Gateway to the Classics: Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus MacMillan
Canadian Wonder Tales by  Cyrus MacMillan

Glooskap's Country

I N far back times, many centuries before the white men came from Europe to live in the New World, Eastern Canada was inhabited by Indians. They were a mighty race, great in size and strong in battle. Their descendants live in certain of these parts still, dwelling in settlements of their own apart from the white folk. You may still see them in their strange tents or wigwams, making arrows and baskets and garden-seats. Some of them are still fleet of foot and can run many miles without tiring. But their real greatness has long since gone. They have grown smaller in size, and they are no longer powerful as in the old days. In early times they were called the Children of Light, for of all the people in America they dwelt nearest to the sun-rise. Their great lord and creator was Glooskap. Where he was himself born, and when, no man knows. From the place of his birth he sailed across the sea in a great stone canoe to the part of America nearest to the rising sun. He landed on the eastern shores of Canada. Far out he anchored his canoe and it was so large that it became an island, and great trees grew upon it. When he needed it, it was always ready to do his bidding, but it always became an island when it was not in use. On the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, Glooskap dwelt many years—ages and ages—until one day he sailed away to the hunting grounds of his fathers far over the sea.

About Glooskap's work many strange tales are told. From his birth and throughout his long life his deeds were very wonderful. He was one of twin brothers, the other being Wolf the son of Wickedness. Glooskap was the son of Goodness. Their mother died at their birth and the two children were left alone. Both had magic power which could keep them from harm, and death could not come to them except in one way. Glooskap could be killed only by a flowering rush, and Wolf only by a fern root; and each alone knew the secret of his own death. Now it was known before Glooskap's birth that he should become the Lord of the Land of the Rising Sun in Canada. But Beaver and Squirrel who were great in those days—and even before his coming—were jealous of his power when he arrived, for they themselves wished to rule the land. They tempted Wolf to kill his brother, and he being the son of Wickedness would have been glad of the chance, but he did not know the secret of his brother's death. One night of bright starlight, Beaver, hiding stealthily among the trees as was his custom, heard Glooskap boasting to the stars about his charmed life; he could trust the stars, and he told them that he could be killed only by means of a flowering rush. Then Beaver hurried away to Wolf; he told him that he knew the secret of Glooskap's death and that he would tell it if Wolf would give him what he wished. To this Wolf agreed and Beaver told him what he had heard Glooskap say to the stars. "What do you want in return for the secret?" asked Wolf. "Wings like a pigeon," answered Beaver. But Wolf said, "You have a tail like a file; what could you do with wings like a pigeon?" And he laughed at him scornfully and would not grant him his wish as he had promised. Thereupon Beaver was very cross and resolved to have vengeance on Wolf. He went quickly to Glooskap and told him that Wolf knew the secret of his death and that he had better be on his guard. The next night Glooskap hid himself among the trees near to Wolf's tent. He heard Wolf boasting to the stars about his charmed life, and telling them the secret of his death,—that he could be killed only by a fern root. And Glooskap, fearing for his own life, for he had no faith in the love of Wolf the son of Wickedness, at once slew his brother with a fern root. Then he changed him into a mountain, where he sleeps to this day like a huge hill.

Glooskap then ruled the country alone. But soon he grew lonely without companions and he decided to people his land. He first made the Fairies and the Elves, and sent them to dwell in the meadows and tiny streams and among the hills and caves. Then he took his bow and arrows, and for many days he shot at the ash trees in the forest. And out of the bark of the trees at which he shot there came first men whom he called Indians, the Children of Light. Then came the animals—all that had not before lived in his land—and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, and he gave them each a name. At first all the animals were very large, so large that the head of the deer could touch the tops of the tallest pines. Even Squirrel could tear down the largest trees in the forest. One day Glooskap called all the animals to him to learn if they were friendly to his people. And he said to Bear, "What would you do if you should meet a man?" And Bear answered, "I should eat him up." And Glooskap sent Bear away to the Northland, far from the dwellings of men, to live on fish from the frozen sea. And he said to Squirrel, "What would you do if you should meet a man?" And Squirrel answered, "I should tear down trees on his head." And Glooskap, fearing for his men because of the strength of the animals, decided to make the animals smaller. So he took Squirrel and smoothed his back with his hand for a whole day, until he became very small as he is now, and he made him carry his tail on his back that he might thereby use up some of his strength; but Squirrel still scratches as in the old days.

