Canadian Heritage

Historical Vignettes

Oral and Written Traditions: Reflections of a People's Soul

The Storytellers

The storytellers were usually men having the gift of gab, a good memory and a truly fertile imagination. Abundant in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they were always guests of honour during social gatherings, in homes as well as lumber camps. They tend to be relatively rare today. These narrators were renowned in their regions, and folks from all over would turn up to hear, and see them act out their stories.

Wherever he finds himself, the storyteller is soon recognizable and his presence transforms the evening into a verbal interchange, which will shatter the boundaries of time and open up new horizons. After proclaiming the opening line: “Once upon a time”, the storyteller gets the seven headed beast out of its cave or raises the birch bark canoe from the wild hunt, through words and movements. He also carries the listener in verbal and gesticulate interplay. First seated, soon lifted up by the narrative action, he walks, jumps, mimes, while playing with his voice, eyes and arms; giving life to his characters and taking them through perils and salvation.9