Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« Mr. Tory do not run for mayor | Main | Godless work: Edmonton atheists to pitch in to clean Alberta highways »

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paths of Canadians

Wolfe 1759

The CBC shocks us all.

Canada's national broadcaster will mark the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham with a documentary on the decisive British-French conflict, months after threats from hardline separatists forced the cancellation of a planned re-enactment in Quebec City.

The one-hour documentary, set to air during prime time next Thursday, is already ruffling the feathers of those who opposed the real-life re-enactment.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, like a broken clock. To our American readers, let me put this in perspective. Imagine if a bunch Southerners demanded that a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg be cancelled, because the battle recalled painful memories of defeat, and you begin to understand the absurdity of the protests of Quebecois nationalists. One can take two perspectives about landmark events like Gettysburg and the Plains of Abraham. It's big history that deserves to be remembered, regardless of the respective merits of each side. The other approach is honouring the values the respective sides were fighting to uphold. On both counts Gettysburg and Quebec were major events whose outcomes changed their respective nations for the better. While there is no moral comparison between New France and the Confederacy, slavery was a peripheral issue in Canada though it did exist, 1759 was ultimately a lucky break for the Canadiens.

The New France of the mid-eighteenth century was much like old France, quasi-feudal and dominated by a Catholic Church far enough away from grasping the need for the separation of church and state. While the Enlightenment was in full swing in the salons and coffee shops of Paris, its values and attitudes had yet to trickle down to the average Frenchmen in the fields. Only a tiny landed elite along the St. Lawrence would have begun to come to grips with the implications of figures like Voltaire and Diderot. For the generation of Quebec nationalists who emerged after the Quiet Revolution, 1759 was both humiliation and lost opportunity. Had French colonial rule lasted Quebec might have become a modern independent liberal nation, just as Canada and the United States had. 

The narrative implies that English speaking Canada helped prop up Quebec's ancien regime. Having about one quarter of the population of Canada stuck in the seventeenth century, for the first hundred years after Confederation, was a significant encumbrance. Something polite opinion has steadily ignored for decades. Quebec was strategically vital to the existence of Canada, yet its basic values were more statist and collectivist than those of the ROC. For all the celebration of the coureur des bois, the state and clergy preferred les habitant to stay on the farm. The province's educational system famously churned out priests and lawyers, just as schools in English speaking North America were beginning to turn out business graduates and engineers. 

The hope that Quebec might have modernized sooner had it remained within France's orbit, omits the bloody history of the metropole after 1789. Five republics, two Empires, three major military defeats and a near coup as late as 1962, modern France modernized slowly and often by force. The France of the 1950s might have been nominally more secular that contemporary Quebec, yet it suffered from many of the same structural setbacks. What Quebec had enjoyed was two centuries of peace, security and relatively more freedom than his French counterpart. The Battle of Quebec was the inception of Canada. For the Quebecois it was the moment they came into the orbit of a liberal and modern government. That alone should be enough to commemorate.

Posted by Richard Anderson on September 10, 2009 | Permalink


Be wary of the CBC and its "history". We all know what they did to WWII history by comparing Canada's soldiers to the Nazis and Japanese. "The Arrow" is blatant fiction. While I haven't seen Passchenadale (and reviews were negative) at least it avoided CBC involvement.

Why is it that Australia can crank out excellent historical (albeit ones with liberties) films like "Breaker Morant", "Gallipoli," or "ANZACs" while Canada can't put out anything but crap? Worse, each has government aid and support, yet radically different results. Tragic.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-10 8:57:15 AM

Can we PUHLEEEEZE return Quebec to whoever makes the best offer?

I think everyone would be happer if we did.

Posted by: beachgirl | 2009-09-10 9:36:20 AM

Or, to pursue some more alternate history.
Let's pretend that France had held onto Quebec. Fast forward to Napoleon who has little interest in quelques arpents de neige and sells Louisiana to the US in 1803 for $8.8 million. I'm sure he would have tossed in Quebec for a few more dollars.
So, today, Quebec would be about as French as Louisiana is.

So... Quebec nationalists should celebrate the British victory!

Posted by: Patrick Armstrong | 2009-09-10 9:36:48 AM


"It's big history that deserves to be remembered, regardless of the respective merits of each side."

No one disagrees with that, dumb-dumb. The Quebec license slogan "je me souviens" should be proof enough that Québécois are not opposed to remembering the event. The issue is whether is should be celebrated. Just as many Native Americans don't want to forget, but also don't want to celebrate the arrival of Columbus and just as Jews certainly don't want to forget, but also do not want to celebrate the holocaust, many Québécois resist the idea that the battle of the Plains of Abraham is something to celebrate.

On the 40th anniversary of the end of WWII, Peter Jennings, broadcasting from Hiroshima, suggested that the Japanese people should be thankful to Americans for the bombing because it "set Japan on the road to democracy". There was something so completely tone deaf about that assessment that it was extraordinarily offensive. Funny how your post brought it to mind again.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-09-10 10:46:26 AM

On D-Day a few years back, the German Chancellor said that the Normandy Landings marked the beginning of Germany's liberation from the Nazis. Yup.

Why not just ban history in Canada? You people never learn anything from your past mistakes anyway!

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-10 12:17:41 PM

You people never learn....
Posted by: Zebulon Punk | 2009-09-10 12:17:41 PM

Well slap ma fro "you people". Da Punk is in I'm a wannbe American today. The next time there is something about Aberta he'll start with "us Albertans". I don't think I ever seen a bigger toady than Da Punk.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-09-10 4:35:28 PM

Now now, sometimes a re-enactment is just that, a re-enactment. This Quebecois (sorry work laptop does not have bilingual keyboard), doesn't see anything celebratory in a CBC documentary or a re-enactment. This Quebecois has also interestingly noted that only hardline sovereigntists seem to be offended by the idea. The rest of us simply don't care.

One good thing to come from this: perhaps the last of the baby-boomers who still believe the lie that was taught in Quebec schools that the French won the battle will finally accept historical reality.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-09-10 4:54:16 PM

This kind of situation occurs when you allow irrational elements control public perceptions of the past. While it will not be easy, letting professional scholars inform the debate will help a great deal.

In the US, they managed in fifty years to revolutionize the history of the Civil War. Southerners, even those in states what remained in the Union, were taught and readily believed that the war was fought over states rights, ignoring slavery (the basic cause of the war), and the massive internal divisions in the South.

In Britain, wars for empire are now seen with embarrassment for imposing white Christian rule over Other Peoples in Asia and Africa. The French Revolution had its dark side. All of this occurred because professionals worked the subject.

Surely Canadian history, and especially Quebec history, can do the same.

Oh yeah: re-enactments are a poor way to relive the past. Only a limited range of experiences can come from it.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-09-10 6:16:14 PM

I watched the documentary and I found it to be a good piece of history.
It taught me a lot of things that I did not ever learn in high school.
Hey, if Montcalm had done a couple of things differently we would all be speaking French right now.
Of course I can see people wanting to dismiss it if it does not suit their political agenda.
Let's all face the fact, that sooner or later Quebec is going to seperate and start the talks headed that way.
Keeping Quebec or at least the French speaking parts that truly seek to seperate forcibly in Canada is nothing more than totalitarianism that the former Soviet Union used against others.

Posted by: Robert Thomas | 2009-09-20 12:10:26 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.