Canadian folklore

Canadian folklore is the traditional material that Canadians pass down from generation to generation, either as oral literature or "by custom or practice".[1] It includes songs, legends, jokes, rhymes, proverbs, weather lore, superstitions, and practices such as traditional food-making and craft-making. The largest bodies of folklore in Canada belong to the aboriginal and French-Canadian cultures. English-Canadian folklore and the folklore of recent immigrant groups have added to the country's folk.

Aboriginal folklore and mythology

The classic definitions of folklore were created by Europeans such as William Thoms, who coined the term in 1846 to refer to "manners, customs [...] of the olden times".[2] The study of folklore grew out of the European concept of folk, often understood to mean "common, uneducated people mostly in villages or rural communities".[3] This definition falls short of capturing the formal aspect of much aboriginal tradition. Even 19th century folklorists collecting and attempting to translate aboriginal oral literature recognized the immense challenge of bridging the culture gap. Ethnographer Horatio Hale wrote in 1874 that creation myths and myths explaining the origin of sacred ceremonies, "were, in a certain sense, articles of religion and were handed down with scrupulous exactness."[4] As one aboriginal chief explained,

It is very difficult for a stranger to rightly understand the morals of their stories [...] And when you have learned all that language can convey, there are still a thousand images, suggestions and associations recurring to the Indian, which can strike no chord in your heart. The myriad voices of nature are dumb to you, but to them they are full of life and power.[5]

Among many aboriginal cultures, "storytelling" was normally restricted to the long winter evenings. The Cree were one culture with a strict belief in this regard: "During the summer, no stories founded on fiction were ever told; the Indians believing that if any 'fairy' tales were told during that season when they were supposed to use their time to best advantage, the narrator would have his life destroyed by the lizard, which would suck his blood."[6]

Aboriginal folklore and mythology are sometimes collected and studied according to language families, such as Algonquian, Athabaskan, Iroquoian, Kutenai, Salishan, Siouan, and others. Classification schemes for indigenous languages of the Americas can vary. Large language families can include aboriginal cultures in geographically distant areas, for example, the Algonquian language family includes the M'igmaw of the modern-day Maritime provinces as well as the Odawa people of the Ottawa River region.

Themes and genres

Bill Reid's sculpture Raven and The First Men, showing part of a Haida creation myth. The Raven represents the Trickster figure common to many mythologies. The work is in the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver.

Some broad themes can be identified in aboriginal Canadian mythology. Creation myths are among the most sacred to aboriginal cultures. Haida myths of the Raven, a "celestial being", explain the creation of the sun.[7] The Haida word for Raven means "the one who is going to order things", and it was Raven who established the laws of nature and was present when people were first created.[8]

One creation myth from the Northeastern Woodlands tribes describes the creation of North America, or Turtle Island, by Muskrat and Turtle. Myths about the origins of landscape features, such as mountains and rivers, are common in aboriginal oral tradition.

Supernatural beings are prominent in many myths about the origin of places, animals, and other natural phenomena. Nanabozho is the "trickster" spirit and hero of Ojibwa mythology (part of the larger body of Anishinaabe traditional beliefs). Glooscap, a giant gifted with supernatural powers, is the hero and "transformer" of the mythology of the Wabanaki peoples. Supernatural experiences by ordinary mortals are found in other myths. For example, the Chippewa have myths explaining the first corn and the first robin, triggered by a boy's vision.[9] Some myths explain the origins of sacred rituals or objects, such as sweat lodges, wampum, and the sun dance.[10]

Cryptids, or mythical beasts, exist in some aboriginal folklore. Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, the Wendigo, and Ogopogo are popular examples.

French-Canadian folklore

French-Canadian folklore has its roots in the folklore of France, with some stock characters such as Ti-Jean, the everyman character.[11] Other popular heroes of French-Canadian folklore were created in New France, such as the exploits of the hunter Dalbec, and the voyageur Jean Cadieux. The earliest French-Canadian folksong celebrates the adventures of Jean Cadieux.[12]

An illustration of La chasse-galerie (The Flying Canoe) by Henri Julien, from a popular Quebec folktale.

Loup-garou (werewolves) and shape-shifting sorcerers turning into animals such as owls or bears "to torture their enemies" are widespread in French-Canadian legends.[13] The presence of demons and priests in many French-Canadian legends attests to the dominant presence of the Catholic church and its rituals in everyday life[14] in New France and Acadia.

