Great Heart and the Three Tests: A Native Canadian Fairy Tale

Written by Francesca Calicdan


Folklore always had a hand in all things creative and entertaining. A kind of art where you could wave your hands over a fire, suspending an audience in a world where limits are passed to craft the extraordinary by only the mind and language. That’s why it’s so interesting; what can or did you offer to the audience once you let your tale free? What could become of your story when it also became their world?

Native Canadian folklore, just like any other culture’s folklore, is the product of someone’s identity. What it has to offer are their own histories, their own ruminations, life lessons, and of course, their own story. What may their stories say? What can we take from them? 

The story “Great Heart and the Three Tests” demonstrates the culture’s identity in a way that is easily accessible. It’s not long, doesn’t wear out its welcome, and the moral is of something that has practical value: companionship. Sure, it’s a lesson that would be learned over time, but it’s not necessarily an easy road to walk if the story was saying something, so let’s get to unpacking it.


Near the sea in the olden times, a boy lived with his father and mother. He inherited his father’s superb hunting prowess, to which his mother believes he’ll be a great man and will win wide fame like in her vision and the fairy gifts by his cradle. His father, on the other hand, wanted to let time tell for his son to prove himself by his future deeds. 

Elsewhere, there was a girl who was also beautiful, but unlike the boy, her father was a great Chief. Both of her parents died and she was left with land, wealth, and no one else in her family. She was displeased by all the meddlesome and insincere men in their performances in her tests to weed out unworthy suitors. Her fame was brought to the boy’s humble land and his parents concluded that it was the opportune time to send him out to earn his wealth as the girl’s husband, so the boy went out. On the journey, he meets and recruits 4 other men, introducing himself as “Great Heart,” to participate in the test with him with the promise of shared fortune.

When the group arrived, no one believed they would win, but Great Heart won the first challenge with his strength and the rest won the proceeding ones, deeming him victor and a suitable suitor for the girl. When he and the girl married, he gave the promised treasures to his companions, and bringing his wife and new riches, he returned to his village, his success not surprising his mother.


I think the “Great Heart and the Three Tests” is a good and honest tale, all things considered. It addresses that intelligence isn’t a product made by one person; what the boy, Great Heart, amassed in the story was companionship. 

He, amongst many, many other suitors had completed the test and with the understanding that it wasn’t possible without support. He had pride and self-confidence, and given how we as a society deal with it, the case may be that accepting aid is hard. The resolution, a highlight of the moral, shows that taking that “hard” route will ultimately turn the tides to your favour. As the tale points out, it’s not plausible to charge into the challenge (which, frankly, could be said about a lot of things). The story is saying to take the “hard” route and it’s perfectly okay to. After all, he never broke the rules and there weren’t many excuses for not considering his approach before he even got to bat.

The story reminds me about how all beings are really just one unit and all claims otherwise are bound to doom people. Strong word, “doom,” but okay, what does that mean? Think about your textbooks at school. Were they written by someone? Were you ever under the impression that however you may succeed in life is entirely based on your skills? Is a CEO of a company ever just the only person that works at the same company? 

Honestly, does being independent hold that much merit as you might’ve been told? You should know how to supervise yourself, yes, but the difficulty of trying to make a product bigger than yourself alone… that sounds awfully strenuous, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Like I said, it’s not plausible. What if Great Heart entered by himself, blinded by pride just like the other suitors? He needed that help, and that didn’t mean that he was weak. That made him strong to the girl’s standards. I could take a shot in the dark and say that this is what the First Nations had intended with this story. They think it’s illogical to try to succeed by yourself, and it so happens that I was convinced by this story of the same thing.


“Great Heart and the Three Tests” is a modest tale with the lesson of the necessity of companionship. For a short story, there is a great balance between making it comprehensible and still having elements ponder upon. A nice story in the books, but I’m sure it’s much better in the outdoors where stories could really come to life… amongst life. 

If there is something other than the moral to take from this, it’s that you should find more stories like this if you’re looking for something brief and memorable. Not all people have time to read books of behemoths upon behemoths of text and unpredictability, but I bet it’s easier to find time for something like this. Stories are what you give to the audience, after all.

Great Heart’s story is amongst many, many folktales—not limited to the First Nations’, but other beautiful cultures. From different mouths and different eyes and different people to share the story. Have fun with your next experience because where his story came from? I’m sure the rest will catch you in a new, intriguing world.


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