Bugnet, Georges-Charles-Jules

Georges Charles-Jules Bugnet, pseudonym of Henri Doutremont, editor, writer, botanist (b at Chalon-sur-Saône, France 23 Feb 1879; d at St Albert, Alberta, 11 Jan 1981). Bugnet suffered early on from the oppressive atmosphere of the modest family into which he was born, and evidence of this is found in some of his writings. He studied at Macon and received a Christian education leading to the priesthood, but soon left the seminary to attend the Faculté des lettres at Dijon and the Sorbonne. He became involved in l'Action catholique de la jeunesse française (ACJF), a militant catholic youth group opposed to the laicization of schools. Furthermore, he threw himself into journalism working for the monthly La Croix. In 1904 he was named editor-in-chief of La Croix de Haute-Savoie, in Annecy, married a young middle-class girl with whom he would have nine children, and then decided to depart for Canada.

In 1905, he acquired a land concession in Rich Valley, Alberta and became successively a pioneer, a farmer, a horticulturalist, and a rose breeder. The settings around him inspired his chef-d'oeuvre, La forêt (1935), the story of a pioneer couple so unsuited to the new conditions of their lives, that the woods insidiously invaded their mental state and became the novel's central focus. Parallel with his agricultural work, Georges Bugnet worked for the school commission and the Association canadienne-française of Alberta, becoming chief editor of the weekly L'Union. He was the writer of several novels (Le lys de sang, 1923; Nipsya, 1924; Siraf, 1934), stories (Le pin du Maskeg, 1924; Le conte du bouleau, du mélèze et du pic rouge, 1932), poems (Voix de la solitude, 1938; Poèmes, 1978), plays (La défaite, 1934), articles, short essays (Albertaines, 1990) and diaries (Journal 1954-1971, 1984).

At 68, he abandoned literature to devote himself entirely to journalism with the weekly La Survivance, an activity that corresponded very well to his rhythm of life and style of thought. In 1954, he sold his land and withdrew to a small property in Legal (Alberta), and later moved to a retirement home. On his wife's death in 1970, he entered the nursing home in St Albert, where he passed away peacefully at the age of 102. He was a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes académiques (1970), and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta (1978), and several major awards.

All Bugnet's works are true hymns to nature. Fifty years of life in the outdoors contributed to developing within him a personal and mystical relationship with his environment that was transformed into dense writing drawn from the same plant-like energy and steeped in realist poetry. A gentle and humble man, strongly rooted in his Western land, no one heard louder than he the "great voices" of Creation, whose grandeur strength and majesty he celebrated, in face of the smallness and fragility of mankind. However, unlike Romantics who were concerned with attributing the scenery of the land and the heavens to the landscape of (their) dreams (abbé Jean Papen: Georges Bugnet, homme de lettres canadien, des Plaines, 1985), Georges Bugnet strove to capture the very essence of their strangeness and mystery. The "George Bugnet" rose bears his name - a final homage to his life and work.