged in by a gra­cious seclusion.

Baking bread in Murray Bay
Of course there are other things to do at Murray Bay than to drive or to visit the sights. But do what you will, so long as you stay out of doors you cannot escape the view. There is golf, pursued with the regularity that characterizes all kinds of superior machinery, on a links of much who venture out on the bay or along the shore of the St. Lawrence. And canoeing, which is not without a spice of danger, might well be worth a greater risk, for only from the center of the bay can you see the mountains rise in sequent tiers beyond the Far Village church; only on the bay can you appreciate the angelus or see all the beauty of the Murray Bay sunsets, gloriously reflected in the water and coloring the eastern sky. But the chief pastime is fishing. There are salmon to be had in the Murray River, and ambitious fishermen spend long, happy hours, casting, casting, casting. It is hard to say whether catching enters into this sport or not, stories differ so widely.

Trout-fishing is obligatory. A visitor is at liberty to play golf, canoe, walk, or not, as he pleases; but unless he is willing to pass for a misanthrope, or, what is worse, a misichthus (or whatever word will serve to designate some wretch of Doctor Johnson's way of thinking), he must go trout-fishing. Let me hasten to say that what we in our slipshod Amer­ican fashion call trout are not the true British-born trout, but char or I know not what else. This, very properly, is the A B C of a Canadian's education. The way to go trout-fishing is to camp on the shore of one of the little lakes in the back country. There a club or a host provides a tent, and the guest brings his rod, blank­ets, and food. The gardien of the lake, and one or two of his friends, cook, make the fires, and paddle the boats. Some people—parsons, Englishmen, young la­dies—are totally absorbed in weights and numbers and interminable fish-stories. Others, of soberer disposition or pisca­torial incapacity, enjoy the woods, the birds, the shy hare, the amiable chipmunk, and all the denizens of the forest. But the great pleasure of it all is to sit about the fire after supper, with the stars over­head and a faint breeze just audible over the lake and in the trees, and listen to the men sing their Canadian songs.

There are no better-mannered people than the habitants who live on the borders of the woods. In earlier times all the natives used to have charming manners, but the coming of strangers who set no special store by manners—Americans who have more important things to think about, others from different places who hold themselves superior to the natives—has tended to bring in different standards and values. But even now the habitants on the borders of the woods have always good manners—a refinement, a self-efface­ment, a wealth of consideration for their guests—that must rank as one of the fine arts. Their manners are their chief pos­session; they are poor and not quick-witted. One gardien, to whom a letter had been sent bidding him be ready to expect a party of fishermen on Monday, was dis­covered sitting on his door-step.

A native family and a typical
 house in Murray Bay
Gardien: "Bonjour, messieurs."

We: "Bonjour, mon ami, est-ce que tout est pret?"

Gardien: "Que voulez-vous dire, mes­sieurs?"

We: "N'avez-vous pas recu notre let­tre?"

Gardien: "Ah, oui, j'ai recu votre let­tre."

We: "Eh bien, nous avons dit que nous arriverions aujourd'hui, lundi" ("We said that we should come to-day, Monday").

Gardien (after a pause): "J'ai lu lundi, mais j'ai compris jeudi" ("I read Monday, but I understood Thursday").

The great charm of Murray Bay lies even more in the character and disposition of its people than in its beautiful scenery. To everyone who has been long famil­iar with Murray Bay its most delicate charm lie in the memories of the men whose dignity of character and fine friend­liness of manner set a special seal upon the beautiful place. Among those who will not come again to brighten the summer days by their presence are Mr. Edward Blake and Mr. Justice Harlan. These men belong to the history of Canada and of the United States, but in matters that do not concern the muse of history they belong to Murray Bay. No golfer can tee his ball on the links without involuntarily expecting to see Judge Harlan's noble figure striding joyously from hole to hole, and to hear his exultant, boyish glee over a good stroke or his humorous explanation of an unlucky one. No worshiper goes to the Protestant church, the pretty stone church on the village street, without a glance at the spot where the justice used to stand on Sunday mornings, a symbol of large-hearted, Christian hospitality, and greet the congregation as it straggled in. And if, for instance, in order to give a visual reality to one of Shakespeare's heroes, one seeks for an embodiment of dignity, grace, and high character, the image of Mr. Edward Blake comes instantly up, with his handsome bearing and courtly simplicity. Indeed, Murray Bay is rich in human memories that outdo nature in her prodigal attempts to make the place delightful.

From The Century Magazine – 1912.

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