From the Plains of Abraham to Abraham Lincoln

with 201 comments

250e quebec

There are two schools of thought in Québec when it comes to the historical significance of the British conquest of 1759.  The so-called Montréal school of thinkers consider it was a historical, economic and social tragedy that stunted the development of French-canadian culture and society.  According to the Québec school of thought it spared Québec from the chaos and violence of the French Revolution and gave it access to British government and democracy.

I’m more partial to the second school’s interpretation.  The conquest did result in two centuries of rule by a lunatic papist theocracy propped up by a cotery of racist British robber-barons, but at the end of the day, we’re still here, we’re still speaking French and we can only imagine how much bloodier things would’ve been if New France had been conquered by the Spaniards or the Dutch.

The conquest was a thing.  It happened.  What are you gonna do about it?

We’ll I know at least one thing I wouldn’t do about it is celebrate it.

Yet, that’s exactly what Québec City is getting ready to do.

The National Battlefields Commission is organizing a full-scale re-enactment of both the battle and the siege of Québec this summer to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the British Conquest of New France.

I get it.  The whole thing is historically-minded.  There’s going to be conferences by scholars.  The website says they are ‘marking’ the anniversary, not having a party.  The poster for the event shows two smiling generals shaking hands and the program includes a comedy cabaret with Wolfe and Montcalm impersonators.

Yet you have to be seriously clueless to think that a full-scale re-enactment of the mother of all of Québec’s many historical traumas and unresolved ‘issues’ is going to go down without drama.  Come on!  It was only a few months ago that some people nearly lost it because Paul McCartney went on the Plains to sing in English!

The Réseau de Résistance des Québécois and filmmaker Pierre Falardeau have already given the organisers an ultimatum: “This is why the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ) is as of now on the war path, to be ready to get into action on the 15th of February if the said commission does not back down by then and announce the cancellation of the event.”

I can already imagine the the battalion of Jeunes Patriotes with flags and gaz masks charging the middle aged suburban Americans in tights playing the role of the british troops.  Maybe Amir Khadir will attack the Wolfe impersonator with his shoes.

This said, I do think they have a point. The Conquest is a very emotional and significant historical event.  In the country with the Occident’s strongest and best organized secessionist movement, you’d think people would take that into consideration.

Compare this to the emotionally charged and masterfully played lead up to Barack Obama’s inauguration.  This week we saw the president-elect re-enact the train trip Abraham Lincoln took to Washington on the eve of the Civil War and a massive concert was held in front of the Lincoln monument where Martin Luther King gave the most famous american speech ever.  All of this evokes slavery, civil war and segregation, but in the context of the the first black president’s swearing in, America is actually creating a brand new historical moment.  A moment of reconciliation.

Over here the Canadian government thinks it can defuse the memory of the Conquest by treating it like the emotional equivalent of the war of the Peloponese and turning it into a vaudeville.  This is the opposite of what the Americans are doing.  This is trivializing the past. It is disrespecting the many Québécois who still have the memory of the consequences of the Conquest stuck in their throats.

Next year: the re-enactment of the American Indian genocide!

Written by angryfrenchguy

January 18, 2009 at 8:51 pm

201 Responses

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  1. One more thing…Detailed studyies show that over a long term average, the provinces that receive the most federal transfers have the lowest economic output. Could it be that these jurisdictions are hooked on the payments for there future economic and program needs.

    Dont know about this, but I do know that increasing equalization and transfers without economic growth in the recipient regions is simply not sustainable or a fair proposition both for the donor provinces and those that receive as they are being robbed of their reason to succeed.

    Short term economic need perhaps (everyone can have a bad couple of years …depleted fishing stocks, poor crops…drought, etc etc) but continued welfare is another thing altogether. Further, equalization is now being used as a political tool as we have seen with the Conservatives attempting to court support in Quebec. Didn’t work out that well for Harper as the last election would indicate.

    On the subject of those that are in it for the money, wasn’t it Jean Charest who was complaining about proposed cap on Equalization and tranfers at the last first ministers meeting. To your Question, ACJ, what message does this convey.



    January 26, 2009 at 8:51 pm

  2. ABP,

    I see you are busy mining the economic data as you should, and in the current climate its easy to conclude that a bunch of things are not going to sustainable for too long going forward. Most of the transfer money comes out of Ontario and Alberta and Saskatchewan .

    Sometimes circumstances do change for provinces, like Alberta got oil, (previously was dirt poor,) Newfoundland ditto, Nova Scotia’s getting some oil, Saskatchewan got potash and other good stuff, Quebec got hydro, and all these places are getting some wind power gradually, little thanks if any in most cases to their respective governments and PEI will always have Anne of Green Gables and Cavendish Beach.

    And it is true a hand up is better than a hand out.

    One thing, could you just check your source figures again? You talked about 170 to 250 civil servants per 1000 residents which is every 4th or fifth person nearly. Don’t you mean 10,000 or are you including teachers, doctors, nurses and all health workers and support staff, bus drivers, and what not. Does it include ‘outsourced’ personnel who do public service on an intermittant or contract basis?

    For example doctors are only about 1 per 700, and teachers (with a class of 30) must be around 1 per 60 or 70 persons, not counting administrative staff etc.

    Is it really true that overall 1 in 5 of us are in the public sector? I suppose if the average tax rate is around 30% of net income that could be about right.

    Well then at least unemployment shouldn’t go past 80% since usually public sector doesn’t get the pink slip very often!

