Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Anne De Mishaegen: Adventurer, Writer, Big Game Hunter
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 Jeannette 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!, 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. I have not been able to confirm the detail yet, but it seems likely that Jeanette Béland was 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.
- 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 a terrible index problem and is set up so that it must be installed in the web browser for best results, which foils its claims of being privacy respecting.
- 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 vua Project Gutenberg: My Three Years in a German Prison.