Set in 1755 at the fall of Fort Beausejour to the British, Argimou: A Legend of the Micmac first appeared in print in serialized form in The Amaranth (a New Brunswick literary journal) in 1842. It was very popular since “historical fiction was enjoying wide international popularity” at the time, according to Gwendolyn Davies informative Afterword. Sir Walter Scott’s novels were quite popular at the time and publishers were looking for similar writings to publish for their reader’s entertainment.S.D.S. Huyghue was born in PEI in 1816 and lived in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick at different times in his life. Argimou is notable, not only for its story set at the time of the fall of French rule in Acadia but for its sympathetic attitude towards the Mi’kmaw nation and how admirable their uncomplicated way of life was:
“…he [Edward, an English soldier] thought how little, after all, the luxury, the advantages of a civilized state of society, were capable of ameliorating the moral or physical condition of man. What benefit had art and intellectual culture, after the lapse of thousands of years, conferred upon his nation that these simple children of Nature did not receive from their mother’s hand, unsolicited?”
The story of Argimou is fairly straightforward: after the fall of Fort Beausejour, Maliseet warriors kidnap Clarence Forbes, the betrothed of Edward Molesworth, the aforementioned English soldier. Argimou, a Mi’kmaq warrior who was captured by the British at the Fort, offers to help Edward find Clarence in return for his freedom. The Maliseet also have Argimou’s love interest Waswetchcul captive. So both men work together along with Argimou’s father Pansaway to retrieve the women. What transpires is a trip from Nova Scotia through present-day southern New Brunswick to the Bay of Fundy where the story reaches its climax.
As I was reading this story, I couldn’t help but think of James Fenimore Cooper, a contemporary of Mr. Huyghue’s and his extremely popular Last of the Mohicans which was published in 1826, less than two decades prior to Argimou. Both stories are examples of “captivity narratives” which were popular at the time.
Argimou: A Legend of the Micmac holds a unique place in early Canadian literature, for it is certainly descriptive of a historical time, filled with historical places and was published at a time when there was a scarce availability of literature of the “homegrown” variety. It may be a simple story, but it retains a certain timelessness about it as it surfaces again (thanks to Wilfred Laurier University Press) in a time of promised healing and reconciliation toward Canada’s indigenous peoples.