Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
ANNE DE MISHAEGEN: ADVENTURER, WRITER, BIG GAME HUNTER
Dedication: As the COVID-19 pandemic rumbles on, it would have been simply impossible to write this essay without the generous assistance of the interlibrary services teams at the university of victoria and the national library of the netherlands, the special collections librarians at simon fraser university, and the Association Familiale Cogels. I must make additional special mention of three of these parties. The national library of the netherlands, who were willing to lend their fragile copy of Dans la forêt Canadienne overseas, which I never remotely expected they would allow, and never expected to be necessary because it looked like there were at least two surviving copies in canada. The special collections team at simon fraser university, who must have been snowed under trying to keep up with requests from the many scholars who for nearly two years could not visit in person, and were still completing the cataloguing of newly acquired materials, still managed to scan documents I requested from the Gusbin de Trémaudan fonds. Finally, last but certainly not least, many thanks to the Association Familiale Cogels who have made a judicious selection of material available online that is of tremendous help to obscure canada-based historians trying to understand more about their unique and adventurous kinswoman who has some remarkable connections in canadian and Northwest Métis history.
The first time I bumped into the adventurer, big game hunter, author, and photographer Anne Guyot de Mishaegen, it was a small reference that has since been repeated at second hand by various scholars writing about "contact languages" and "pidgins." They do this even though actually, the language they are discussing, Michif is neither as such. Still, there the first reference was on page 126 of Peter Bakker's study of Michif, A Language of Our Own. Bakker quotes her for what she observed incidentally about the relationship between the Northwest Métis and Saulteaux peoples in the camperville-pine lake region of manitoba, and the languages they spoke. Besides translating some of the french text of her book Dans la forêt Canadienne, Bakker has no more to say about her, even in his footnotes. I was only able to determine that she was a "hunter-adventurer" who visited canada during the 1930s. But this wasn't at all satisfactory. Who was this woman, doing what at the time were still not common things for women to do, in the 1930s? The 1930s, when the gloom of authoritarianism was spreading, a non-trivial time to travel besides.
Eventually I requested a copy of Dans la forêt Canadienne via interlibrary loan, expecting if nothing else to get a better sense of who this woman was from the author biography and what she said about herself in the book. To my astonishment, the copy that arrived came from overseas, lent from the collection of the national library of the netherlands. I was even more astonished on picking up the book. Published in 1946, just after the end of the second world war, it was printed on what looked almost like newsprint except for the photograph plates. It had been in circulation long enough to lose its original back cover and be rebound in tougher boards. All pages present and accounted for, including the dedication "A Jeanette Béland" at the top of the facing page to the introduction. What surprised me about it, apart from what I realized were material effects on the book's production due to the aftermath of the war, was that it was allowed to circulate at all, let alone overseas. Thanks to the missing original back cover, if there had been an author biography which was not otherwise included in the main book block, it was gone. Within the text itself, de Mishaegen gave very little information about herself beyond that absolutely necessary. Perhaps there is more in her other books, and I will move on to those further on.
Frustrated, I turned to trying a few web searches on her name, which I could see likely indicated she was from a wealthy family, minor nobility even because of the "de" marker in it. Web searching was mostly an exercise in frustration, as every clever anglophone-based engine insisted I must be looking for "michigan" – the sound parallel is coincidental – and in the end only one page came up, even using the european-based and frankly still terrible search engine qwant. That page is an edition of a webzine compiled by William Hillman of brandon university in manitoba, which reproduces several photographs that come from either Dans la forêt Canadienne or one of de Mishaegan's other books, Mush! Un hiver en pays Cree, or indeed both. Hillman's project in this specific webzine edition is to chronicle "europeans in the north," apparently as part of an exercise assigned to his undergraduate education students. Although this provides some wonderful photographs of de Mishaegen, they add very little to the story, except to confirm that she went specifically to hunt and trap in northern manitoba in the 1930s.
On the off chance of shaking something else loose, I decided to try looking up de Mishaegen on the internet archive, not expecting to find much of anything. Delightfully, I found far more than I expected, starting with a scanned edition of Mush!, a book de Mishaegen had dedicated to H.S. Béland, and after expanding the search, several news clippings from canadian newspapers covering her visits to canada between 1933 and 1937. But then I tried searching for "Mishaegen," figuring that would at least tell me where that was, since at that stage it was not clear to me whether she was from the netherlands where the loaner copy of Dans la forêt canadienne came from, or belgium, where its printer La Renaissance du livre was and indeed still is based. I ended up tangled deep in the pages of a volume of the proceedings of the Revue belge de numismatique et de sigillographie, which revealed that Mishaegen was the name of a large farm in eeckeren, now a suburb of modern day antwerp, belgium. Having found this much I turned my attention to the newspaper articles, and then dug up a few more from Peel's prairie provinces, an important online database maintained at the university of alberta.