The folklore of the voyageurs has been much studied, particularly the chansons (songs) they created to help them paddle in unison when canoeing and to build morale. Folksongs and tall tales were part of the festivities at the veillées (evening gatherings) held in habitant communities.[15]

The folklore of French Canada includes some rituals associated with Church holidays. The Temps des fêtes (Candlemas) was long celebrated at the end of the Christmas season in both Quebec and in Acadian communities. Food was central to the celebration. It was traditional to use up the remains of the year's wheat harvest by making crepes or donuts. The round, golden shapes alluded to the sun, the coming of Spring, and the full circle of the annual harvest cycle.[16]

A recent folk tradition that adapts a custom from France is the Tintamarre parade of Acadia, similar to France's Medieval Charivari festivities.

English-Canadian folklore

Early English-Canadian folklore has several points of origin, due to the various settler groups that came to the country from England, Scotland, Ireland, and as Loyalists following the American Revolutionary War. Each group brought their own traditions and created new folklore in their new homeland. In the generations since the early settlers, waves of immigrants have come to Canada from around the world, adding their own folklore to the country's mix.

Oral traditions in Canada mainly have a regional or community-based identity.[17] This has been influenced by Canada's vast geography and early settlement patterns.[18] Folklorists have often focused on specific regional or ethnic communities, as with Helen Creighton's work recording and documenting Nova Scotia sea-songs and ballads, or the many studies of the folklore of Newfoundland.

Atlantic provinces

The music and folklore of Newfoundland's people are influenced by their ancestors, settlers who mainly came from south east Ireland (County Wexford, County Cork) and England (Dorset, Devon).[19] The folk stories of Newfoundland can sometimes be traced back to Ireland and Great Britain, as with the stock character Jack.[20] The retelling of these stories over generations in the isolated Newfoundland outports of the island gave them a "distinctive Newfoundland flavour".[21] As elsewhere where Jack stories are told, the Jack of Newfoundland lore is "lazy or mischievous, but he is nearly always resourceful when faced with adversity", as when he confronts giants or ghosts.[21] Local folk music and Irish folk music remain popular in Newfoundland, as well as throughout the Maritime provinces, where Canadian fiddle music is a recognizable part of the regional culture.

Ghost stories figure prominently in the folklore of the Atlantic provinces. One example is the story of the Dungarvon Whooper, a tale involving a logger from the Dungarvon River near Miramichi, New Brunswick in the 1860s. According to the legend, the logger murdered a camp cook for his money. It has been claimed that eerie screams and howls have been heard in the woods near the Dungarvon River ever since.[22]

Central Canada

Big Joe Mufferaw
A carved wood statue of folk hero Big Joe Mufferaw in Mattawa, Ontario. The character was based on the exploits of lumberjack Joseph Montferrand.

Some popular folklore in Canada involves lore connected with actual historical people, such as the "Black Donnellys", a family from Lucan, Ontario. The family was at the centre of allegations of a crime spree, that ended with a massacre at the hands of a mob. Thomas P. Kelly wrote a popular book on the Black Donnellys in the 1950s, and the story of the family has been retold and fictionalized ever since.[23]

Lumberjack heroes are one genre of Canadian folklore that spread throughout the Great Lakes region. The lumberjack tall tales, some of which later became popular as Paul Bunyan tales, often had French-Canadian origins, but were hugely popular among the itinerant lumberjacks of Ontario and the northern United States as well. Ottawa Valley storytellers transformed a real historical figure, the Quebec lumberjack Joseph Montferrand, into "Joe Muffreau" or "Big Joe Mufferaw". Other lumberjack heroes include Julius Neville, Louis Cyr, and Napoleon La Rue.[24]

Canadian Prairies

Among the later immigrant groups to Canada, the folklore of settlers in the western Canadian Prairies has been much studied. Folklore traditions brought from Central and Eastern Europe have survived in Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Doukhobor, Mennonite, and other communities of the region.[25]

Northern Canada

Folk tales about the adventurers in northern Canada (particularly about the Yukon's Klondike Gold Rush era) provide more examples of folk heroes based on real historical people. These include the stories told about Sam Steele and "Klondike Kate" (Kathleen Rockwell). Verse ballads by poet Robert Service told tall tales about colourful Klondike characters, such as The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew. The poems were partly based on real events and people, but through popular repetition grew into folklore.[26]

