(From 1943)

Dateline: 19 September 2015

After my previous blog post I started looking at some of the other films at the Canadian National Film Board's web site and was delighted to find Alexis Tremblay: Habitant.

"Habitant" is an old word for a farmer of French descent in Canada. The documentary film, made in 1943, is a chronicle of the life of a habitant family living in Les Eboulements which is a small village northeast of Quebec, on the Saint Lawrence River.

Another way to picture the location of Les Eboulements is to consider the farthest-north town in the state of Maine (Estacourt Station, population, 4), then go directly west (as the crow flys) about 50 miles. The funny thing about Estacourt Station is that, as they say in Maine, "You cahn't get theyah from heyah." The town is accessible only from Canada. But I digress.

The 72-year-old film is nothing short of a celebration of Christian-agrarian life and culture. As such, it is idealistic, but it is not unrealistic. It portrays a way of life (and a worldview) that most Moderns would see as outdated and undesirable. 

After all, the Tremblay family has little in the way of modern labor-saving devices and modern amusements. How could they possibly be as happy as they look? Don't they realize how deprived and poor they are? 

Surely, these habitants of old need a television in their home so they can more clearly see their material poverty. And they will want to start buying more manufactured stuff. You know, stuff that's made in factories. Stuff that the family couldn't possibly make in their limited home economy. Their problem is that they just don't realize that they need more of this stuff... yet.

And, of course, Alexis will need to start farming more than the 40 acres that came to him from his father, and which supports his large family. More stuff will require more income.

But, again, I digress, and with both sarcasm and contempt.

Instead of lack, I see the family in this film has a rich and rewarding family economy. Furthermore, they are rooted in a small rural community. Family is all around and families help each other. Their friends and neighbors share much of the same local history. In short, the Tremblay family is woven into the fabric of land, faith, family and community in a way that was once common. 

It is a beautiful way of life.  It is a pattern for living that is practically extinct. But, lost though it may be, I firmly believe this way of life is something that can, to some degree, be reclaimed by anyone who has a vision for it.

The pursuit of this agrarian vision within a family must be deliberate. And to bear the best fruit, it will require a multi-generational effort. 

I hope you enjoy this movie as much as I did (I've watched it three times).


Herrick Kimball said...

Note the scene at 1:21 into the movie... It looks like an Eric Sloane painting.

Herrick Kimball said...

Note to frequent commenter Everett R. Littlefield (who recently had-dug seven 5-foot rows of potatoes, at 77 years of age)...

I'm thinking this 1943 movie is probably a pretty good picture of what life was like on your island when you were a kid. If my math is correct, you would have been 5 years old at that time.

And by the way, I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can hand-dig 350 feet of potatoes. Fact is, I consider that a more endearing and worthwhile feat than any Olympic athlete ever accomplished. I say that having hand-dug a lot of potatoes myself, and I sure do hope I can do the same when I'm your age!

Anonymous said...

Amen Mr. Kimball. Amen.


ELittle said...

Hi Herrick, Well I have to admit I didn't do them all the same day! I HAVE learned a few things like how to stretch out an onerous task, but man they sure taste good on a cold winter night for supper!

Made my first clamp today. Can't eat up all the carrots, tired of canning them, so trying my hand at this.

Picked all my quinces today and will start making preserves tomorrow. Nothing like quince preserves on tall hot biscuits on those same cold winter nights!

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

Thank you, Herrick! What a breath of fresh air these two films have been to me. I have always been drawn to small towns, farms, pastures, and livestock. I like it so. If I had my druthers, I'd live another life on a farm/ranch. I know it is a very hard life. I know it feels better watching on film, than being in the saddle, or behind a horse-drawn plow. I know the hard life can shorten life; a life lived daily to its fullest in passing down knowledge to youngsters, and thereby, having a life of hard-earned relationships with close family and friends, and to God! It's best to have a good spiritual life to live this down-to-earth, agrarian way; a spiritual life to pass down to our children. Now that is richness, and prosperity!

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

Speaking about potatoes--an older lady I know, she is 77, and from Greek descent, was raised in a large family of seven girls, and two boys, in New Jersey. Her family's treat each month was to build a fire out back of the house, and roast potatoes! Sounds like a yummy family tradition, Everett!

Anonymous said...


Been reading your blog off and on for years. Enjoy it immensely.

I am a traditional Roman Catholic who lives in Western Canada. The bishops of Quebec had amazing encyclicals praising the rural life, the life of the village and on the land, the artisan life, as a sort of monastery for the family. Pope Pius XII actually pointed this out in his short encyclical linked below w/commentary;


A fee other documents you should all read, that fall in step with what you are promoting here, on this site, "high level". Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum gave those in Eastern Canada (Quebec included) the inspiration to launch thee credit union/cooperative movements in the early 20th century. The document did the same in Ireland and Italy, as well. Quadragesimo Anno by Pius XI tied in the socio-economics of God vs. Communism/Socialism and some would argue, Capitalism. Great read. Anything by Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton on these topics is pure gold these days. And a great read you can download for free on line is Rural Roads to Security. Check all these out. And the site below is another great one, similar in contact to yours.


Pax Christi/AMDG