Ok, we’ll talk a bit about my family. Shall we?
When Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films announced that she’ll be hosting a blogathon dedicated to the world of television, I had the idea to discuss one of Quebec’s most famous tv show: Les Filles de Caleb. The direct translation would be Caleb’s Daughters.
Les Filles de Caleb was a mini-series of 20 episodes that was based on Arlette Cousture’s bestseller Les Filles de Caleb: le chant du coq. Émilie Bordeleau (Marina Orsini) is the central character. She comes from the village of St-Stanislas-de-Champlain in Mauricie, Quebec. Her father is Caleb Bordeleau and her mother, Celina Bordeleau. She has numerous brothers and sisters, like most people living in the countryside at the time. In her late teens, Émilie becomes a teacher at the little school “l’école du Bourdais” in the near village of St-Tite. She has to impose her authority since some of the students are barely younger than her. There, Émilie meets the handsome Oliva Pronovost (Roy Dupuis) who doesn’t seem very motivated by the school but who turns out to be quite interesting and you can guess what happens… Yes, they fall in love with each other! The Bordeleau family and the Pronovost family become close and Émilie and Ovila eventually marry. The young woman has to give up her teaching job to consecrate her life to motherhood. Hey, that was life at the time! She and Ovila have numerous children together including Blanche, born in a snowstorm. Ovila and Émilie’s relationship is difficult since Ovila is someone who needs a lot of liberty, who doesn’t like farm work and has some problems with alcohol. Les Filles de Caleb is a series full of adventures and misadventures. Yes, it shows you how life could be hard during the late 19th century and the early 20th century, but it also shows you how people from the countryside could be friendly with each other and supportive. Even today it’s still like this!
Les Filles de Caleb was broadcast on Radio-Canada television between 1990 and 1991, and on CBC television under the name of Emilie. In France, it was a huge success as well and was known as Émilie, la passion d’une vie.
Les Filles de Caleb is not a purely fictional movie as it tells the real life-story of these characters. The author of the book, Arlette Cousture, was herself the daughter of Blanche Pronovost and the granddaughter of Émilie Bordeleau. If the first book of the series, “Le chant du coq”, turns around the life of Émilie, her second one “Le cri de l’oie blanche” is mostly focused on Blanche’s life. This one was also adapted into a television show called Blanche, but I believe it didn’t have as much success as Les Filles de Caleb. I myself have watched the first episode and didn’t continue as I didn’t really get into it. Maybe I’ll give it another chance eventually. The book was good tho, but not as exciting as the first one!
Now, you might wonder why I’ll talk about my family. Well, as you might know, my last name is Pronovost… and all the Pronovost are related! It’s a big family coming from the region of Mauricie. And because of this, a few anecdotes concerning the link between me and the tv show are worth mentioning.
1- As much as I can remember, I think Ovila Pronovost was the cousin of my great-grandfather, which will also make him a distant cousin of mine. I guess that’s because of him if we love outdoors in our family haha! The man loved nature.
2- My late grandfather was born in the village of St-Tite (like Ovila and his family) in 1910 and went to the little school where Emily taught. Well, at the time, she wasn’t teaching there anymore as she was already married. There even is a Pronovost Road in St-Tite! Today, the village is also famous for its Western Festival.
3- We have a country house at St-Stanislas-de-Champlain where Émilie was born. This is a centenary old house that was given to us by my grandfather’s cousin, Stella Brunelle, who was a nurse and died at the very young age of 104! We have good genes. The house where Émilie was born and where her family lived is on the other side of the Batiscan river. Émilie died in the house that is just in front of ours, on the other side of the street! Surely Stella knew her, despite being younger. She is buried in the village’s cemetery.
As I’ve mentioned in my article on Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith, Stella Brunelle was the daughter of St-Stanislas’s blacksmith and we still have one of the account books where Caleb’s name is written! In the television show, we don’t see any scenes of Caleb or his family going to the smithy, but I believe it was mentioned in the novel.
