Léo-Paul Desrosiers is the uncontested master of the historical novel; in this book the full maturity of his talents is revealed. A profound knowledge of history and tradition gives authenticity to his picture of the harsh life of voyageurs and traders in the north country at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and to the pitiless rivalry between the great fur-trading companies which he portrays.
Desrosiers embodies the spirit of an age; everything is made vital through the characters he creates, above all through one man, a true soldier of fortune, Nicolas Montour. As Montour fights his way up in the North West Company, all means are considered fair as long as they serve his ends. Men are tricked into virtual slavery to the Company by their passions and their needs; women are used as hostages and chattels to the same end. By telling the story in the present tense, Desrosiers gives it emphasis and movement, heightening the rough simplicity of emotions and setting. Throughout, there is an unobtrusive poetry and a strong feeling for the nature of the land.
The original French edition, under the title of Les Engagés du Grand Portage, was awarded the Prix David in 1935.
Born in Berthier, Québec, Léo-Paul Desrosiers (1896-1967) was educated in the classical college at Joliette and studied law at the University of Montreal. After a career as a journalist with Le Devoir, he served as the French editor of the Proceedings and Orders of the House of Commons. In 1941, he was appointed librarian of the Montreal Municipal Library, from which he retired in 1953, spending his winters in the Laurentians and his summers in the Gaspé until his death in 1967.
Desrosiers was a member of both l’Académie Canadienne-Française and the Royal Society of Canada. He won the Prix D’Action Intellectuelles for Ames et Paysages, a collection of stories about the countryside in Québec, and the Prix David for Les Engagés du Grand Portage (The Making of Nicolas Montour). His first novel, Nord-Sud, was honoured by the French Academy.
Although Desrosiers was a versatile writer, including short stories, contemporary novels, biographical novels, prose-poetry, and religious novels in his repertoire, he is known primarily for his historical novels, which are exceedingly well documented and historically accurate. But they are also alive and vivid, written with strength and precision, for Desrosiers was at the same time a historian and story-teller. He liked to imagine a fictitious intrigue, placing it in a true setting, minutely verifying all details. Desrosiers is undoubtedly the master of historical fiction in French Canada.