The Legend of Jean-Baptiste Gaudet

The Shapeshifter

Born in 1806, Jean-Baptiste Gaudet settled in the village of Concession in the Municipality of Clare. The story of this legendary character and his magical abilities still lingers in art and music from the region.

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Clare’s oral history is rich with stories and legends such as that of Jean-Baptiste Gaudet, known as John or Johnny "Petoque." The story of Petoque takes place in nineteenth-century Clare, a rural region of Acadie where Catholic values prevailed. According to the legend, Jean-Baptiste Gaudet was far from being a devout catholic and he was accused of selling his soul to the devil.

Born on August 2, 1806, in Petit-Ruisseau (Pointe-de-l'Église parish), Gaudet was the son of Isidore Gaudet (à Joseph "John", à Pierre, à Bernard) and Marguerite Bastarache (à Marie-Josephe Comeau and Jean-Baptiste à Pierre à Jean "Joannis" Bastarache). After losing his first wife, Anne Saulnier, Jean-Baptiste married Marie Thibault (à Eusèbe). Archival documents indicate that he fathered 10 children: Auguste, Basile Ion, Léon, Vitaline Honorine, Luc Damase, Marie Anne, Thècle Mathilde, Denis Isidore, Elizabeth, Melanie and Catherine Gaudet. Jean-Baptiste lived in the forest village of Concessions for many years. At the time of the 1871 Canadian census, Jean-Baptiste Gaudet was 64 years old. He told the census taker that he was a farmer and that he could not read nor write. 

Life as a farmer was particularly difficult at the time. The lack of electricity meant ample manual labour and the use of rudimentary tools and oxen. Most people travelled on foot or on horse- or ox-driven buggy. According to the legend of Johnny Petoque, he had the ability to shapeshift, transforming himself into a black dog or bull to ease his workload. It is worth note the legend’s overlap with certain local expressions such as "turning into a bull" or "raging like a dog." In his bull form, Petoque was known to chase women when they went blueberry picking in his field. In his black dog form, he "[enjoyed] frightening people who dared to venture near his house at dusk." Petoque would also choose an animal form when travelling from his forest village to the coast.  

Although the legend of Meteghan’s Cy à Mateur (1848-1919) is the most popular Clare legend, the story of Johnny Petoque precedes it. Even today, the legend of Petoque persists in storytelling and other modern representations. For example, Acadian artist Anne LeBlanc’s painting depicts Petoque (the bull) chasing women from a blueberry field. In addition, Michael Gaudet, Acadian singer-songwriter, has a song entitled (La Ballade de) Jean-Baptiste Gaudet. In a video from 2012, the artist explains a few stories behind the legend of Jean-Baptiste Gaudet. Recalling his childhood around the campfire at the Colonie jeunesse acadienne (CJA), the singer remembers being told stories of Johnny Petoque that were so frightening that none of the children could sleep! Michael Gaudet also talks of a man who "[could] never lose at cards." During a card game, one of the players looked under the table and was shocked to see that Jean-Baptiste had horse legs! Michael Gaudet presents Petoque's character as a drinker and card player who did not go to church. Indeed, Jean-Baptiste Gaudet’s death does not seem to have been documented by the parish. He is not buried in the cemetery of Sainte-Marie’s church in Church Point nor in the cemetery of Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel in Concessions, which was built after his death. It is said that he Gaudet buried on the outskirts of Lac Spectacle (or Lac des lunettes) in Concessions.



Concession, Nova Scotia