Pierre Falcon (a.k.a. Pierriche, Pierre the Rhymer), poet, balladeer (born 4 June 1793 in Elbow Fort, Rupert’s Land, near present-day Swan River, MB; died 26 October 1876 in Grantown, now St. François Xavier, MB). Though he worked as a fur trader, farmer and magistrate, Pierre Falcon is best remembered as the author of many poems and ballads that recount the events and experiences of early Métis settlers. Falcon Lake, on the Manitoba-Ontario border, was named in his honour.
Education and Career
A Métis of Cree and French parentage, Pierre Falcon was the son of a North West Company (NWC) employee. In the late 1790s, he was sent to live with relatives in Lower Canada, where he was baptized and educated, and returned to his native village in 1808. He was an employee of the NWC from 1808 to 1821, and of the Hudson's Bay Company from 1821 to 1825, following the merger of the two firms. In 1812, he married Marie Grant — daughter of Cuthbert Grant, Sr., Nor'Wester and partner with the NWC, and sister of Cuthbert Grant, Métis leader and the HBC-appointed Warden of the Plains. Falcon became a farmer in Grantown (now St. François Xavier, Manitoba) in 1825, and was appointed the magistrate there in 1855.
Poet and Balladeer
Nicknamed Pierriche (“Pierre the Rhymer”), Falcon had a talent for putting local happenings and stirring events, such as the adventures of voyageurs and hunters, into song. The ballad “La Chanson de la Grenouillère,” for example, recounted the Seven Oaks Incident — a violent culmination of the bitter rivalry between the NWC and HBC that resulted in the death of 20 men. Among his other songs that have survived are: “La Danse des Bois-Brûlés” (“Lord Selkirk at Fort William,” 1816), which tells another part of the Seven Oaks story and is attributed to Falcon, although he was never officially confirmed as the author; “Le Général Dickson” (“The Dickson Song,” 1837), about an adventurer who left Grantown that year to found an Aboriginal kingdom in California; and “Les Tribulations d'un roi malheureux” (“Misfortunes of an Unlucky King,” 1869), which protests William McDougall’s entry into the Red River Settlement and is sung to the tune of Fromental Halévy’s “The Wandering Jew.”
Falcon’s ballads were sung on the Prairies by the Métis to the accompaniment of the violin (crincrin), and were carried throughout Canada by voyageurs, from the St. Lawrence to the Mackenzie River. Many of his songs were lost because they were not written down, but all of the surviving ballads can be found in Margaret Arnett MacLeod's Songs of Old Manitoba (1960). In 2009, the Gabriel Dumont Institute released Pierriche Falcon: The Michif Rhymester, a CD and book featuring English and French-Michif renditions of Falcon’s songs, and an essay by Paul Chartrand, former member of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, on the importance of Falcon’s work, Métis nationalism and the Michif language.