See also


  1. ^ Fowke, Edith (1992) [1976]. Folklore of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. p. 8. ISBN 0771032048.
  2. ^ Fowke, Edith (1992) [1976]. Folklore of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. p. 9. ISBN 0771032048.
  3. ^ Vakunta, Peter W. (2011). Indigenization of Language in the African Francophone Novel: A New Literary Canon. Peter Lang. p. 56. ISBN 9781433112713.
  4. ^ Clark, Ella Elizabeth (1987) [1960]. Indian Legends of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. p. x-xi. ISBN 0771021216.
  5. ^ Clark, Ella Elizabeth (1987) [1960]. Indian Legends of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. p. xii-xiii. ISBN 0771021216.
  6. ^ Clark, Ella Elizabeth (1987) [1960]. Indian Legends of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. p. xi. ISBN 0771021216.
  7. ^ Mittal, Nemi Sharan (1993). World-Famous Mythologies. Pustak Mahal. p. 114. ISBN 9788122305487.
  8. ^ Philip, Neil; Philip Wilkinson (2007). Eyewitness Companions: Mythology. Penguin. p. 279. ISBN 9780756642211.
  9. ^ Clark, Ella Elizabeth (1987) [1960]. Indian Legends of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. pp. 44–7. ISBN 0771021216.
  10. ^ Clark, Ella Elizabeth (1987) [1960]. Indian Legends of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. pp. 59, 55, 63. ISBN 0771021216.
  11. ^ Parent, Michael (1996). Of Kings and Fools: Stories of the French Tradition in North America. august house. p. 193. ISBN 9780874834819.
  12. ^ Paul R. Magosci, ed. (1999). Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. University of Toronto Press. p. 391. ISBN 9780802029386.
  13. ^ Dorson, Richard M. (1977). American Folklore. University of Chicago Press. p. 137. ISBN 9780226158594.
  14. ^ Jan Harold Brunvand, ed. (1998). American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 634. ISBN 9781135578787.
  15. ^ Jan Harold Brunvand, ed. (1998). American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 643. ISBN 9781135578787.
  16. ^ Roy, Christian (2005). Traditional Festivals, Vol. 2 [M - Z]: A Multicultural Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 44. ISBN 9781576070895.
  17. ^ Benson, Eugene (2004). Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literature in English. Routledge. p. 518. ISBN 9781134468485.
  18. ^ Forum Mondial UNESCO-OMPI Sur la Protection Du Folklore. UNESCO, World Intellectual Property Organization. 1998. p. 75. ISBN 9789280507553.
  19. ^ Beaty, Bart (2010). Contexts of Canadian Popular Culture. Athabasca University Press. p. 305. ISBN 9781897425596.
  20. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline; Stephen Roud (2000). A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press. p. J. ISBN 9780192100191.
  21. ^ a b Butts, Edward (2010). Ghost Stories of Newfoundland and Labrador. Dundurn. p. 57. ISBN 9781770704695.
  22. ^ Colombo, John Robert (2000). Ghost Stories of Canada. Dundurn. p. 46. ISBN 9780888822222.
  23. ^ Culbert, Terry (2005). Terry Culbert's Lucan: Home of the Donnellys : Linger Longer in Lovely Lucan. GeneralStore PublishingHouse. pp. 55–6. ISBN 9781897113318.
  24. ^ Edmonds, Michael (2010). Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, With More Than 100 Logging Camp Tales. Wisconsin Historical Society. p. 55. ISBN 9780870204715.
  25. ^ Jan Harold Brunvand, ed. (1998). American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 242. ISBN 9781135578787.
  26. ^ Point Park College; Pennsylvania Folklore Society; Lycoming College (1956). "Folklore". Keystone Folklore Quarterly. Simon Bronner. 1–3: 56.

External links

Carlton Trail

The Carlton Trail was the primary land transportation route connecting the various parts of the Canadian Northwest for most of the 19th century. It stretched from the Red River Colony through Fort Ellice and today's Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. From there the trail ran north and crossed the South Saskatchewan River near Batoche, Saskatchewan and reached Fort Carlton on the North Saskatchewan River. From there, it ran west along the northside of the river to Fort Edmonton at what is now Edmonton, Alberta. The distance in total the trail traveled between Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to Upper Fort des Prairies (Edmonton) was approximately 900 miles (1,450 km). Many smaller trails jutted off from the main trail, such as the Fort à la Corne Trail in the Saskatchewan Valley.

Connecting the west, the trail was of great importance during the 19th century as a highway for the inhabitants. Different sections of the trail were known by many different names in different eras, including The Company, Saskatchewan, Fort Ellice Trail, Winnipeg Trail, Edmonton Trail, and Victoria Trail. It is said that if one were to travel the Carlton Trail by Red River Ox Cart it would take about two months.

