It means “the old woman”, though it’s also the French name for the wrasse. I can’t see why the canoemen would be afraid of a fish, though. So presumably La Vieille is the personification of some hazard that canoemen faced.
Oh there is a Lake Lavieille near there (near that river in Canada). That may be why the OP’s author used the particular term. (Is it fiction or non fiction ? )
Acionna was the name of a goddess of the sea in Gaul / France…
Sedna is similarly an intuit myth, but to same effect, worship her ,appease her, in the hope of avoiding disaster and gaining fish…
La vielle was the old lady of the winds. Wind could be a voyageur’s enemy, or his friend. When the wind blew from astern, the voyageurs could rig a small sail and their canoe would be propelled by the wind, bringing relief from the endless strain of paddling and portaging. “Souffle, soufflé la vielle!”, the voyageurs would call out. (Source: The Illustrated Voyageur, by Howard Sivertson.)
On the other hand, la vielle could turn angry. High winds and waves could be life-threatening, especially on the Great Lakes. Twas only prudent to appease la vielle with gifts, which as noted sailors have done in various guises since ancient times.
Thank you! I felt sure she was the wind but couldn’t find confirmation anywhere. I think I must have heard it in a long-forgotten French class some twenty years ago. I just couldn’t find it on the internet.