Glooskap made all the animals smaller and weaker than when they were first created. He gave his people power over them, so that the greatest and strongest of all his creatures was man. The animals became his friends and the friends of his people; they could talk like men and they often spoke to them, and they were eager to obey Glooskap and to help him in his work. Two great wolves became his dogs; he could change their size and make them kind or cruel as he willed. They guarded his tent by day and night, and always followed him about, even swimming behind him when he went far away over the sea. The Loons of the beach became his messengers, and one of them—old Tatler—became his chief tale-bearer. They always brought him news from other lands over the water and they also kept him well informed about the deeds of his own people, telling him who were good and who were evil. Fox too brought him tales from places deep in the forest, and was one of his most trusted friends. The Rabbits became the guides of men; one of them—old Bunny—was his scout of the woods, and those who followed him never lost their way. The Partridge built boats for men and animals, until because of the bird's stupidity, Glooskap took away his power. The Whale became his carrier, and old Blob the whale came quickly to his call and carried him on her back when he wished to go far over the sea. The Great Eagle made the winds for him; when she moved her wings the winds blew; she could make them great or gentle as Glooskap commanded, and when Glooskap tied her wings, the winds were still. Each animal and bird had special work to do.


the great eagle made the winds for him.

Glooskap's only enemies were Beaver and Badger and Bull Frog. These always plotted against him and tried to destroy his power by stirring up strife among his people. At last he could be patient with them no longer, and he resolved to drive Beaver away. One day when Beaver watched him from a distance, Glooskap scooped up great handfuls of earth and stones and threw them in anger at his enemy, and Beaver in great fear because of Glooskap's great power, fled far away. The earth that Glooskap threw fell into the ocean and became islands. The spot from which Glooskap had taken the earth became a beautiful bay. To the shores of this bay Glooskap moved his tent, and lived there until he left the earth. When Beaver went away, he built a dam from a high place on the south to the shore on the north, and he thought to live there in comfort. But the dam caused the high tides of the sea to overflow the valley, and it was a constant source of trouble and fear to the people who lived near it. Thereupon Glooskap in anger one day broke the dam and pushed part of it out into the sea. The broken part which he moved out became a cape stretching into the ocean, and there you may see it to this day. Then Beaver, knowing that Glooskap was more powerful than he, troubled him openly no more, but frequently by stealth he tried to do him harm.

When Bull Frog was first created, he was given power over all the fresh-water streams in the land. He dwelt in the stream from which Glooskap's people took water for their use,—for drinking and cooking. But he too proved false to Glooskap, and grew vain of his own great power. Once, that he might show his skill and win a great reputation among men, he dried up the water in the stream until only the mud remained. The people thirsted without fresh water, and were much distressed, and at last they complained to Glooskap. Glooskap told them not to worry, for he would soon set things right. That he might make sure of Bull Frog's treachery he went himself to the bank of the stream, and there he asked a boy to bring him water to drink. The boy searched for water for a whole day, while Glooskap sat on a log and silently smoked his pipe. At last the boy came back bringing only a small cup, no larger than a thimble, filled with dirty water, and said it was all the water he could get.

Glooskap knew then that his people had told him the truth about Bull Frog's wickedness. In great anger he went himself to the mud where Bull Frog dwelt and asked for water. But Bull Frog stubbornly refused to let the water come forth. Then Glooskap grasped Bull Frog with a mighty grip and squeezed him tight until he crumpled his back and made him soft. With great force he hurled him far out into the mud, and said, "Henceforth you shall live in dirty water; and you shall always croak with a dry throat, as a punishment for your sins." Then with his own magic power he brought forth water so that the stream flowed again, and the people all rejoiced. He promised that never again should any creature have power to dry up the streams. And since that time Bull Frog has lived in muddy pools; he still croaks, for his throat is always dry, and to this day his back is wrinkled and crumpled and bears the marks of Glooskap's mighty fingers. And since that day the supply of clear fresh water has never failed in the country and the streams have never dried up.

Glooskap was always kind to his people. He taught the men how to hunt and how to build huts and canoes. He taught them what plants were good to eat, and he told them the names of all the stars. But he did not dwell among his men. He dwelt apart from them in a great tent, but when they sought him they always found him. He never married as they did. There dwelt with him as his housekeeper a very wise old woman; her name was Dame Bear, but Glooskap called her always "grandmother." With him too there lived a little boy whom Glooskap always called "little brother." And Glooskap gave him a magic root from the forest by the use of which he could change his shape into various forms. Whether or not Dame Bear was really his grandmother or the little boy his brother, no man knows. But both lived with him until his death.

Glooskap and Dame Bear and the little boy lived together for many ages. Glooskap had a magic belt which gave him power over sickness and hunger and danger and death. And anyone on whom it was placed was given the same strange power. And while Glooskap was with them, his people lived very happily. They never wanted for food or clothing. For Glooskap was kind to his people and wished them to be contented and at peace.

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