In 1932, she and her cousin, the Baronness Buffin of Antwerp, already known as "sportswomen and scientists" were on their way to take a three month trip in northern canada. Their planned itinerary would take them from mistasinni in northern québec by canoe to rupert house on hudson bay via the la martre and rupert rivers. This looks to be the source of at least part of her memoirs written up in Souvenirs de Chasse dans le québec et le maine. She returned the next year to work a trapline in northern manitoba in a trip spanning nine months during which she built her own cabin and ran dog teams. By 1937 she was back again, this time having added in a big game hunting trip in africa before heading to the area of granville lake in northern manitoba on the hunting and trapping sojourn that would appear in print as Dans la forêt Canadienne. The newspaper article describing this trip in some detail noted that she was a travel writer with two books in print who first came to canada in 1931 to pursue mining claims. Turning to a different search engine, I learned that de Mishaegen generally published in french, including short excerpts of her books such as that in the canadian La Revue Moderne in 1933. There are probably more articles out there by de Mishaegen, but I need to search more european databases. In any case, I was able to confirm the ranks of both de Mishaegen and Buffin, who was likely from the family Buffin de Chosal, via eupedia.com.
The only obvious angle to check from next that seemed simple was that defined by H.S. and Jeanette Béland. Who were they? Evidently members of a family of some means in canada. The dedication to H.S. Béland referred to him as a former senator. Indeed, this turned out to be none other than Henri-Sévérin Béland, who found himself trapped with his wife Adolphine Cogels in her native belgium during world war one. A qualified doctor, Béland worked in a belgian hospital until he was taken prisoner by the germans in 1915. He remained in a german prison until 1918, and eventually wrote up his experience in Mille et un jours en prison à Berlin. He went on to a successful political career in canada, and apparently maintained connections to belgium until his death in 1935. Jeanette Béland was indeed his daughter, and she and de Mishaegen may have been of similar age. At this point, the trail went suddenly cold, and could be pursued no further until I was able to borrow copies of more of de Mishaegen's books and articles.
All unwittingly, I actually had two potential leads, but initially couldn't take advantage of either. Both leads are via Adolphine Cogels, who died in 1916, because it turned out on a bit more digging that "Guyot de Mishaegen" is this mysterious adventurer's married name. Before that, her name was Anne Antoinette Henriette Paule Eugènie Marie (Annette) Cogels, born 29 May 1900, died shockingly young on 18 October 1953, in antwerp, belgium. This means that the connection back to Béland is via Adolphine Cogels. The Cogels family has created a family association and an intriguing website as they seek to reconnect the three main branches of their family, but understandably they don't have too much information available to strangers. In any case, journalist Rolland Bouffard added some information about the future explorer in his caption to the family photograph originally falling after page 32 of Béland's book Mille et un jours en prison à berlin. (This picture is not included in the english language edition.) Here are the photograph and the additional information from Bouffard:
Reproduction of the photographic plate following page 32 of the 1919 Quatrième Mille edition of Henri Béland's memoir of his imprisonment during world war i, via Beauce Magazine
Vers 1915. La jeune fille près des chiens est Annette Cogels, qui écrivait aussi sous le nom Anne de Mishaegen. Elle viendra en voyage de chasse dans le Maine, invitée d'Édouard Lacroix, qui connaissait son beau-père, le futur sénateur Henri Séverin-Béland, celui avec le chapeau.
The original caption reads, "Sur la Plage à Middelkerke. Le docteur, Madame Béland et les enfants de Madame Béland," which in english is simply, "At the beach at Middelkerke. The doctor, Mrs. Béland, and Mrs. Béland's children." Bouffard adds "Around 1915. The young girl near the dog is Annette Cogels, who also wrote under the name Anne de Mishaegen. She will go on a hunting trip in Maine, invited by Édouard LaCroix, who knew her step-father, the future senator Henri Séverin-Béland, the one with the hat." And now things begin to come together. Annette Cogels was the daughter of Paul-Marie Cogels by his second wife Eugénie Adolphine Veef, who was born in 1871. Paul-Marie Cogels died in 1912, and as was typical of any recently bereaved spouse at this time, Eugénie Adolphine remarried a few years later. It looks like the young woman in the group of Mrs. Béland's children was Annette Cogels' elder sister, Marie-Germaine, rather than Henri Béland's daughter Jeanette, since the original caption makes a point of stating that the children are Mrs. Béland's. However, that must be taken as speculation on my part although the fact that Bouffard does not identify Jeanette in the photograph gives this point a bit more weight.
