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Romantic Canada
Chapter XIII Wayside Crosses and Garden Shrines

"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 town.

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 historic importance.

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.

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