Jean-Louis Courteau: to each his own North to find

Jean-Louis Courteau: to each his own North to find


Far in the Laurentians, the Courteau brothers had built a hunting camp. The memory that remains serves as the gateway to a story that takes you far.

Jean-Louis Courteau is first and foremost a painter: it is through shadows and colors that he transposes on canvas his vision of nature. But he also knows how to dive there.

He does so in the literal sense, since he has been diving for a few years, has even created a Laurentian Waters Interpretation Center, and has devoted a fine book to his passion, Seize Îles, published in 2021. 

But it also plunges into it by rushing into its dense forests. The practice here dates back to childhood, in the wake of Jack, his father, and his brothers. Men who frequented the North savoring its secrets. 

Read Remonter le Nord, it is therefore to undertake a mythical journey. As the author writes: “We go up in the North, we never go down there. In Quebec, despite its shifting borders, the reference is carrying – steeped in history, hunting and fishing, places to hide or exploit… We all have a corner of the North in our heads.< /p>

Jack and his brothers had a hunting camp, which was one day abandoned. Jack became Jean-Jacques, he urbanized, grew old, then illness struck. He lost his way, as they say here. 

Female Figures

Each chapter therefore opens with a few paragraphs devoted to the father. The narrator's memories follow, from his childhood to adulthood, with images that do not fail to seduce.

It starts with an invented figure. When you are seven or eight years old and have a bit of imagination, the name “ladies” given to beaver dams takes on a feminine face. This lady, “dressed all in white”, is the “keeper of the key to the lake”.

However, one of the last images of the story is also a female figure: Hélène, “squatting in front of the setting sun”, between a black bear and a white bear. Reference is made here to the Hélène falls on the George River, in Ungava Bay, which Jean-Louis Courteau has just visited. 

This Hélène is very soothing before the conclusion devoted to the dispersion of Jack's ashes and to the symbolic reconciliation of the author with a father who had become a stranger to him.

Stays in the forest

Between these two poles , Courteau takes us to visit hermits who embody either adventure or the power of sorcerers from ancient worlds. 

He also mentions his long stays in the forest, reflecting the generosity of nature, its strength, its mysteries. But above all, he knows how to express the ancestral fears. The scenes where the wolves prowl give the shivers, just like the improbable meeting – is it even real? – with a legendary wolverine.

Courteau's down-to-earth love for the North is poetic, which we will savor.