Welcome to the digital home of Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme — A Rare Collection of Fakes!
The artefacts, images, and stories that appear here come from a special collection of fakes and forgeries that has toured Canada this year in public libraries.
These fakes were brought to light by Bishop Henri Prud’homme. The Prud’homme family in Canada were descendants of Louis Prud’homme and his wife Roberta Gadois, who arrived to Montreal from Guînes, Pas-de-Calais, France, in 1650. The first Governor of Montreal, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, gave them 65 acres of unceded Kanien’kehá:ka lands, close to the place French settlers named Fort Ville-Marie. The Prud’homme family opened the first brewery in Canada in Montreal. Louis’s descendants eventually moved west to Saskatchewan.
The story of the library of fakes, which languished for years in the attic of the first bishop of the Diocese of Prince Albert, Msgr. Joseph Henri Prud’homme, is quite remarkable. It is believed that an anonymous donor left a small wooden crate on the porch of the bishop’s palace in the late 1920s during the difficult dustbowl days of the Depression. We assume that the objects were given to the bishop because he was a well-travelled man who would value and care for the contents of the crate. He had visited Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, Vienna, Athens, Constantinople, and Cairo, and had served as secretary-archivist to the Vatican. Prud’homme spoke French, German, English, Italian, Polish, and the Indigenous languages of Saskatchewan, particularly dialects of Cree, such as Nakawē.
The objects left on the Bishop’s porch included a falsely fabricated two-handled bronze gui vessel, characteristic of the Western Zhou (1045–771 BCE) style; forged sheet music; dubious botanical findings, counterfeited for the sake of scientific fame; and ancient Roman medical equipment. It will never be known whether the anonymous first donor to the Prud’homme library knew of the objects’ dubious origins or whether they believed them to be real.
When Prud’homme retired to the small town of Pont-Viau, Quebec, just outside of Montreal, he brought the mysterious collection of objects with him. With the help of the Friends of the Prud’homme Library — acquaintances of the Bishop known to be enthusiasts of art and history — the shady origins of each object and text were thoroughly researched. Upon his death on January 5, 1952, the bishop’s collection was bequeathed to the Friends of the Library, who have cared for the original collection since and added to the library’s holdings extensively with more contemporary works.
The Prud’homme Library collection has never before been exhibited or studied, likely because of an academic disregard for documents of questionable origin. Now, for the first time in Canadian history, these artifacts are on national display.
It is our honour to present to you Make Believe: The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme — A Rare Collection of Fakes.