The main mode of transport along the trail was by horse-drawn Red River Cart. It was an integral route for Métis freighters, and Hudson's Bay Company employees as well as the earliest white settlers. With the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1880s across the southern Prairies, and the numerous branch lines that followed, such as the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, the trail assumed decreased importance. By the early 1900s many portions of its length had been fenced off, although local sections of the trail remain in use to this day.

The use of the trail was designated an Event of National Historic Significance in 1972.


La Chasse-galerie also known as "The Bewitched Canoe" or "The Flying Canoe" is a popular French-Canadian tale of Coureurs des bois who make a deal with the devil, a variant of the Wild Hunt. Its best-known version was written by Honoré Beaugrand (1848–1906). It was published in The Century Magazine in August 1892.

Coureur des bois

A coureur des bois (French pronunciation: ​[kuʁœʁ de bwa]) or coureur de bois (French pronunciation: ​[kuʁœʁ də bwa]; "runner of the woods"; plural: coureurs de bois) was an independent entrepreneurial French-Canadian trader who traveled in New France and the interior of North America, usually to trade with First Nations peoples by exchanging various European items for furs. Some learned the trades and practices of the Native people.

These expeditions were part of the beginning of the fur trade in the North American interior. Initially they traded for beaver coats but, as the market grew, coureurs de bois were trapping and trading prime beavers whose skins were to be felted in Europe.


In Canadian folklore, Cressie is an eel-like lake monster said to reside in Crescent Lake, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Forbidden Plateau

The Forbidden Plateau is a small, hilly plateau in the east of the Vancouver Island Ranges in British Columbia, northwest of Comox Lake roughly between Mount Albert Edward to the southwest and Mount Washington to the northeast. The gently sloping sub-alpine terrain is broken by small, rugged hills and pitted with small lakes. Much of it is contained within Strathcona Provincial Park, and a network of trails facilitate hiking, cross country skiing, and access to Mount Albert Edward. A sub-alpine meadow on Mount Beecher in the southwest corner of the plateau is the only site in Canada of the Olympic onion (Allium crenulatum). It was the epicentre of the 1946 Vancouver Island earthquake that registered 7.3 on the Richter magnitude scale, the strongest ever recorded on land in Canada.


In Canadian folklore, the Igopogo is a creature said to dwell in Lake Simcoe, Ontario. The creature's name is ostensibly based on the Ogopogo, of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, and also the title 1952 book I Go Pogo, a slogan often mentioned in the comic. It is also called "Kempenfelt Kelly" after the bay that extends from the lake into the city of Barrie, Ontario. While many scientists disagree with its existence, the tribe continues to be loyal to the Igopogo.

Johnny Canuck

Johnny Canuck is a Canadian cartoon hero and superhero who was created as a political cartoon in 1869 and was later re-invented, most notably as a Second World War action hero in 1942. The Vancouver Canucks, a professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL), currently use a lumberjack rendition of Johnny Canuck as one of their team logos.

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls is a waterfall on the Kaministiquia River, located beside the village of Kakabeka Falls in the municipality of Oliver Paipoonge, Ontario, 30 km (19 mi) west of the city of Thunder Bay.

The falls have a drop of 40 m (130 ft), cascading into a gorge carved out of the Precambrian Shield by meltwater following the last glacial maximum. Because of its size and ease of access, it has been consequently nicknamed "the Niagara of the North".

The rock face of the falls and the escarpments along the gorge are composed primarily of unstable shale, and are eroding. These rocks host sensitive flora, and contain some of the oldest fossils in existence, some 1.6 billion years of age. Due to the fragile rock, going into the gorge below the falls is prohibited.The name "Kakabeka" comes from the Ojibwe word gakaabikaa "waterfall over a cliff" (French pronunciation: ​[ˈɡəkaːˈbɪkaː][help]).

List of reportedly haunted locations in Canada

This is a list of locations in Canada which are reported to be haunted. Many have been featured by television programs such as Creepy Canada, The Girly Ghosthunters and Mystery Hunters. It is in alphabetical order by province or territory, then by the name of the location.


In Canadian folklore, Memphre is a lake monster said to live in Lake Memphremagog, Quebec, Canada.


In Canadian folklore, Mussie is a creature said to live in Muskrat Lake in the Canadian province of Ontario. It is variously described, for example, as a walrus or as a three-eyed Loch Ness Monster-like creature.

