"VANISHING roads," no
less than "the broad highway" of rural Quebec, are all more or less
edged by wayside crosses and tiny garden shrines. From east to west and
north to south the Quebecquois travels a la rue Calvaire.
But this via crucis is
by no means a via dolorosa. Far from it! For the habitant does not set
up his handmade, roadside cross, abounding with symbols of the
crucifixion, in a spirit of sadness, but rather as the expression of a
happy life full of rich traditions of such crosses in Old France,
brought over by his fore-fathers, and reproduced here in old Quebec
since Carrier's time.
The wayside cross is
now part of the landscape, in the habitant's eye, and to his mind, a
happy calendar by which to notch events. It is in this spirit that the
habitant landholders and heads of families in old Quebec set out to
carve "the cross" that is the age-old milestone of the roads—the cross
by which they will be remembered long ages after they have taken the
hill-road to the cimetiere.
The carving is a
winter-evening task, begun after the day's work is over, when the grande
famille have all had super. C'estion. All the family is interested in le
pere's intention to make a new cross. The wood in hand is carefully gone
over and the best pieces selected. Measurements are made "according to
the cloth" and the sawing and planing begun. Hon Pere's ideas are
rounded out by suggestions from le mere et les enfants. Not one evening
but many are consumed, till the winter runs away. And when in the spring
all is ready and the new cross is set up, what wonder if it has an
individuality all its own? This being the way these roadside crosses
grow, there is good reason why not any two are alike.
One sometimes notes
these crosses, shrines and chapels in the heart of towns but usually
they stand beside country roads in coastal, agricultural and mountain
sections. It is country-folk who set up these rich milestones of the
highway, in old Quebec. And whenever they appear in the heart of town or
village it means either that some old-timer caused them to be so placed
or that they were before the town, and that the latter encroached.
Such a case as this is
to be seen in two little wayside chapels to bonne Saint Anne in Levis.
Modern town life has en- croached upon them to such an extent it is
extremely difficult to get even a picture of them clear of telegraph
poles, wires, etc., yet these little chapels, built one in 1789, the
other in 1822, before electricity was heard of for power and light, are
still in use for the feast of good Sainte Anne.
What a cyclorama of
Canadian history these little chapels could sketch for the pilgrims of
to-day, looking out from their doorways upon the bosom of the Saint
Lawrence. How many a vivid chapter of the olden days was read by these
little wayside shrines before it happened. Through what stirring times
has the little red light before the altar not pointed the way of hope to
men along the road of life? We hope that Levis will never grow so big
but she will have a place for these wayside chapels that belong by right
of the years and the things they have seen, to all Canada.
But to the highway
voyager of to-day it is their size that points a revelation. How few, he
thinks, must have been the people of this parish at the time these
chapels were built, if all went to mass at the same hour. It is a
tradition in Quebec that "at first wayside crosses were set up at points
where mass was said in the open air and later these little chapels were
built." If this be so, here on this spot missionary priests of pioneer
times caused "a wayside cross" to be set up long years before the
foundation stone of these chapels was laid or Levis as a town thought
of— another reason why the sacred land should never be absorbed by the
One reads much and
hears much in Quebec of the landing of the great sea-adventurers of the
French discovery, who invariably brought with them missionary priests.
No tale in history appeals more to the imagination than the landing of
the Recollet Fathers at Perce and the setting up of the cross on the
bluff headland opposite Perce Rock. If you go to Perce to-day—like "the
weathered skeleton of time", the cross with its extended arms
silhouetted against the sky, still stands on the same spot chosen in
1535. A similar wealth of tradition gathers about the head of the little
wayside chapel at Tadousac. To the visitor, much of the charm of
Tadousac centres in this chapel dedicated to "la patronice du Canada"—bonne
Sainte Anne—and out of use these fifty years except on special
occasions, chief of which is naturally the fete day of good Saint Anne.
By the way, Saint Anne holds not only an esteemed but an adventurous
enshrinement in the heart of French Canada. It was she who protected the
early navigators, she who encouraged, sheltered, finally havened the
Breton sea-adventurers in the bays and coves of the Lower St. Lawrence.
