Canadian Heritage

Historical Vignettes

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

The storytellers of yesteryear were mostly men, who practiced a variety of professions: colonizers, farmers, lumberjacks, log drivers, peddlers, beggars, or storekeepers, and indeed, many of them held more than one occupation at a time.10 They were always ready, for the most part, to tell stories, and even to hum certain tunes to entertain their audience.

A good storyteller couldn't tell great stories every night. Sometimes, when asked to tell a story he would say: “I don't feel like it tonight, I don't have it in me.” It all depended on how he felt. Then he would invite people over some other night, “some other night, I'll feel like telling you one.” It all depends on how a man feels.11

It's important to underline the fact that most storytellers started in lumber camps (see historical vignette # 3), either during weekday evenings or on Sundays, single moments of rest for the lumberjacks. The storyteller was either a lumberjack himself, a cook working with the loggers or even a person hired by forest operators in order to occasionally entertain the workers. Distracting loggers from possible boredom was an important part of the life in the lumber camps. A story even relates of a group of loggers who went on strike after their boss decided to fire the storyteller in order to save a few bucks.12

All my 'witness-storytellers' started telling stories in lumber camps. They had practiced alone, with other youngsters or with family members, but never in front of an audience who'd heard many stories before, and so able to judge of his talent. One had to be well prepared if he wanted to be successful and not come up short. (...) When I began to go tell stories in lumber camps, I knew them; I was ready to recite.13