Indeed, this is confirmed further along in perusing Henri Béland's memoir, when he explains to the officers working on his removal to england after the confirmation that he would be exchanged for a german prisoner, "Il y avait alors trois ans que j'avais quitté Capellen et je n'avais jamais reçu la visite de ma fille et des enfants de ma femme qui y étaient demeurés." That is, "It has been three years since I have left Capellen and I have never received a visit from my daughter and my wife's children who remained there." The Cogels home at Capellen is still standing, and the town itself, name now spelled Kapellen, remains an independent municipality. Madame Béland died from a lingering illness there while her husband was still held in prison. Béland records that his daughter was finally given a pass so that she could leave belgium after his release was arranged, and he refused to leave for england without her. Since the Cogels children were all belgian citizens at home, and Béland does not mention any of them accompanying her even as a chaperon, she was apparently considered old enough to travel alone. This despite the fact that the war still had several more months to run, as Béland was released 9 may 1918. Indeed, this makes sense, as Jean(n)ette Béland was born in 1897 to Flore Gérin-Lajoie, her father's first wife. Gérin-Lajoie passed away in 1908.
The next picture reproduced here was added after page 256 of the french edition of Béland's memoire, in which Jeanette Béland and Annette Cogels are wearing "Flemish peasant costume." They had been through a lot together by the time of Henri Béland's release, from fleeing with their siblings and parents during the german invasion of belgium to the illness, death, and burial of Adolphine Cogels-Béland.
Reproduction of the photographic plate following page 256 of the 1919 Quatrième Mille edition of Henri Béland's memoir of his imprisonment during world war i, via the internet archive
The next place that information turned up about Annette Cogels was in the annals of belgian tennis. She was a skilled player, winning belgian mixed doubles championships with Jean Washer in 1924, women's doubles with Geneviève de Borman in 1927, and a singles championship in 1926. What is ever more striking here is that she apparently married Edouard Guyot de Mishaegen (1890-1964) 2 may 1922 in their home town of antwerp. So she continued her tennis career after marriage. According to the Association Familiale Cogels, Annette Cogels was a member of the beerschot athletic club, founded in 1899 as an all round sports club, since thoroughly reduced to an associated football team. Tracing the beerschot connection reveals that antwerp had hosted the 1920 olympic games, and the beerschot club provided most of the facilities. So for the time this was quite a serious sports organization training up highest level amateur athletes. It is little wonder that in time Annette Cogels would prove herself able to handle a rifle and rigorous physical travel in canada and later the congo and algeria. She comments on what an escape from her more usual surroundings these trips were in Dans la forêt Canadienne, but it is hard to appreciate what she means until we learn that she was born at bouckenberg castle in belgium, and spent much of her youth at starrenhof castle, also in belgium. She passed away at brasschaat castle in the same year as her last book was published, the novel Nouvelles du nord.
All this said, Annette Cogels did acquire a serious education to complement her commitment to physical fitness. The Association Familiale Cogels reports that she studied what today in north america is often called greek and roman studies, followed by political economy and thomist philosophy. Today "political economy" is in a parlous state at best due to the unfortunate attempt to make "economics" sciency-looking without actually doing the sort of thing that sciences are supposed to do, start with a hypothesis and then correct based on real life observations. So unlike now, Annette Cogels would likely have spent serious time reading such works as those by the french physiocrats, and probably even the (in)famous Karl Marx and other more recently translated writings by anglophone political economists. "Thomist philosophy" refers to the body of ideas developed by catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, who is famous for his commentaries on Aristotle and his Summa theologiae. These are the sorts of studies often engaged in by members of wealthy families who are not being groomed to take over a family business or other longterm responsibilities apart from in the case of women, genteel childbearing and raising with a side of administering the household. Here a person might expect the tale to peter out, even though there are still so many possibilities. She was too young to be active on her own account during the first world war, but what about the second? Where was she, because she was not on one of her hunting and exploring trips at that time by any means. It seems relatively unlikely that a person with her cross-atlantic connections, including to an important canadian political family, would have just stayed holed up in switzerland.
