Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Romantic Canada
Chapter XV M. Jobin

HOW constantly experience reminds us that in the overwhelming presence of outstanding natural scenery. world events and great men, we are apt to completely lose sight of equally beautiful, though perhaps less magnificent scenery, events only a little less momentous and of many men, who except for the tedious bugbear of comparison, would be great in our sight, being truly great in themselves.

Personally our eyes were thus opened only a few summers ago at Saint Anne de Beaupre. For weeks our attention had been completely absorbed by the beautiful Basilica, its surrounding grounds, monasteries and convents. We desired above all to see a miracle, and to this end haunted the quaint church, stepping in to the beautiful garden whenever inclination suggested. Again and again we strolled along the hill-climbing woodsy road of "The Stations of the Cross", the spreading maple trees overhead, the river in a flowing vista before.

Most of all we were interested in the pilgrims, individually no less than in the pilgrimages as a whole. At Saint Anne's it is the pilgrim who furnishes a fascinating round of human interest, against a background of the church aglow with festive lighting from hundreds of electric bulbs, and the glowing, beckoning, flickering flame of thousands of red and green votive candles.

Then, one morning, something prompted us to turn our wandering footsteps toward the opposite end of the town away from the church. And there, in a plain old workshop, we experienced our awakening, the miracle we had been waiting to see—a miracle in Art rather than in healing. And yet, are not the two one?

As we climbed the road up the hill past Madame Giguere's Pension, we were at once surprised and attracted by a life-sized figure of Napoleon Bonaparte occupying one of the roofs ahead.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Saint Anne de Beaupre? Can greater contrast be imagined than the realism of Napoleon and the realm of the spiritual out of which we had just emerged? Yet it was no mirage. There he stood, life-sized. After a moment of doubt we knew it must be some woodcarver's "Sign". For we recognized at sight that this "Napoleon" was some old "Figurehead" from a ship, "stranded here" as it were in this Old-World village of French Canada.

We could scarcely wait to meet the old Carver. Already we imagined him old. And—charming.

The figurehead proclaimed that he belonged heart and soul to the age of the sailing-ship. Therefore, we knew beforehand that we should find as the French say, Un Garactere. So we hurried and turned in down some steps and knocked at the door of the old shop.

In answer, there came to the door a little, almost aesthetic-looking old man with a sweet smile and an equally sweet voice. He stood a moment looking at us and at our camera, entering as if by intuition into our enthusiasm. Then he bade us, in a charming manner, combination of the sweetness of old age and courteous French, "Entree, entree!"

That was our first glimpse of Louis Jobin, whom we have since come to regard as "The Dean of Canadian Religious-figure Wood-carvers"—a man possessed of so sweet and simple a nature that he approaches easily and naturally, the carving of Christ on the Cross.

The little shop in its simplicity is just the place one might expect to find Jobin working in. Everything in it falls behind its master—not a single offending note. There is a wooden thumb to hold his hat. Everywhere on the walls bits of carving—models and patterns—an old trumpet, a cherub's head, an angel's wing. On the floor the old stove for heating, the tool-bench and the figure or figures on which he happens to be at work.

Jobin found for us one chair and that curious movable bench with legs resembling a colt's, known in the trades as a "carpenter's horse". I sat the "horse" and never has one carried me into more enchanted country.

Jobin made us feel at home at once, continuing his work and chatting at the same time. There is about the man and his shop a sweet restful spirit of repose, as if no vaulting ambition had ever here o'erleaped itself to fall on the other side.

I cannot recall all that we talked about that first morning. I remember it rather as the occasion on which Jobin invited us to come in again whenever we felt inclined. It lingers as the morning on which we discovered that now rare nook "a woodcarver's studio".

It is no little thing to have such a door open to one in these days of hurry—a little shop full of the spell of Holy Figures, here and there, and about the door.

The acquaintance with Jobin has now extended over several summers and in that time we have learned from this old Canadian woodcarver's lips many a legend of the Saints, legends that have none of the usual cut-and-dried wording of a book as they are told by this old man of Quebec, but all the vitality and realism which only one having working knowledge of them for a lifetime can give.

