Comptes rendusReviews

Catherine Ferland. Bacchus en Canada. Boissons, buveurs et ivresses en Nouvelle-France. (Québec, Les editions du Septentrion, 2010. Pp 9-413, ISBN 978-2-89448-603-0)[Notice]

  • Genia Boivin

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  • Genia Boivin
    University of Alberta

There are cultural activities that are so integrated in the ‘natural and ordinary’ path of life that one does not even notice them anymore. Yet these activities are to be much more complex than they first appear. Drinking is one of them. On one hand, drinking carries strong negative associations. Abuse and loss of control is connected with alcoholism. Some religious and cultural groups condemn it entirely. On the other hand, in other cultural and religious groups, such as New France’s French-Canadians, it occupies an important social place. Drinking in New France’s 17th and 18th centuries had physical, social and spiritual functions, which makes it an important cultural element. First, drinking was an important aspect of eating with the family. In addition, it was seen as preventing some diseases and helping curing others. (14) Socially, drinking was associated with the idea of conviviality. Set in a specific prescribed social frame, it promoted a certain feeling of belonging as drinking together demonstrated you shared similar values. (16) Alcohol consumption was also a highly gendered activity as it was generally reserved for men. (17) Finally, drinking had a spiritual function in New France because of its association with the Eucharistic ritual in Catholicism. In this light, drinking for French-Canadians was strongly integrated into their ‘ordinary’ lives, and Dr. Catherine Ferland brings to light the multifaceted role alcohol had in the colony. The book is organized in three parts. The first part studies the type of drinks that were produced, imported and distributed in New France. Chapter 1 deals with the attempts at producing wine in the colony, especially for spiritual purposes, and the wine makers. Because the wine production was not a success in Canada, the beer production in private, ecclesiastic and state breweries are also introduced in this first part. Ferland also examines cider and spruce beer production as well as the brewer trade during this period. Chapter 2 is constituted by the importation of alcoholic beverages that could not be produced in Canada. These importations included wine from France (mostly red, brandy, cognac, aromatic liqueurs) popular in the elite classes, and rum from the Caribbean. Finally, the third chapter examines the market, transportation, distribution and stockings of alcoholic beverages in different social groups of the colony. This first part of the book presents a more historical–oriented approach to the study of drinks and drinking. Part 2 of the book deals with the drinkers and it is probably the most valuable for the field of folklore for its examination of the ways of drinking in different social groups: the working class, the elite and the sailors and soldiers. Chapter 4 presents the uses and functions of the activity of drinking of working class, who consumes mostly beer, wine or brandy in inexpensive containers. Ferland demonstrates the links between alcohol and beliefs related to health as well as its function in popular religion, in calendar and life cycles’ celebrations, and in economical exchanges between people. The author looks at alcohol consumption of men and women in urban and rural milieux and at home. Public drunkenness, alcoholism and criminal activities are examines as well in this chapter. The fifth chapter consists of a similar study but of the colonial elite. Ferland shows that their choice of drinks, mostly wine and rarely beer, drank in more or less refined glasses, clearly marks their desire of distinguishing themselves from the working class. Abuse of alcohol happens generally in private spheres and is more discreet than with the working class. The nobles tend to keep their beverages in wine cellars or vaults, built specially …