GENOT “WINTER ELK” PICOR for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
For our special “Heritage Day edition” of The Storykeepers Project, storyteller, musician, and folklorist Genot Picor has shared with us the story of the ‘Haunted Sugar Cabin.’ Few things evoke French Canadian culture as readily as maple syrup…except for perhaps a good folktale involving spirits and visions in the night! It was a long winter in the thinly populated lands of New France. Many are the tales that our ancestors wove in the night, and happy are we who have inherited them.—ed.
La Légende de la Cabine Hantée de Sucre
(The Legend of the Haunted Sugar Cabin)
As told by Genot “Winter Elk” Picor
In the settlement at Sault Ste. Marie lived a man named Louis. He had the reputation of making the best maple syrup in all of the Superior range. Every spring, he would gather his supplies and journey into the forest for nearly a month, tapping the sugar maples for their sap. Louis was an expert at choosing the best trees to tap. He knew exactly how long the watery sap needed to boil, before it became think and sweet. Louis had been practicing the art of syrup making for over ten years and had made a small fortune selling bottles of the delicacy.
The cabin in which Louis worked every spring was owned by an old widow named Mrs. Fontaineau. He had promised to pay her rent for using the cabin, but he hadn’t done so in seven years.
But there was an inconsiderate, greedy side to Louis. He gradually stopped asking for permission to use the cabin at the beginning of each season. When Mrs. Fontaineau asked for the money she was owed, Louis said he would pay her at the end of the season, but he never did. He was so believable and genuine. The kindly Mrs. Fontaineau never confronted him over the matter, even though she desperately needed the money.
When Louis arrived at the cabin, the sun had almost set. The front door was not completely shut, but the sweet aroma of maple sugar still lingered in the air. He spread his supplies out on the floor and on a table and began to prepare a fire to keep warm. But no sooner had the fire in the hearth began glow, a strange sound could be heard in cabin.
Louis sprang out into the early night, looking for someone who might be playing a joke on him, but the area surrounding the cabin was deserted.
“I must be imagining things,” said Louis, and he returned to his work. But once again, as soon as the fire started to glow, the strange sound returned.
This time, Louis grabbed his fusil and bolted from the door and waving the firearm wildly in the air. He shouted “Enough! I’m a busy man. Stop taking me from my work!” All Louis could hear was the wind in the trees.
He paused for a moment and thought, “Could this be the ghost of Mr. Fontaineau coming back to haunt me for the money I owe?” Louis chuckled and reassured himself that kind of thinking was nonsense.
Louis returned once again to the cabin. A dim amber glow barely filled the cabin. He breathed a deep sigh and lit his pipe for a relaxing smoke. But as he reclined on a soft bed, he noticed something perched above him with huge glowing eyes staring back at him.
Louis leaped from the bed, the hair on his back standing straight up!
“It’s the ghost of Mr. Fontaineau!” he shouted.
He darted out of the cabin as fast as he could.
“I know what to do to not be haunted by that ghost!”
It was a short distance back to the settlement, but Louis knew what his mission must be. As he ran, a cold spring shower drenched him to the bone. Arriving at the humble home of Mrs. Fontaineau, he pounded on the door for entrance and visitation.
He nearly barreled Mrs. Fontaineau to the floor as he fell to his knees, wailing, wrapping his arms around her ankles.
“Please Mrs. Fontaineau, forgive me. I’ve been so selfish and cruel,” heaved Louis. “I need to cleanse my conscience and pay you what I owe.”
Reaching into his belt and pinching out coin after coin, he paid her for every season which she was owed and even paid for two seasons in advance. As a token of his penance, he promised to give her three of his finest bottles of maple syrup.
Puzzled, but surprised, the kindly Mrs. Fontaineau forgave Louis and offered that he spend the night, which Louis accepted. She gave him dry clothes and some stew. For the remainder of the night, Louis sat huddled in front of her warm hearth wrapped in a blanket. In the morning, refreshed and with a clear conscience, he returned to the sugar cabin.
But as he approached the front door, he could hear a strange fluttering sound from within. Had the ghost never left? Louis slowly opened the creaky, wooden door, and there, perched on a rafter was the cause of all his trouble. It seems an owl had found its way into the cabin. Holding the door open, the bird flew away, and was never seen again.
And what is the moral of the story? Maple syrup may be sweet, but there is nothing sweeter than a clear conscience.