Monsieur Jobin, in point of years far up in the seventies, gives Saint Raymond as his birthplace but says that he spent much of his boyhood at Point aux Trembles above Quebec.

His answer to an inquiry if he carved or whittled much when a youngster, proved him a man of humour. "O, oui! I cut up all my father's firewood into something or other." Smiling at the recollection of those days he paused and raised himself chisel in hand. "There was a good deal of wood in my figures then. Their bodies were—what you call?—clumsy." "Clumsy?" "Yes?"

But these early attempts were evidently of sufficient merit to determine his parents as to a trade for him. They apprenticed Louis to the woodcarver's trade under M. Francois Xavier Berlingeret, a master carver of the city, of the generation before Jobin, so that Jobin represents in direct line a century of Canadian wood-carving. Jobin served three years. "Religious figures?" we inquired. "Oh, no. All sorts of carving with M'sieu Berlingeret. Some religious figures too, but in those days it was mostly 'figureheads'." Big wooden ships were everywhere.

"You know the figurehead?" He seemed very happy when we answered affirmatively. As his mind turned back to those days there came into his eye all the light and fire of an artist recalling some old masterpiece.

His apprenticeship to Monsieur Berlingeret over, Jobin set out for New York "to finish". In New York he worked for a year with Mr. Bolton, "John Bolton, an Englishman located at St. John Street, Battery Place".

The mere mention of those New York days recalls to mind old haunts and famous old "figureheads" and carvers of Gotham. It was all "downtown" in those days,—"Battery Place" and "Castle Garden". Then naturally followed talk of this carver and that, of this and that old sea-rover among the wind-jammers coming in and sailing out of New York fifty years ago.

It requires little imagination for us to be able to see this young French-Canadian artist in wood passing from one to another of these ships, searching with his artist's eye for fine specimens of the figurehead-carver's art on the bows. It was m reality like a momine spent in a Cosmopolitan Gallery wherein the work of artists from many lands appeared-here, a Scotchman there a Dane here a Norwegian, there a Nova Scotian. And when the latter, it was like happening suddenly upon "an old friend from home"/

When the year in New York ended, back came Jobin to Montreal And from that day to this he has never left Canada but has given every day of his life-work to her. Canada reared him and with the exception of that brief year in New York she can claim him and his work.

It is somewhat in the nature of a revelation that there should have been and that there continues to be, enough trade and demand for wooden figures to have kept this old carver busy for a time. Wood carving is one of the oldest Arts under the sun and the fact that woodcarving is so widely appreciated in Canada and the United States that a few of these old artists are in their shops every day regularly, keeping steadily at the bench from morning until night every day of the working week, year in and year out reveals a phase of the national life and taste which cannot but fill many who deemed the day of the wooden figure a thing of the past, with surprise. here . the venerable figure of Louis Jobin bending over an angel-a tiny gouge in his old fingers slithering lightly here and there, "bringing out" just a little more each time the spirit, which, when all is finished, speaks out to the forgetfulness of the medium.

The regularity with which order, come in, no less than the air of the shop itself gives one even stronger assurance that when Jobin had passed to the Land o' the Leal his mantle will fall to many a successor, provided the carver of future generations puts out work to the standard of this old artist of St. Anne's.

Jobin belongs to a long line of woodcarvers whose genius has given the wooden figure a sure niche m the heart of Canada as long as there shall be saint or legend left.

The establishment of Jobin in Montreal after hsi return from New York extended over a period of five or six years. Making figureheads there for Captain McNeil, he recalls that one was the "Chief Angus".

With a sweep of the arm. Jobin makes you see that proud hull-those royal-yards sweeping down the Saint Lawrence under the leadership of the spirited figure of the old Chief on the bow, leading one of the clan to victory on the high seas, and the ports of the world. Then the Frenchman speaks, and he recalls the figures of an "Avoqat", for a gentleman of the legal profession." He re- calls that it stood opposite the Court House on the Rue Notre Dame in Montreal. No doubt many an old Montrealler recalls this landmark of Notre Dame.

