The Folklore of le Détroit/Le Folklore du Détroit. An online exhibition of the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Reviewed by Hilary Joy Virtanen
exhibitions provide unique advantages for curator and audience alike,
including the creation of venues for materials and information
ill-suited for physical presentation, the availability of the
exhibition to a wider audience, and the potential for instant access to
the materials. These three features are found in many of the online
exhibitions that I have viewed, and all are well-illustrated in the
bilingual exhibition The Folklore of Le Détroit/ Le Folklore du Détroit.
exhibition, presented through the Virtual Museum of Canada by the
Windsor Public Library and Windsor’s Community Museum (Ontario),
explores oral traditions of francophone communities along the Detroit
River, a 30-mile ribbon of water between Ontario and Michigan that
separates the cities of Windsor and Detroit. This isolated linguistic
community, first established in 1701, has maintained and shaped many
traditions, from both France and francophone regions in Canada. While
the focus of the exhibition rests largely on Canadian communities,
retaining a stronger French heritage due to historical circumstances,
Michigan’s Detroit francophonie also provide rich examples.
exhibition homepage identifies the target audience as schoolchildren
around grade five. The exhibition and the lesson plan materials
provided within, however, are aimed more widely toward primary and
secondary students. The content is presented in both French and
English, with separate sites for each. The design is largely geared
toward children, with charming graphics and numerous clickable sound
and animation files to illustrate the materials.
French and English sites are nearly identical, and will be described
here as one with sections noted by their English names. The opening
page depicts a traditional village along the river. Using Macromedia
FlashPlayer, clickable graphic icons lead into different portions of
the exhibit, including a red house representing the “Introduction,” a
pear tree for “Legends of le Détroit,” a chicken coop for “Folktales of
le Détroit,” a school for lesson plans, a barn for feedback, and a
church as the site map. Icons at the top of the screen lead to a site
search engine, an interactive storytelling area, lesson plans, the
credits, and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
village-themed icons connect to a page of textual topical links
including, in the introduction for instance, a description of the
Détroit francophones, the group’s three main genres of oral traditions,
and the environment in which such traditions were, and are, shared. In
this section, one may also link directly to the three genre-themed
areas, or to any of the sections offered in the homepage, by clicking
on the thematic icons on the left side and top of the screen.
songs, and legends are identified as the three major types of French
oral tradition and form the foci of the presentation. Each section
presents a definition of its given genre, as well as discussion of
local variant sources and other interesting facts, and then a number of
examples from each. Thirteen folksongs, twelve legends, and three
folktales are provided textually, with slight variations between the
French and English language sites: in the French site, variants are
provided in the original tongue with glossaries for archaic and
dialectic words when necessary. In the English version, the folksongs
are provided in French with English language summaries, while the
legends and tales are presented in English, retaining ,when possible,
the teller’s oral style.
examples include clickable audio files, particularly in the French
site. This is not offered for examples that come from written and
multiple accounts, including the legend of the Red Dwarf /Nain Rouge, a
malevolent figure known since the founding of Detroit and reportedly
seen in times of trouble. Audio files are particularly effective in the
folksong section, where visitors can appreciate the sound of the music.
They are offered in the French site for some of the folktales as well.
computerized illustrations of images, both historical and modern,
decorate the pages. The French “Cinderella,” for instance, features the
heroine in a blue ball gown. For the folksong, “De terre en vigne,”
about the process of winemaking, the graphic features a male modern
hipster holding a martini glass, with a matchbook in the foreground
bearing, “De terre vigne [sic],” on the cover. In some instances, the
illustration expands into an animated short, which can run as a song
plays, or as a tale is related. When presented with a tale or legend,
the text runs silently within the animated clip. An appealing animation
clip accompanies the folksong, “La laine de mon mouton” which details
the transformation of wool into textile. A young boy takes the wool
from his sheep, following the process related in the song, eventually
presenting his sheep with a new sweater. Both audio and animation files
require QuickTime to play.