The trail pops up all unexpectedly again through her canadian connections, in this case Berthe Gusbin de Trémaudan. A collection of her documents including letters exchanged with Anne de Mishaegen and related photographs and newspaper clippings were recently acquired by special collections at the simon fraser university library. Gusbin de Trémaudan was an adventurer herself, married into a family rather well known to northwest métis and manitoba historians. She was also part of an early effort by the catholic church to artificially produce a new french catholic settlement in and around winnipeg, with the full encouragement of the canadian federal government. Apparently federal officials expected the belgians to become obedient farmers, while the catholic church expected to finally get some pliable catholics firmly entrenched where they could crowd out the stubbornly self-governing Northwest Métis. Never mind that belgians then and now are part of a complex country and those moving away are not necessarily expecting or planning to farm if they do emigrate. In the early twentieth century although certainly many belgian immigrants did at least for one or two generations stay on the new canadian farms if they could, between the irregularities of the climate and burgeoning capitalism many of their children and grand children wound up tracing a path similar to other settlers. They too began moving into trades and clerical occupations instead, sometimes within a single lifetime. For her part, Gusbin de Trémaudan moved to canada along a chain migration path established by her older brother Edmond who had already moved to the pas. Arriving in 1920 with her sister Marthe and Marthe's husband, she soon established a writing and music teaching practice and married into the de Trémaudan family. Today she is best known as a minor poet with one book of memoirs, Au nord du 53e. She helped other belgians visiting or emigrating to canada, including of course, de Mishaegen.
De Mishaegen's first trip to canada is during the hunting trip mentioned in Bouffard's added photograph caption above. This trip, based on the subsequent book's publication in 1919 must have been in late 1918 or early 1919. In any case it appeared under the old style long descriptive title of Souvenirs de chasses dan le Québec et la Maine. Writing under her original surname, De Mishaegen provided a brief text to accompany a series of photographs taken by Jean LaCroix. The album was reprinted in 2010 in québec. Based on the clippings that Gusbin de Trémaudan saved, it was not until de Mishaegen's next trip that they encountered one another, in 1933. That year, De Mishaegen was busy checking mining claims of of the belgo-canadian mining company in manitoba, with some game hunting and curio collecting besides. The article from the regina leader post reiterates De Mishaegen's tennis feats, adds that she had won race car endurance tests, and that she took an "adventuresome trip" each year. It says a great deal about how times have changed that lacking formal press photographs of De Mishaegen, they resorted to reproducing an enlarged copy of her head from the family photograph above. So it looks like De Mishaegen checked belgo-canadian company mining claims in person in canada at least twice, once in 1931 and then in 1933. She seems unaware of the fact that anywhere it was possible to prospect or take traplines in this period, white men in canada with few relevant skills were rushing north in hopes of escaping the impacts of the great depression. The same great depression that wrought additional new havoc on already struggling Indigenous communities. It would be easy to miss local specifics while on such a trip, and she had plenty to think about between her own travels, the shaky economy and ominous rumblings already audible that would become the next world war. Then again, I can only say this based on what she chose to say in her books, and as I have already noted, she is guarded when it comes to personal details. Thanks to reader Larry Romain, I have now had a chance to read a brief news item from the Halifax Mail for 19 march 1931, in which there is no reference to mining claims, but they note De Mishaegen was "of the news staff of La Metropole, a leading Belgian daily," and further on observes that she had already visited china and japan. It seems unlikely she would have remained unaware of the severe economic conditions around her, and certainly they played a role in the immigration schemes designed to help bring belgian farmers like the Gusbin family to canada.
De Mishaegen and Gusbin de Trémaudan remained friends by correspondence, sharing fond memories of their sometimes parallel, sometimes shared times living "in the bush" with plenty of hunting and dog sledding to keep them busy. It is in two of De Mishaegen's letters from Gusbin de Trémaudan's fonds that we learn something of her experience of world war two. In 1950 she recounted in brief the terrible impacts on herself and her family as they weathered the german occupation, noting that in this all belgians suffered. Of herself, De Mishaegen admits that the things she heard and saw were terrible, and that the impact on her was deep. Her health was severely impacted, and she never fully recovered, developing a chronic condition. No long and difficult illness is kind, least of all to people who are accustomed to being active in sports and travel, including long periods in the most rigorous conditions outdoors. De Mishaegen wrote one last time in late 1952 or early 1953 to let Gusbin de Trémaudan know that she was seriously ill, and as we have already seen, she passed away late in that year.
- Bakker, Peter. A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Métis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
- de Mishaegen, Anne. Dans la forêt Canadienne. Bruxelles: La renaissance du livre, 1946.
- National Library of the Netherlands.
- Qwant is incredibly promising, but seems to have an index problem. And now, as of late 2022, I am sorry to have to say it has no promise, having become a skin for bing.
- Zine 20v8: First Nations - Photo Archive II
Europeans in the North. Hillman himself was quite an interesting character, who combined music and world travel with his other interests, and is worth reading a bit more about him. Start with the account of his career and award from brandon university.