Jobin's work in Montreal lasted as long as sails on the high seas created a demand for figureheads, and as long as the Red Indian with his calumet idled the day outside the Tobacconist shops. But steam blasted the growth and life of sails, and paper signs and bill-boards did away with the Indians except in Old Quebec city where the Red Man is still to be seen on Saint Jean Street.

Only then, in the lean years that followed these changes, did Jobin move to Quebec—the home-city of sacred "figures", and be- gin what turned out to be his forte and life-work,—the carving of religious figures.

He tells how he had a shop first in Quebec City. But from Quebec out to the quiet shop in the little town of Saint Anne de Beaupre was for a man of Jobin's feeling a short and natural step. At last his barque had come from the busy marts of the New York waterfront into this quiet little haven, whose main street has at one and this little shop and at the other la Basilica, Mecca of a continent

Every evening at the close of the day's work the striking figure of the old carver may be seen on the street of Saint Anne's wending his way to Benediction. And, however numerous the pilgrims, his is one of the figures to be remembered—a benediction in its sweet humility.

Jobin has been an indefatigable worker. In his day the number of figures carved by his hand is almost incredible. The very mechanical part must have occupied more than a lifetime of a man less talented and sure of every stroke. He talked of one figure after another so rapidly that track of all could not be kept. Yet not one of his figures seen could in any sense of the word be termed "mechanical"; rather, he was able to work quickly because his every stroke ran true.

There is, of course, a difference in his work, depending on the ultimate position to be occupied by the figure. Those to stand out of doors on an eminence, or on the roof of some church to be viewed from a distance, are executed in big broad touches of the chisel. Detail would be lost if indeed it did not spoil in such instances. But the figure to stand in some church, and to be closely approached by a supplicant, lacks nothing in detail of line that would express the fine nature and understanding of the saint that is symbolized.

All of Jobin's work, whether Saint or otherwise, has about it a distinctly individual touch, so that once you are familiar with his work you are able to see a figure for the first time and say at once whether it is a Jobin or not.

Since our first acquaintance with Monsieur we have happened on many a "figure" of his. And nothing affords us greater pleasure than to come on one at some unexpected place and moment. These we recall to Monsieur on the occasion of a next visit. And how it delights the old man to hear of these, his "art-children", whom he never expected to hear from more.

It pleased him that we should recognize the Province of Quebec as his Gallery and go along her highways and byways with art eye open for his figures.

It was during one of these conversations that he let fall that he carved the figure of "The Blessed Virgin" on the top of Trinity Cap on the far-famtd Saguenay. Jobin gives the dimensions as twenty-five feet in height and says that around the head of Mary he carved twelve stars. He carved it in 1880 or just forty-two years ago, long before many who now view it were born. Many have wondered why the figure on this cape, twin with Cape Eternity on this scenic river of eastern Canada? Here is the reason from the carver's lips. A gentleman out driving was in a run-away accident The carriage was thrown over a very steep cliff but almost by a miracle he was pitched to safety as the voiture went down. He wished to erect a memento of his wonderful escape and as the accident had been over a cliff, he conceived the idea of having an heroic figure of the Blessed Virgin erected on the beautiful and beetling Cap Trinite. .

From the Blessed Virgin to Neptune seems indeed a tar call. Yet it was mention of this figure which recalled to Jobin's memory that about the same time he did this he also carved the figure of Neptune to stand on the old hotel of that name on Mountain-Hill Street near South Matelot, in Quebec.

The student of history, abroad in Quebec, is familiar with the old carved-wood figure of General Wolfe, now sacredly preserved, after an escapade to the West Indies, in the library of the Historical Society of Quebec. But few there be who know that Jobin carved the substitute which fills in the niche in the old house on the street corner, and that it is thanks to Jobin that Wolfe still mounts guard on the corner of Rue Saint Jean. A new interest must cling to this old scarlet-coated figure of the General whose romantic boat-ride down the river to attack the city in the rear gave Quebec to the Empire. It is said that a condition of an old will provides that a figure of Wolfe must always stand in this niche in the old house facing the street, so that the passing world may never forget how much it owes to Wolfe.