And the farther seaward reach the highways of this part of Canada
to-day, the more popular appears Saint Anne for wayside shrines. She is
a personality with a very human and approachable heart to all fishermen;
and every little boat dancing in and out of Baie de Chaleur feels the
eye of Ste. Anne upon her. La Protectrice de Pecheurs! Every fisherman
carries a little figure of the saintly woman whose specialty is
navigation, fishing, storms, boats, la morue, and a thousand-and-one
angles of his life; and then, as if fearing something might be over-
looked, clinches all with du Canada.
Therefore, where the
abrupt Laurentians fling their beetling brows to the wild gales and dun
sea-fog, there on la montagne at Perce, at the very top, as if to see
well the little boats balanced in calm majesty on the quarter-deck of
the continent, is a life-size figure of the Saint.
Many a time, lingering
after the long steep climb, under the shadow of this figure-of-the-ages
looking down upon the weathered arms of the cross upon the headland, I
have been struck by the force of allegory brought into being by these
two figures in juxtaposition. Out of the heart of the one, protective,
evolve the protecting arms of the other. Yet there was no motif or
thought of this behind the erection of these two figures. The cross is
simply the cross of the Recollet Fathers and pioneer missionaries,
renewed continually through the centuries whenever age and decay or some
sudden storm made a new one necessary. Bonne Sainte Anne sur la Montagne
was set up by the local fishermen of a generation ago.
All these things are
written on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and as we take the
shore-road west many a shrine and highway cross continue the tale of
rural piety and peace. But it is possibly the north shore of the St.
Lawrence including lie d' Orleans where the shrine takes on clear-cut
The most famous shrine
in all America is situated at Saint Anne de Beaupre. Here Ste. Anne
comes in close touch, laying her healing power yearly upon the spirits
and ill-bodies of thousands of pilgrims hailing from widely separated
regions of Canada and the United States, with a sprinkling from every
other quarter of the globe.
One would think that a
region overshadowed, as it were, by so dominant a force as Ste. Anne de
Beaupre might easily show poverty in the matter of the simple farmers'
crosses and wayside and garden shrines of which we write, but along the
Montmorenci and the Beaupre road quite the contrary is to be observed.
Remarking on this and
the surprising frequency of the wayside crosses in this region, to a
prominent Quebecquois, he assured us, to his thinking, there were not so
many now as of old. "Why," said he, "when I was a boy every house had
one." However their popularity may have decreased in the eye of the
old-timer, backed by a memory reaching back more than three score years,
they still recur frequently enough to-day to notch every mile of the
twenty-one between Quebec City and Saint Anne de Beaupre village. So
that to the visitor, without such perspective, it is evident that the
habitant of these parts had no intention of relinquishing his personal
and intimate belief in the mascot of the Cross, Sacre Coeur, and bonne
Ste. Anne for his farm, garden, mill, meadows or bit of roadway, because
the world has a shrine at Beaupre that rivals Lourdes.
Nor do these milestones
cease at the church. Rather they are to be happened on all along the
road east to Saint Joachim, and peep out at intervals along the Cap
Tourment road into the heart of the Laurentides at 'tite de Cap, St.
Fereol, St. Tetes, etc., as far as the road and the habitant home pushes
back into the heart of Northeastern Quebec.
In the wayside crosses
of this north shore, however, we have fancied finer work in execution,
though perhaps not so strong and bold a concept, as a rule, as in the
sea-coast cross. This finer handiwork is no doubt traceable to the
influence of the art in the basilica of Saint Anne with which the people
hereabouts are in almost constant contact. At least the church gets the
credit till one remembers that these wayside crosses are the handiwork
of a long line of carvers dating back into Normandy and Brittany, and
that to the Tremblays, Gigueres, Couchons, Desbarats, Gagnons, as well
as other families, the Beaupre wood-carving of sacred figures and
symbols "runs in the blood" and is an inherited talent handed down from
generation to generation.
