Today, Fils du Roy Distillery from Paquetville, New Brunswick are releasing their latest product: Fort La Tour brandy. The brandy doesn’t just stir up a bit of Saint John’s history – they’ve also commissioned Saint John art icon Cliff Turner for the label.
Saint John has a long and complicated history, and much of it is centered around forts. For a while, we had a whole bunch of them, and everyone wanted get their hands on them. Forts were the ‘in’ thing, if you didn’t have a fort you were a nobody. So when Charles La Tour built his famous fort in 1631 it wasn’t long before someone came knocking. It doubled as a fur trading post at the mouth of a river, and that is prime real estate.
So the inevitable happened, and in April of 1645 Charles’s second wife, Françoise Marie Jacquelin, valiantly fighting off two warring governors, but not without mysteriously giving up the ghost shortly after. It’s been the stuff of legends ever since. She’s been hailed as a heroine of Acadia in life, and as a eerie specter wandering the former location of the fort (wherever that was) in death.
“This part of New Brunswick’s history is not very well known. That’s why Distillery Fils du Roy wanted to honour it by releasing a new product, having a painting made for the bottles, and now, a song. Clifford Turner, from Saint John, is the artist behind the painting. It represents Madame Jaquelin defending the Fort,” says the distillery in their official press release.
Turner explains that he did a good bit of research before tackling the painting. Iconic images of Madame La Tour are already in existence, the most famous of which is by artist Adam Sherriff-Scott. In Sherriff-Scott’s depiction she is heroically leaning against her sword in a pose that in no way suggests she’s about to kick of on a career of haunting the shores of Saint John for the next few centuries.
“I thought no one knows what she looks like, I’m going to use the Sherriff-Scott piece as a base,” says Turner. “I wanted that background story. I started looking at all these French heroines, so actually her body and her body pose is taken from a famous statue of another French heroine, Jean Hachette, who also single handedly leapt off a horse and attacked a bunch of people. Joan of Arc is in there. Obviously the two famous paintings of Liberty leading the people from the French Revolution is in there. There’s a lot of other body posing that was taken from other places and then put into period clothes from research done at the New Brunswick Museum.”
“What you see on the label is really just a detail of the larger painting. It’s kind of like dealing with the image of Laura Secord or Shakespeare, or any one of those famous faces you see, but you have no idea what they probably look like, and probably didn’t look anything like what their portrait looks like. I thought there really should be a connection to what is carried and thought of in our public institions like the Museum, and that’s why I went with the same clothing, and the same look. That’s to establish that iconography rather than reinvent the wheel. It’s for a product, and for a product that’s supposed to portray an identifiable story.”
Sébastien Roy, the owner and chief distiller at Fils du Roy is passionate about his Acadian history. Not only is he spurring the story of Madame La Tour back into pop culture with his brandy, but he’s also brought in Acadian progressive folk group Cy to write a song about the events. On each bottle, a sticker invites the buyer to download a free song written by Cy for the occasion. The song Fort La Tour can be downloaded at www.fortlatour.ca.
While Fils du Roy are best known for their Gin Thuya, but have a full line of products from vodka to absinthe. If you’re interested in sampling the brandy yourself you can wait for the product to hit the shelves across the province or go to the launch on Thursday, December 1, 4:30 pm at the Buckland Merrifield Gallery, located at 36 Canterbury Street in Uptown Saint John.