Re-writing History: Battle of the Plains of Abraham part deux

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham conventionally marks the beginning of British North America (ie, the parts that became Canada after the Americans had their Revolution). To mark the anniversary of the battle, a group of American re-enactors was going to stage a replay of the battle. Later battles where the French won were also going to be staged. (Ultimately, France decided that Guadeloupe was more important, and traded it for what became Quebec. Britain, in a decision rare for the age, allowed the existing power structures, the elites and the church, to remain in place. Thus set the preservation of the Francophone community in North America).

A jolly day outing, a bit of tourism, commermoration of the battle that marked French Canada’s preservation as a ‘distinct society’ (for comparison, note what happened to Louisiana).

Alas, the Sepratists got their knickers in a twist, and no-one is allowed to mark the occasion:

(from the National Post)

A ragtag army of Quebec separatists, armed only with Internet petitions and menacing e-mails, have triumphed where the French army failed 250 years ago, preventing another British victory on the Plains of Abraham.

Following weeks of mounting controversy that last week reached Parliament, the National Battlefields Commission cancelled its plans to commemorate the anniversary of the historic 1759 battle.

Even before the announcement, opponents of the centrepiece event, a July re-enactment of the battle between the forces of Wolfe and Montcalm, were claiming victory after the commission president distanced himself from the idea of restaging the battle. In weekend interviews, Andre Juneau said the commission had to “take into consideration certain threats” as it scaled back its plans.

Radical separatist groups threatened to disrupt the re-enactment, with some individuals saying they would come armed with paintball guns.

The volunteer re-enactors, the majority of whom are American, cannot believe that four years of planning for the anniversary have come to this.

“They’re kind of surprised and stunned by everything that’s happening,” said Horst Dresler, a Vermont resident who was marshalling the 2,100 volunteers that were expected on the Plains. He said this is the first time he has encountered opposition in 25 years of staging battle re-enactments. “It’s kind of mind-boggling. I just can’t believe that this handful of people are patting themselves on the back, feeling very proud of themselves. They have no idea what they’re doing for the province.”

He said the thousands of re-enactors and the tourists drawn for the spectacle would have pumped millions into the Quebec City economy.

Separatist opponents of the re-enactment are vowing not to stop at having the cannons silenced. Le Devoir reported yesterday that some militants are demanding that control over the Plains of Abraham be transferred to the province. Patrick Bourgeois, who has led the charge against the re-enactment, wrote on his Web site on the weekend that the next step should be to push for the removal of “all monuments dedicated to the memory of Wolfe” in Quebec City. James Wolfe, the British general, died in battle on the Plains.

Pauline Marois, leader of the opposition Parti Quebecois, joined the call for the re-enactment to be scrapped. Yesterday she called the event “a manipulation of public opinion” designed to increase the federal government’s visibility in Quebec. Any event marking the anniversary must be sombre, she added: “It is the Conquest, the beginning of the end of New France in America. There were thousands of deaths, farms were burned. We have a duty to remember these events, but it is not a celebration.”

Mr. Dresler said it was only sovereigntist opponents who described the re-enactment as a celebration. “We do this as a hobby to teach people and to learn from people. That’s all this is, no other agenda,” he said. For that, he received e-mails from Quebec saying things such as, “We will take care of you when you get here,” and, “We will give you a party you will never forget.”

Louis Valiquette, a re-enactor from Montreal, said yesterday he is resigned to seeing the battle cancelled. “I would have a hard time bringing my children to a place where there could be an outburst, whether verbal or physical, or vandalism. It’s not suitable for us,” he said.

He said the battlefields commission deserves some of the blame for not doing a good job explaining the nature of the commemoration, leaving the impression that it was a festive event. “There is a lot of frustration right now in the re-enactment community, because people have booked vacations, they made commitments, they have started spending money,” he said.

Mr. Juneau had been summoned to testify on the re-enactment plans before the House of Commons heritage committee next week.

