Fifty years ago, in Spring 1972, I published a book about a young Indigenous boy, growing up in Canada “just before the coming of the white man”. It was intended to attract young readers, before the age of 12, and, at 79 illustrated pages, sold for $4.50.
And it was a brave book, because young Agouhanna was , as I recall from a phrase we used to promote the book, “the little Indian who was afraid”. He was terrified of the wild forest, its noise and its silences, and as a chief’s son, he was not naturally inclined to pass leadership tests with ease. Yet as a boy who would not eat meat out of respect for other living creatures he was determined to become a man without violence or warfare.
Of course, this was a book written about native life by a white man, which raises questions in our minds today . But it was written in French, a fact that gave me great pride, although I had little to do with the fine translator, Harvey Swados, or the illustrator, Julie Brinckloe. The author was the amazing Claude Aubry.
Claude was a proud Francophone. born in Morin Heights in the Laurentians in 1914. As a country boy he had to walk three kilometres through field and forest to get to school. He was a good scholar, and in due course got his B.A. from the University of Montreal. As a bilingual student with impressive knowledge of English he got his B.L.S. from McGill, and became a major figure in the Library world, eventually becoming the Director of the Ottawa Public Library and of the Eastern Ontario Regional Library System.
And he wrote! Two of his books, The King of the Thousand Islands and The Christmas Wolf, won major Canadian prizes. Meanwhile, besides Agouhanna, with its sympathetic look at another culture, he gave us all the remarkable book The Magic Fiddler and Other Legends of French Canada.
I knew him well. Somehow Claude and I developed such a friendship that distinguished publishing events would find their cocktail parties disturbed by the white-haired Claude and the long-haired Doug, sneaking around other guests, firing imaginary pistols at each other. We were both good at it, as I recall. And he was a delightful man. I’m happy to pay a tribute to him now.