only drawback to these otherwise excellent presentations is that,
especially in the animation for the legend “The Will O’ the Wisp (Les
Feux Follets),” the text may not remain on the screen long enough for
one to read aloud, as a teacher might do in a classroom. Additionally,
the animation may suit younger viewers more than the fifth grade target
audience. This, however, is not detrimental, as it can only expand the
appropriate, supplementary materials are included, enhancing the
educational impact of the lore. In the introduction, one may view a
linked map of the region during early French settlement. Accompanying
the legend of “The Jesuit Pear Tree,” are two scanned articles from the
Detroit Free Press from 1941,
describing one particular pear tree, planted by early Jesuit priests in
the region, as were many others, in a group of twelve to represent the
Twelve Apostles of Christian tradition. Additionally, photographs of
some of these historic trees may be viewed, and one can read a recipe
for marinated pears provided by Cécile Bénéteau from
materials focus on multiple aspects of the exhibition and are targeted
for students throughout primary and secondary education levels.
Included are ideas for dramatic and artistic creations, word puzzles,
and spelling/handwriting practice sheets. Also provided are suggestions
for character analysis exercises and other activities, ranging in
subject area from literature and language to computer science.
lesson materials are offered in English and French as Microsoft
Word-format documents. Music materials, particularly sheet music if
available, would be a welcome inclusion, considering the fact that the
exhibition cites folksong as “easily the healthiest traditional genre
still found in the local communities.” Teachers can expand upon the
lesson potentials for themselves, however, creating activities for such
subjects as French language and Michigan/Ontario history.
exhibition highlights a sense of continuity and history throughout.
Many examples of lore have roots in archaic French forms, including the
song “Quel Petit Homme,” which the exhibition text describes as
possibly “delighting young and old for over a thousand years.” Others,
often also from longstanding French traditions, reveal local history.
One finds in the legends of “Blessing of the Fields,” and “Blessed
Loaves: Young Howe’s Drowning,” the parish priest in each story is a
Father Loiselle, who served his community at the turn of the 20th
century. These legends came from different informants, and so reflect
the importance this figure held in the community.
exhibition is consistent in naming the precise sources of folklore
variants, including when possible, the collector and the informant as
well as the date and place of recording and the archives in which they
are housed. Québec’s University of Laval and Detroit’s Wayne State
University are each noted for their archived materials. Also important
are handwritten notebooks of lyrics known as “scribblers,” which often
provide our only glimpse of old traditional songs.
different roles of collectors and their works are also discussed:
19th-century francophone Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin was known for her
avocational collection of local French folklore and Joseph Médard
Carrière was a Harvard-trained researcher of North American francophone
folklore and language throughout the middle of the 20th century. Since
the 1980s, University of Windsor researcher Marcel Bénéteau, a
collaborator in this presentation, has been active in collecting local
the names of tradition bearers is particularly important on two levels:
first, it demonstrates the crucial role of the individual within “the
folk.” Additionally, these variants were largely collected during the
past century, making it possible that these individuals’ descendents
may access the materials and realize their forebears’ status as a
presentation illustrates well the potential that such exhibitions hold
for educators, researchers, and the public. With folkloric material,
aural and printed texts cannot always be translated well into an
exhibition gallery, which is when this genre of presentation is
invaluable. The well-designed format allows for casual visitors to
browse freely, and for educators to incorporate the materials into
well-developed lessons across age levels.
online exhibitions have potential for technical problems—I did find one
minor broken link to two documents comparing modern and older
French-Canadian language transcriptions—the democratization of
information that they provide compensates for them. Visitors are often
able to provide their direct feedback and to add to the conversation
that the exhibition opens up. The general purposes of anthropological
and folkloric museum work—to educate, entertain, and reveal the
intricacies of human cultures—are all successfully met here, and as
this genre of presentation further develops, I sincerely hope more
social science and humanities researchers will consider such venues to
share their work with the public.
www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Folklore/indexE.htm (English version)
www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Folklore/indexF.htm (French version)
Joy Virtanen is a masters student in the Department of Scandinavian
Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an M.A. in
folklore from Indiana University and served as the editorial assistant
for Museum Anthropology during 2006. Her research focuses on the Finnish-American communities of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.