Ottawa Valley Culture

Big Joe Mufferaw

Big Joe Mufferaw was a French Canadian folk hero from the Ottawa Valley perhaps best known today as the hero of a song by Stompin’ Tom Connors. This Paul Bunyan-esque character made his living chopping down trees for timber as well as defending the oppressed French Canadian loggers of his day when many of their bosses were English and their rivals for work were the Irish.

He reached folk hero status in the 1970s after Bernie Bedore wrote of his incredible adventures, Big Joe has become a larger than life character from the Ottawa Valley. One story tells of Big Joe in a Montreal bar where a British army major was freely insulting French Canadians. After Big Joe beat the major he yelled, “Any more insults for the Canadians?”

Many believe that Big Joe was modeled after a real person, Joseph Montferrand of Hull, who was an outstanding athlete, foreman and river driver for several decades during the Valley’s boom of the 1800’s.  His legendary feats are based in fact, all tied to the notoriety of the Shiners. They were mainly Irish river drivers led by Peter Aylen, who earned, or were pegged with, a certain reputation for hooliganism in Bytown. Many local writers have written both fictitious and biographical stories of Montferrand’s life including Benjamin Sulte, Joan Finnegan and Donald MacKay.

A sculpture of Joe Mufferaw was erected outside of the Mattawa Museum during the spring of 2005. It was carved by a local carving artist named Peter Cianafrani and was his last sculpture before he died.

Stompin Tom Connors paid homage to this larger than life character in his 1970s hit:

"And they say Big Joe drank a bucket of gin
And he beat the living tar of the twenty nine men
And high on the ceiling of the Pembroke Pub
There is twenty-nine boot marks and they are signed with love

Big Joe Mufferaw paddled into Mattawa
all the way from Ottawa in just one day
On the river Ottawa the best man we ever saw
was Big Joe Mufferaw the old folks say"