Whether the inspiration
comes from within or at the suggestion of the beauty in The Great
Shrine, it is certain these wayside crosses, crucifixes, chapels and
shrines of this Laurentian highway stand out among Canada's finest
landmarks. Seldom one of the crosses but has simple wood-carved symbols
of the Crucifixion attached—cup, ladder, hammer, hands, nails, the crown
of thorns. Not all are present on the very old-timers, but an absent
cup, a wind-blown hammer, a broken nail gives them a greater grip,
especially when about the weather-worn "foot" a wild rose has sprung up
and been spared by the scythe of the mower. This same St. Lawrence
section is also the rambling playground of the tiny garden shrine. It is
as if the hand of an aviator had scattered from the clouds these
miniature niches of the saints; so that one or more dropped into every
garden far and near.
These little garden
shrines, many no larger than the bread-box, are the pride of every
habitant home-gardener. The entire household takes an
interest—especially grandmere et grandpere. It is the old man's fancy
that every spring mixes the paint and guides the brush that freshens
into new life the old colours.
And are they dun
colours that he mixes? Most assuredly not!—White and light blue—the
colours of the heavens.
The touches of life —
the blood, the flesh, the hope — are given with real flowers, picked
fresh every morning from the sur- rounding garden and set — a tiny
bouquet votive-offering before the holy figure of "Mary", "The Son of
Mary" or maybe "Bonne Ste. Anne".
The private gardens
fringing the main street of Ste. Anne de Beaupre rival each other in
these happy little shrines. All stand on elevations of stone or
willow-wood post; and a clinging vine or tall peonies or ambitious
poppies or nestling mignonette tone down the newness of the sky-colours
and touch with effective life the tiny figure in plaster or bisque that
symbolizes the faith of M'sieu and Madame.
In the garden of the
summer home of two American ladies, adjoining the highway of Beaupre
toward St. Joachim, is a specially attractive little shrine with a
collaret of St. Joseph lilies—lilies which, appropriately enough, are
always in full bloom, for the fete day of bonne Sainte Anne.
Some of the Quebec
cross-makers often cut a niche in the cross in which is set the
Christ-figure, the statue being protected from the weather by glass as
in the case of the garden shrines. A good example of this is seen in the
cross from the Indian village of Caughnawaga across the river from
Montreal. This particular cross is further distinguished by the figure
of a cock surmounting it.
On the highways of
Quebec one likes the way trade salutes the cross. Men and boys passing
in their two-wheeled carts find time to lift their hats and busy
pedestrians often stop to murmur a prayer at the foot of the cross by
the edge of the road. These things are a matter of course in
picturesque, thrifty Quebec. They belong as naturally as the St.
Lawrence or the Laurentians, but one is surprised on running into
Sudbury in Ontario to see there, on the bare rocks high above the
tracks, a large grotto, found on closer investigation to contain a
life-size figure of "the virgin" as Regina Galloram.
Local men say it was
erected by an old French Count, who had been coming to Sudbury for many
years prior to 1914, but who failed to come over during the war. They
say the Count sat daily in the grotto at the feet of Mary.
Then came the war. And
the only word of him since has been the receipt by a townsman of a paper
edged in black, as big as the page of a ledger covered with the names of
relatives killed in action. Ontario may be proud of its wayside shrine.
At least two other
widely separated wayside crosses are to be seen in Western Canada, one,
a large crucifix in the Roman Catholic Hospital at The Pas; the other, a
crucifix with figures on a platform in the cemetery at St. Norbert, near
Winnipeg. There is also a shrine in a little wood at St. Norbert to
which it is said small pilgrimages are made. However, it is undoubtedly
rural Quebec which carries off the palm for wayside shrines and crosses.
Somehow her "milestones" are an historic "part of the landscape",
belonging both to yesterday and to-day.
It is worthy of note,
too, that the Quebec farm which has set up a shrine or cross somewhere
along the road, invariably appears prosperous. And those localities most
particular in the observance of this old custom brought from France by
the first settlers are never down-at-heels. It is evident it is the
industrious, thrifty landowners who have inherited their demesnes from
industrious, thrifty and religious forefathers who look most carefully
to the old cross, the milestone of the years as well as of the road.
Straight back without a
break these old weather-beaten shrines of the seacoast and the narrow
farms trace their lineage to that first Cross, where all roads meet.