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Romantic Canada
Chapter XVIII Woodcarving

MAKING things out of wood" seems to be a "gift" with the Quebecquois. But wood-carving is not confined to Quebec, although possibly it occurs more generally in that Province than in any other.

All Canada sponsors "woodcarving" in her sons, because of the generous supply of wood everywhere, with the exception of the Prairie Provinces. And even these may easily obtain it from their generous sister Provinces East and West.

Down Nova Scotia way a man seems to concentrate better if he has a bit of wood in hand to whittle. And as his thoughts are concerned more or less with the sea; almost without thinking the bit of wood in his hand becomes a little model of a boat or a schooner, an oar, or a miniature mast. The wooden-ship was cradled in the fingers of these old-timers. Her spars may have been contributed by British Columbia, but what of that. Is not British Columbia, Canada's Maritimer, too? So it is, from coast to coast.

Quebec's carving is of a more domestic nature. M'sieu builds a house, a little maison with "lines", mais oui. In his conception and execution, there is a certain deftness purely French. He carves some original design in the piece of wood over window and door-frame, pointing and panelling it to fancy, and afterwards painting it some pretty colour—strong reds, blues and yellows— striking a bizarre harmony, attractive enough; especially when Madame puts a piece of Royal-blue wall-paper, sprinkled with gold fleur-de-lys inside the windows as shade.

Down the north shore of the Saint Lawrence one meets little girls hugging in their arms long sticks of firewood, which ingenious grandpere has carved into "dolls", life-size; and to which he has nailed shapely arms, terminating in rather wooden hands.

The face has been made more life-like with a touch of paint, carried out in the hands too, if there happened to be enough to go round. There are no elbow-joints, but the arms turn at the shoulders most ingeniously on the old nail. And the child who possesses such as one among dolls, always wears a happy smile on the little, frank, French face of her, as she totes the heavy stick across the grain-field-path, the waving ears almost higher than her head and she the envy of every other child in the village.

For the boy, there is the toy-boat, or the miniature warship, from the same source—the rough log from the woodpile. . . . . When M'sieu throws the axe over his shoulder and goes off into the woods to cut firewood invariably he returns with some old root that has struck his fancy and in which he sees a latent "figure" of some sort. So, up on the highland road to Murray Bay one happens on many a farmer who whittles pipe-bowls from the little roots; and on the Lowland road before it becomes highland the big root resembling a moose's head, is the prop of many a stack of firewood.

Everywhere there is the universal, homemade, wooden Cross and the handcarved symbol of the Crucifixion standing by all roads.

Every graveyard in Quebec, whether it be in the Laurentides section, clear against the sky with the Saint Lawrence a panorama at its feet, or whether it be some Indian graveyard, boasts its handcarved wooden head-and-foot pieces and, of course, the big central wooden cross.

These wooden memorials of the graveyard are frequently very artistic. The figure of an Angel in silhouette and life-size, with shoes and stockings, encountered in one cemetery, appears especially adapted to the Paradis it would have the passing world remember. Somewhere in that district there lives a man with the instinct of the sculptor; yet he works in wood. And the pity of wood is that it is so very perishable. In a year or two at most, the elements take these wooden memorials in hand to their destruction, and that is the reason stone is now almost universally taking the place of these old-timers.

But to return to the houses! Much of the furniture of the farmhouse is handmade. Tables, with sliding tops, which allow the table to be converted into a comfortable chair, are the pride of many a habitant housewife. And, of course, there are the loom and the spinning-wheel, with its accompanying shuttles and bobbins, all handmade.

But this woodcarving is an art that, though so common in Quebec, recognizes no Provincial limitations; and so for the climax of profane carving as against the religious subjects, say, of Monsieur Jobin, we must go down into New Brunswick and interview Rogerson the master Figure-head carver of Saint John.

Rogerson is a Scotchman. As you look into his keen blue eyes it is difficult to realize that eighty-three years have intervened since he first saw the light of day. He came to Canada in one of the old sailing ships that held the Atlantic passenger trade 'tween-decks seventy years ago. One of the sweetest word-pictures ever listened to, Rogerson sketched, of his old mother cooking their meals on deck in the brick fire-place included in the culinary appointments of the Atlantic trip in those days. Soon after his arrival in Canada his father died, and he was apprenticed to an uncle, a master figurehead carver of Saint John, about 1850. Figuring it out, it would seem that for a hundred years at least, there have been figurehead carvers of this one family in the old city of Saint John, that, with Halifax, is Canada's Twin-Gate to the Atlantic.