Émilie and Olivia married each other at St-Stanislas’s church.
The television show wasn’t shot on location, however. It’s in the village of St-Jean-des-Piles in Mauricie that is was filmed. After the shooting, the set was moved in the sector of Grand-Mère and what was known as Émilies’s Village was recreated and became a popular attraction for people to visit the sets. Unfortunately, the recreated village doesn’t exist anymore BUT you can still come to St-Stanislas or St-Tite to see the real locations! And people at the time knew it. Actually, a lot of tourists came in “St-Stan” in the 90s (before I was born) and would stop at our house to see the smithy. We even had people from France! Well, it’s true that our house with the blacksmith, the barn, and the large site is a beautiful location. 😉
Emilie’s Village, a touristic attraction in the 90s
Stella’s house when she lived there. ©Famille Pronovost. All rights reserved
If La Petite Vie was Quebec’s most successful sitcom, Les Filles de Caleb was the most successful television drama. And, as mentioned on imdb, it was one of the highest rated show in Quebec when it was broadcast. I think the main quality of it is that it aged well. Even today, it appeals to a lot of people. It tells the story of rural Quebec but, as it is more a love story more than a historical drama, it’s the kind of television show that can be appreciated and understood anywhere. The story of Émilie and Ovila marked the imaginary of Quebec and, still today, people remember them well. And having Pronovost as a last name can create fun situations! For example, in my last year of high school, my French teacher was a huge fan of actor Roy Dupuis who portrays Ovila in the television show. It was the beginning of the year and I asked her a question which she answered, but she couldn’t remember my last name.
Me: “Ah, Pronovost”
My teacher: Ah! Like Ovila Pronovost!”
And this is far from being the only time it happened to me. By the way, you don’t pronounce the “s” and the “t” at the end of Pronovost!
The cast of Les Filles de Caleb was composed of Marina Orsini (Émilie), Roy Dupuis (Ovila), Germain Houde (Caleb Bordeleau), Johanne-Marie Tremblay (Célina Bordeleau), Véronique Le Flaguais (Félicité Pronovost), Pierre Curzi (Dosithée Pronovost), and Patrick Goyette (Ovide Pronovost – one of Ovila’s brothers). As they were very young when the series was made, that’s pretty much what put Marina Orsini and Roy Dupuis on the map. And with the success it had, it certainly gave them a name. I believe the whole cast was great in their respective roles. Marina Orsini gave the necessary strength of character to Émilie. Roy Dupuis was perfect to incarnate the mysterious and seducer Ovila Pronovost. The two actors looked beautiful together and made that passionate love story highly believable. Pierre Curzi and Germain Houde both played fathers with a lot of humour and always had a great chemistry with the other characters. Veronique Le Flaguais and Johanne-Marie Tremblay knew how to be maternal, but strong women, which I think was necessary when you lived the hard life of the countryside and had to raise a bunch of kids! And Patrick Goyette as Ovide made an interesting contrast with Roy Dupuis as the jealous but more down to earth brother. Of course, there are many more actors and characters in the show, but these are the main ones.
Actually, I think the only problem with the cast is that Roy Dupuis was much more handsome than the real Ovila Pronovost! But who cares? It is so agreeable for the eyes to watch the sexy (and talented Roy Dupuis! 😉 One of our most praised actors here in Quebec!
Even if Les Filles de Caleb lasted only 20 episodes, a lot is going on and definitely makes us wish it would last longer. It is a real adventure truffled with breathtaking, heartbreaking and overall beautiful moments. I don’t know if you can find it with English subtitles somewhere, but if yes, I highly recommend you to watch it! It’s that kind of tv show that, once you started it, you can stop! It’s addictive like that.
You know what? Now I truly feel like watching it again! I think a little Filles de Caleb marathon is in order!
This article was written for The Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. It was a pleasure for me to participate! Thanks Maddy!
Make sure to check the other entries as well!