As a proud Quebecer, I really am embarrassed by these twits. Everything is an insult, everything a ‘slap in the face’, to the separatist. Makes teaching, studying, and celebrating history all the more difficult: and important!  Instead of discussing the battle, and using the re-enactment as a point of departure, the separatists choose instead to re-write history, and consign us to the memory hole.

Lovely.

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2 thoughts on “Re-writing History: Battle of the Plains of Abraham part deux

  1. It’s a pity the direction some sovereigntists took on this, because I think there’s something to Marois’s complaint that the re-enactment is focusing on certain aspects (namely the heroic progress of the British empire) of the war, and not others. All that could and should have been questioned, but before it was, we got sidetracked by issues of national pride on both sides.

  2. FORT LA PRÉSENTATION ASSOCIATION
    OGDENSBURG, NEW YORK 13669

    CO-OPERATION IN HISTORICAL COMMEMORATION

    OGDENSBURG, NY, Thurs., March 12, 2009: The Fort La Présentation Association has welcomed the offer of cooperation from the Quebec Historical Corps to expand Founder’s Day Weekend July 18-19, 2009 to help prepare for the final New York State 250th French and Indian War anniversary commemoration in Ogdensburg in 2010.
    The collective resources and experience allow an opportunity to hold the Founder’s Day Weekend re-enactment and colonial trade fair this year on a scale approaching that anticipated for the 250th commemorative event when as many as 1,000 re-enactors and 15,000 tourists may visit Ogdensburg.
    “Together, the Fort La Présentation Association and the Quebec Historical Corps have nearly three decades experience organizing and hosting re-enactments,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Présentation Association. “When the Battle of the Plains of Abraham re-enactment in Quebec City was cancelled, the Corps offered assistance to us, and we accepted with the clear understanding our Founder’s Day Weekend would not be a restaged Plains of Abraham.”
    “The Quebec Historical Corps offered support in the spirit of cooperation when our services in Quebec City were no longer required,” said Horst Dresler, President of the Quebec Historical Corps. “We are very familiar with Ogdensburg’s historic ground that is attractive to re-enactors, so we wanted to be as helpful as our capabilities allow in the lead up to the 2010 250th anniversary re-enactment.”
    The 2009 event is expected to cost about $20,000, plus the 1,000s of volunteer hours associated with the Founder’s Day Weekends. The Quebec Historical Corps has not offered financial assistance and discussions continue as to the materiel and personnel support the Corps will contribute.
    Ogdensburg’s Lighthouse Point, on which Fort La Présentation stood from 1749 to 1759, has sufficient history to justify re-enactments, as it has for the past 10 years, relative to the French and Indian War. As a mission to Native Americans, La Présentation was home to warriors who joined the French campaigns against the British in the Champlain and Mohawk Valleys.
    When the war turned in favor of the British, elements of the fort were used by French forces in the construction of Fort Lévis on an island three miles down the St. Lawrence River.
    The commemoration of the August 1760 Battle of Fort Lévis will be hosted by the Fort La Présentation Association at the 2010 Founder’s Day Weekend. The 2009 re-enactment is a prelude to that battle.
    Fort Lévis was the site of the last battle of the French and Indian War. When the defending force of about 350 French and Canadians surrendered with honors to the Anglo-American army of 10,000, the river was open to Montreal. Montreal surrendered in September 1760, and the French and Indian War ended.
    The remains of Fort Lévis were largely destroyed during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
    There are plans to rebuilt Fort La Présentation on Lighthouse Point. Although this multi-million dollar project will take a number of years to complete, the historic site will be a growing tourist attraction and a home-away-from-home for re-enactors.
    For more information see http://www.fortlapresentation.net.

    – 30 –

    For more information, media may contact:
    Barbara O’Keefe
    President, Fort La Présentation Association
    315-393-3315

    Horst Dresler
    President, Quebec Historical Corps
    802-457-3414

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