When Rogerson had completed his time as an apprentice and worked awhile with his uncle, "he felt", to use his own words, "that he was repeating himself." So he gathered up his tools and went off with them over his shoulder to Boston, much as any ambitious art-student, whatever his chosen medium, hies him to Paris. Boston, in those days, was the centre of the sailing-ship trade in America. "Out o' Boston" sailed the "clippers" in the China trade. Rogerson tells how at evening, after his day's work was done, he used to go along the docks from ship to ship studying "The Figure on the Bow." And he tells, too, how he worked for first one leading firm and then another of the master figurehead carvers of old Boston till he himself presently stood in the first ranks, able to turn out any figure on demand in red-hot time. "Skippers couldn't wait in those days", he adds. And even as he talks you see that his memory has reverted to the time when "sails" must need jump when winds and tide beckoned." Then having learned all that he could in Boston, he returned with high hopes and the skill and confidence of the "Master-Carver" in his fingers, to the business-opening he recognized in Saint John, with all the new ships a-building on Bay of Fundy "ways", at Parrsboro, Windsor, Hantsport aid, who knows how many more of the old bay's outports.

And now he follows with such a list of Figureheads, as seems incredible, until one recalls Rogerson's long span of life, and that he worked "in red-hot time." Among those standing to the credit of this Saint John carver "The Highland Laddie", "The British Lion", "Ingomar", "Governor Tilley", "The Sailor Boy", "Honolulu", and "Lalla Rookh," held high place. About each, Rogerson relates some interesting legend. Of his "Sailor Boy" he tells how a man came into his shop some years after it was carved and told him he had a rival carver somewhere—that "there was a ship out in the harbour with the finest figurehead on it he had ever seen!" This haunted him so, that next day he closed the shop, got a boat and rowed out to the vessel. On coming round her bow, there, above the waves and himself, stood his own figurehead!

Of "The British Lion", he says, "It was a rouser!"

The ship that bore Governor Tilley at the bow had a long and successful career, but was at last wrecked on the Norwegian coast. Through one of those mysterious channels of Marine Intelligence, that sailors on the waterfront know, Mr. Rogerson learned that though the ship was a total wreck the figurehead was salvaged, and that his "Governor Tilley" now stands in a Museum in Nor- way; and Rogerson thinks that it should be brought back to Saint John.

The "Lalla Rookh" he had not seen since it left his hand to sail forth upon the high seas till we showed him a photograph of it obtained while the ship, at whose bow it stood, loaded deal at West Bay, near Parrsboro, for the trenches of France. To think it was so near and yet this old carver did not see it! Yet it pleased his old heart to know that "she" was still afloat and carrying-on in the hazardous runs across the Atlantic, with only sails and the courageous spirit symbolized by the figure on the bow to aid her against enemy submarines—submarines, the last word in sea-craft. It was on the "Lalla Rookh" that Frank T. Bullen served his ap\prenticeship as sailor.

Of the "Ingomar" Rogerson says: "I always think it was my finest piece of work. Strange to say," he continues "I have no photograph or even rough sketch of it. It was to be, I suppose, for the ship that bore it was wrecked near here in the Bay. I went out to see the figurehead and found it had escaped damage and I made every arrangement to return and take it off; but the very next day a gale of wind came up and when the gale abated not a vestige of my figurehead remained."

"Old-timers among ship-owners had fads for names", Rogerson says. "Sometimes it ran to Indians, sometimes to mythological figures, sometimes to reigning sovereigns; at other times to their own wives or daughters, or to some popular man about town, or to a popular governor, etc." Among his Indian figure-heads he recalled "The Indian Chief", "The Indian Queen", "Pocahontas", "Hiawatha".

When fancy ran to the name of the ship-owner's wife or to those of well-known persons, the figurehead carver worked from a favourite photograph, so that some old figureheads of this type are in fact sculptured figures of the people themselves, people who in most instances have long since passed away. The "Governor Tilley" figurehead is a case in point and Rogerson is right in saying it belongs to New Brunswick rather than to Norway.

Rogerson's last piece of work was a labour of love. Not many years ago he took a trip to Scotland to see the place of his birth and to revisit the scenes of his early childhood. While in Scotland he collected, here and there, a number of pieces of fine woods from old historic buildings, etc., and these he brought back to Saint John, where in his leisure moments he designed and carved therefrom a beautiful chair, which he presented to the Saint Andrew's Society, in whose assembly-rooms it now stands.

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