The legend of Mussie likely began around 1916, though legend claims that Canadian pioneer Samuel de Champlain wrote about it in the early seventeenth century. Despite the futility of numerous attempts to locate or capture Mussie, it has become a part of the local culture and a fixture in the local tourism industry.

Northern (genre)

The Northern or Northwestern is a genre in various arts that tell stories set primarily in the later half of the 19th century in the north of North America, primarily in Canada but also in Alaska. It is similar to the Western genre, but many elements are different, as appropriate to its setting. It is common for the central character to be a Mountie instead of a cowboy or sheriff. Other common characters include fur trappers and traders, lumberjacks, prospectors, First Nations people, settlers, and townsfolk.

International interest in the region and the genre was fuelled by the Klondike Gold Rush (1896–99) and subsequent works surrounding it, fiction and non-fiction. The genre was extremely popular in the interwar years of the 20th century. Northerns are still produced, but popularity waned in the late 1950s.


In Canadian folklore, Ogopogo or Naitaka (Salish: n'ha-a-itk, "spirit of the lake") is a lake monster reported to live in Okanagan Lake, in British Columbia, Canada. The most common description of Ogopogo is a 40 to 50-foot-long (12 to 15 m) sea serpent resembling an extinct Basilosaurus or Mosasaurus. Ogopogo has been allegedly seen by First Nations people since the 19th century. According to skeptical author Benjamin Radford, "[the First Nations stories] were not referring to a literal lake monster like Ogopogo, but instead to a legendary water spirit. Though the supernatural N'ha-a-itk of the Okanagan Valley Indians is long gone, a decidedly less fearsome — and more biological — beast, whose exact form is a matter of debate, has replaced it.".

Peter Easton

Peter Easton (c. 1570 – 1620 or after) was a pirate in the early 17th century who operated along the Newfoundland coastline between Harbour Grace and Ferryland from 1611 to 1614. Perhaps one of the most successful of all pirates. He controlled such seapower that no sovereign or state could afford to ignore him and he was never overtaken or captured by any fleet commissioned to hunt him down. However, he is not as well known as some of the pirates from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Rabbit's foot

In some cultures, the foot of a rabbit is carried as an amulet believed to bring good luck. This belief is held by individuals in a great number of places around the world, including Europe, China, Africa, and North and South America. In variations of this superstition, the donor rabbit must possess certain attributes, have been killed in a particular place, killed by a particular method, or by a person possessing particular attributes (e.g., by a cross-eyed man).


Slumach who died on the gallows in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, in 1891 was an elderly Katzie First Nations man. Baptized moments before his death he was given the first name "Peter", a name never used in his lifetime. His unmarked grave is in St. Peter's Cemetery in Sapperton. He is remembered today because of his alleged knowledge of the location of the Pitt Lake gold deposit that is often referred to as "Slumach's Gold."

Tall tale

A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some stories such as these are exaggerations of actual events, for example fish stories ("the fish that got away") such as, "That fish was so big, why I tell ya', it nearly sank the boat when I pulled it in!" Other tall tales are completely fictional tales set in a familiar setting, such as the European countryside, the American frontier, the Canadian Northwest, or the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Things are often told in a way that makes the narrator seem to have been a part of the story, and are good-natured. The line between legends and tall tales is distinguished primarily by age; many legends exaggerate the exploits of their heroes, but in tall tales the exaggeration looms large, to the extent of becoming the whole of the story.

Thetis Lake Monster

The Thetis Lake Monster is a legendary creature and admitted hoax of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. In 1972, two teenage boys claimed to see a monster emerge from Thetis Lake beach. The description of the creature that the teenagers gave matched the description of the Gill-man from the 1954 movie Creature from the Black Lagoon.


In Algonquian folklore, the wendigo () or windigo (also wetiko) is a mythical man-eating creature or evil spirit native to the northern forests of the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of the United States and Canada. The wendigo may appear as a monster with some characteristics of a human or as a spirit who has possessed a human being and made them become monstrous. It is historically associated with murder, insatiable greed, and the cultural taboos against such behaviours.The legend lends its name to the controversial modern medical term Wendigo psychosis, described by psychiatrists as a culture-bound syndrome with symptoms such as an intense craving for human flesh and fear of becoming a cannibal. In some Indigenous communities, environmental destruction and insatiable greed are also seen as a manifestation of Wendigo psychosis.

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