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"Plains" nonsense
Feb 27, 2009

“I don’t like that bit!” 

“Okay, let’s chuck it out.” 

“That one has to go, too.”

“Another one bites the dust.”

Apparently that’s how separatist groups react to history they believe is “humiliating”  and evidence of “federalist propaganda” against their aspirations for Québec.

Culling history of the bits they don’t like or that remind people there is more to Québec than they care to admit has become the pastime of separatists.

The most recent example is  threats of violence by separatist groups resulting in the National Battlefields Commission revoking its permission to re-enactors to re-stage the Battle of the Plains of Abraham as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of the most famous battle in Canadian history. “After several days of consultation and listening, the commission was able to get a feeling of people’s sensitiveness about certain elements of its (anniversary) program,” said the commission in a press release. “The commission gives up the re-enactment of the battles of the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy.”

The reason given by the commission was that they feared for the safety of visitors to the historic park. Instead of the re-enactment, the commission “will offer a simple, respectful program that will call to mind the importance of these historic events, and the siege of Québec’s tragic consequences for its civilian population.” From 2,000 to 3,000 re-enactors were expected to participate, and 100,000 visitors were expected to witness the encounter.

“The commission deplores the fact that its commemorative project was interpreted as a celebration rather than a wish to recall this event collectively, as a duty of remembrance. The reminder of an historic event is not dependent on victory or defeat, but on the importance of this event in our history.”

The September 13, 1759, battle outside the walls of Québec City was a watershed in Québec, Canadian, North American and world history. 

The British defeat at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, a year later on April 28 by French troops led by François de Lévis, could have maintained the status quo in New France, but it was a British fleet that first arrived to resupply and reinforce the garrison hiding behind the defensive walls of Québec City, rather than  French ships. Without supplies of men and arms from France, the British in Québec could not be dislodged. 

On September 8, 1760, the inevitable occurred — Montreal surrendered to the British, ending the Seven Years War. Three years later, according to the terms of the Treaty of Paris, France officially ceded New France to Britain. Actually, the French got what they really wanted from the negotiations, which was control of the lucrative sugar island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies. The French felt they received the better bargain, candidly laughing that all the British got was a “few acres of snow” in return.

The fact that the British were able to defeat the French changed the course of North American history. The immediate effect was to make New France a British colony. The transfer of power in the region changed the relationship between Europeans and aboriginals, and the taxes needed by the British from its 13 colonies to the south in order to pay for the exorbitant cost of the Seven Years War were a major cause of the American Revolution. Historians have termed the Battle of the Plains of Abraham the single-most important event following first contact with aboriginals in North America.

But separatists have deemed the battle an inconvenient part of history, unworthy of recognition despite its importance. They, not the “federalists,” are the propagandists, wanting to pick and chose tidbits from history so they can continue to espouse their cause unfettered by the past which reveals the untenable nature of their position.

Their selection in support of their position is similar to the English denying that the 1066 Battle of Hastings forever changed British history, or Americans from the Deep South denying the Confederates lost the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning-point in American history.

Both battles are re-enacted only for their historical significance by a groups of weekend warriors. The British re-enactors don’t attempt to change history, allowing the side representing the English under King Harold to defeat the side representing the Normans under William the Conqueror, a man of Viking ancestry whose victory marked the beginning of “humiliating” French rule in the British Isles. Nor do Confederate re-enactors try to overturn history and win the Battle of Gettysburg, reversing the “humiliation” suffered by the South at the hands of Northerners. What both groups are re-enacting are poignant moments in history that defined their nations.

Buckling under to the separatists in Québec is another loss in the war to preserve the nation’s history free of political bondage. What separatists will not recognize is that the French king and his political advisers were not overly disappointed to be rid of their costly colony in North America. And, if the colony had been retained by France, it’s likely that Napoleon would have sold it to the Americans — as he did the French holdings centred on the Mississippi River through the Louisiana Purchase — to fund his wars of conquest in Europe. 

Following the British conquest of New France, the terms of the Québec Act guaranteed French-Canadians their rights of religion, language and law. When the U.S. took over lands through purchase or conquest, no such rights were ever entrenched.

History has always been a messy affair. Within Canada, the untidiness of history resulted in discrimination against  black, Ukrainian immigrants and other groups, a $500 head tax on Chinese immigrants, residential schools designed  to take the “Indian” out of aboriginal Canadians, and Japanese-Canadians being interned during the Second War World, this despite RCMP investigations revealing they posed no threat to national security. All these actions are embarrassing in the context of modern Canada as a multicultural society, but they did happen and they cannot be denied.

Denial of Canadian history makes it difficult to learn from past mistakes and make the future better for all Canadians, which includes Québecers. Separatists want the past to disappear so that Québecers do not have the knowledge to contradict their misrepresentations of Canadian history.