Jobin's work of carving sacred figures either for use in churches, in cemeteries, in church or monastery gardens, or as crosses and calvaires by the roadside, has been deeply appreciated. For some churches he has carved practically every figure in use.

For l'eglise at Saint Henri, he says he has carved as many as thirty-two figures in all; for the church at Riviere de Loup, seventeen; for the church at Saint Foye, three—the Blessed Virgin, Christ on the Cross and The Sacred Heart.

As Jobin told of the Saint Foye "figures" he rasped the wood of a new figure growing under his hand. He paused in his work as he recalled "That church was burned, but my figures they. . . ." No word completed the sentence but the rasp went up in a dramatic sweep to indicate the high standing figures escaping the flames.

Of the roadside calvaires carved by Jobin, one at Beaumont is a good example. Another stands at Visitation. The latter is a new one erected last summer. Although much of Jobin's work is bought in the Province of Quebec, orders are constantly coming to the old carver of Saint Anne's from other parts of Canada. And many a figure in the United States attests to his skill as woodcarver.

It is one of the interesting incidents of the Jobin figures that, before sending them out in the world, they are taken down to the Basilica to be "blessed".

We have seen a pious .pilgrim kiss the hand of one of these waiting figures,—taking it for one of the regular figures of the Basilica garden. This incident is a tribute to the quality of soul attained by Jobin in his work.

Luck indeed attends the pilgrim to Saint Anne's who happens there at the "Blessing" of one of these figures.- For picturesqueness in ceremony it has few equals—the figure on the grass under the trees, the priest in his robe, holy-water in hand, generously be-sprinkling, as it were, this Soul of the Woods.

The Basilica garden at Saint Anne's is rich in Jobin "figures" The large gilded figure that stood on the roof was, however, not one of his, though the little Saint Anne in the old church, he says, is.

Last winter he was at work on a new figure for the fountain in the yard to be given to Saint Anne's by a wealthy American.

The weather has always stood in the way of the popularity of the wooden figure. Jobin now sheathes his figures that are to stand in the open.

If some such measure had only been used in early days, how much richer in figures would Canada be. Many of her old-timers, some of them brought over from France by early pioneers have been completely lost through wind and weather.

Wealthy societies and churches with a taste for gold often have had Jobin completely overlay the entire figure with gold-leaf. Mr. Jobin's nephew is the shop's operator in laying on the leaf. This too is a most interesting process, and the little shop offers as it were "a double bill" on the mornings when in addition to Jobin carving, the nephew is also at work gilding a finished angel or saint.

Part of the charm of mornings in the Jobin shop is the almost constantly changing subjects on which he is at work. Sometimes he chisels away on a Saint Anne, sometimes on the face or flow- ing robes of the blessed Vierge; at other times a triumphant angel with a trumpet, or a petitioning angel with folded wings, humbly kneeling.

One morning we dropped in to find him at work on an heroic-sized Christ-figure on the Cross. It was like coming on the old carver at his devotions. An holy silence pervaded the little shop. We dropped into the chair and upon the horse as silently as into a pew in church. Jobin carved by inspiration. No model stood in sight. Further, this old man of three-score, carved as one who has seen the Master very close and feels no need of outward suggestion. So the Old Masters must have painted, one thinks.

After a while, Jobin, resting, talked a little, quite easily. Then he began to work again continuing to speak now and then. The chisel gouged lightly back and forth and then with one of his worn hands he brushed away the shavings and critically eyed his work on the Face, to see if it told in its lines, so far as wood, or paint or marble, can, its Love, its wonderful Patience and its Strength.

As we sat watching in the quiet of that old shop, it was impossible to tell which spoke the more directly, the Figure as it slowly came to perfection or the childlike figure of the old Master-Carver bending so gently over the image of the Lord.

Not one, but several mornings, we came to watch. And as we watched and listened to the quiet voice of this old Quebec-carver, now nearing the end, it was in our heart to wish that all Canada could step over the threshold to witness this strange scene, wherein one of her forest trees in the hand of one of her talented sons, is metamorphosed from a tree into the Figure of the Saviour of the World.

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.