- de Mishaegen, Anne. Mush! Un hiver en pays Cree. Montréal: Beauchemin, 1933. (Internet archive scan.)
- La renaissance du livre, still going strong with a catalogue focussed on travel and food writing. Alas they do not have a back or classic catalogue at this time.
- Internet Archive: Revue belge de numismatique et de sigillographie. Volume 1923 of he proceedings of the Société royale de numismatique de Belgique.
- Peel's Prairie Provinces.
- Page 6 of the 3 july 1932 Daily Colonist, and page N6 of the 18 june 1935 New York Times.
- de Mishaegen, Anne. Souvenirs de Chasse dans le québec et le maine. Anvers: La Grande librarie, 1933.
- Page 1 of 8 february 1939 Le Patriote de L'Ouest, Prince Albert, Sasakatchewan.
- Page 2 of 9 december 1937 The Coleman Journal (alberta).
- de Mishaegen, Anne. "Une chasse au caribou," La Revue Modern 1933 (mars): 5. Also see Magazines, Travel, and Middlebrow Culture in Canada, 1925-1960. I found the original reference by means of an obscure citation in the fall 2016 issue of Literary Journalism Studies on Francophone Literary Journalism.
- eupedia/com: List of Noble Families in Belgium by Title.
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography: BÉLAND, HENRI.
- Internet Archive: Mille et un jours en prison à Berlin, to read it in the original french, or else in english via Project Gutenberg: My Three Years in a German Prison.
- Wikimedia Commons: Anne-Antoinette Cogels.
- Association Familiale Cogels: Annette-Antoinette épouse d'Edouard Guyot de Mishaegen (1900-1953). What they have chosen to share is fascinating and frustrating. There is a nice potted biography of Anne de Mishaegen's father – and no mention of her mother's first name.
- Beauce Magazine: Élu sans avoir mis les pieds dans son comté, par Rolland Bouffard, 22 septembre 2011.
- Longevity was something of an issue for european families in this era, even quite well-off ones like the Cogels. dutch wikipedia reports that Paul-Marie Cogels, born in 1845 married twice, first to Marie-Catherine Parthon de Von, who lived from 1850-1884. Béland himself married three times, first to Flore Gérin-Lajoie, then to Eugénie Adolphine Veef Cogels, and finally to Henriette Van Laethem.
- Tennis Forum: Biographies of Female Tennis Players GUYOT de MISHAEGEN, "ANNE" (nee Anne-Antoinette Cogels).
Wikipedia in Dutch, Anne-Antoinette Cogels.
- Geneanet: Edouard GUYOT de MISHAEGEN.
- Beerschot: History.
- A partial view of Kasteel Boekenberg was uploaded to the Internet Archive by a contributor who goes by the handle darkvine.
- BelgiumView: Starrenhof de Kapellen. This building appears to be run as a sort of conference and events centre now, as indeed is Kasteel van Brasschaat.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Thomas Aquinas.
- Other records record Jeanette Béland's name as spelled "Jeannette," and if MyHeritage can be fully trusted on the point, she lived until 1975. This is not unlikely, but impossible to confirm as yet.
- Confirming the point about where belgian settlement was centred in the early twentieth century is Cornelius J. Jaenen's Promoters, Planters, and Pioneers: The Course and Context of Belgian Settlement in Western Canada (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2011). For clarity, comments on the role of the catholic church and canadian state are my own based on research related to the original foundation of st. paul de métis in alberta and documentation of Northwest Métis politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A solid summary with bibliography of this material is included in From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis History and Identity From the Eighteenth to Twenty-First Centuries by Gerhard J. Ens and Joe Sawchuk (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).
- Jaenen 2011, page 41.
- Cogels, Annette (text) and Jean LaCroix (photographs). Souvenirs de chasses dan le Québec et la Maine. Anvers: La Grande Libraire, 1919. For further bibliographic information, see francolibrary item 708.
- No Byline, "Amtwerp Lady Visits Churchill, Snow Shoeing and Mushing Part Way." Regina Leader Post, Evening saturday 4 march 1933. Scan from Gusbin de Trémaudan fonds held at the simon fraser university library and generously shared by their special collections staff.
- Many thanks to Larry Romain for scanning and emailing this wonderful snippet from the 19 march 1931 issue of the Halifax Mail, and for feedback on the essay itself.
- Scanned letters from 1950, 1951, and 1952-53 in the Gusbin de Trémaudan fonds held at the simon fraser university library and generously shared by their special collections staff.