    As long as all these folks are busting their ass to do good quality value added work… and do it in appreciation of a certain stability in their situation.

    Feel free to laugh at my naivete. Public sector is necessary, I just didn’t know its around 1 in 5.

    Is that % sustainable in bad times as well as good, if unemployment rises to say 10%?

    You are the economics guy, you and johnny on line.

    Of course so was Harper who never had a real job, always at some kind of funded trough, although you guys are a lot more communicative than he.


    January 26, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  3. I think I can answer for Acajack. It conveys the message that Quebec is just in it for the money. Which is true.

    His question was: How do Canadians feel about it? Based on the answers he received, it seems Bruce is okay with it because he thinks it will change eventually, and ABP is angry about it and wants it to change.

    My question is, what do you want changed, and how do propose to change it?


    January 26, 2009 at 11:59 pm

  4. @ Bruce,

    I will get back to you with actual figures. The ones I present are actually what I am led to believe are actual…The interesting point would be feds civil servant per capita in the various provinces…as this would illustrate another example of the fiscal differences between the regions..I will endeavor to finalize these figures for you, if I can.

    But, 20% plus or minus…would likely be somewhat accurate for the present…More in some areas, less in others. Quebec for instance has almost twice the government workers as the other provinces. Demographics figure into this as Quebec is nearly a quarter of the Cdn population.

    What my point is that 4 x growth in transfers across Canada against the largest regional growth economy (On) and 10 X growth in Quebec against the countries largest GDP is simply not sustainable. The entire country will be bankrupt, even the have provinces whose horse will run out of steam with the load leveed by the feds. Essentialy those provinces with relatively small accumulated deficits or surplus will eventually fail. Really doesnt matter about linguistics, culture or anything else when the credit card has expired.

    As to sustainability of the civil service…well…I suppose that depends upon fiscal performance of the nation as a whole. If the fiscal capacity goes down (which it surely will) , than the fixed cost of government as we know it, is to be maintained will equal huge deficits. Long term deficits to me mean that we are spending our youths (your kids and mine) future economic stability today…We are putting a financial noose around their heads and are stangling their ability to move forward in the global economy.

    Harper has a masters degree in economics, and is only changing the face of the budget tomorrow based upon what the others are placing before him on the plate of politics. It is intersting that they were bringing him down in December on issues of lack of fiscal stimulus (read deficit financing) but today are criticizing that he is going to run a deficit to accomodate their demands. What do they really want and what is their agenda…Their agenda seems to be his agenda to accomodate them.

    So silly to see Mike I and his gang blame the current economic crisis (Its Harpers and his parties alone) during and economic collapse globally of colossal size. I might remind them that deficit financing was a liberal agenda which was started during the liberal era of PET.

    I suppose we will see if John M Keynes philosophies are applicable today in a worldwide collapse of this nature.

    Our biggest trading partner, the US, accounting for 75% of our exports…is in deep trouble…You want to see what is in store for us…Keep and eye to the south.

    Bonne chance.



    January 27, 2009 at 12:38 am

  5. Merci de vos efforts mes bons camarades éléctroniques.

    De rêves excéllents.


    January 27, 2009 at 2:18 am

  6. Fun with statistics!

    According to this site

    … in 2000 there were 36,000 federal public servants in Quebec and 63,000 in Ontario. Quebec’s total federal public servants made up about 57% of the Ontario total, whereas the province of Quebec has about 62% of Ontario’s population. So, relative to Ontario, Quebec is actually slightly under represented with federal public service jobs. When compared to some other provinces, the numbers are skewed even more in Ontario’s favour. Of course, it’s not really that abnormal that that so many jobs are in Ontario, since the capital city of Ottawa is located there.

    Note also that about 50% of the federal public service jobs in Quebec are in Gatineau, and that roughly half of these jobs are held by people from Ottawa and environs who are Ontario residents. So something like one quarter of all of the federal public service jobs in all of Quebec are held by Ontarians.

    Granted, many Quebecers from Gatineau have federal public service jobs in Ottawa (perhaps 15% of all federal jobs in Ottawa), but the impact of these Quebecers on the % of federal jobs across Ontario is quite a bit smaller because the total number of employees in Ontario is much greater.

    In light of all this, I suspect that the figures cited by ABP that show Quebec having way more public servants probably include both federal and provincial employees. Quebec has by far the largest provincial public service in Canada, much of which has been built up over the decades by the PQ as a “Québécois national government in waiting”. Because of this, unfortunately there tends to be a lot of federal-provincial bureaucratic duplication here. This duplication exists elsewhere in Canada as well, but not nearly to the degree it does in Quebec.


    January 27, 2009 at 9:48 am

  7. “Because of this, unfortunately there tends to be a lot of federal-provincial bureaucratic duplication here. This duplication exists elsewhere in Canada as well, but not nearly to the degree it does in Quebec”

    Yes, could be with the same effect as what I have been stating with regards to the feds utilizing employment as another form of transfer of wealth. If it is as you indicate, which I can clearly see happening this is really a total waste of taxpayers money as quebec is compensated through the Quebec tax abatement plan whereby money is transferred back to Quebec to pay for the services that would normally be provided by the federal government.



    January 27, 2009 at 11:52 am

  8. I think AFG (and all of you) will find this opinion piece article in Tuesday January 27, 2009 print edition of the Globe and Mail a hoot, as well as supportive to AFG’s thesis! So here goes…. the whole thing!

    ( and here is the link as well:

    History should sometimes just be history


    (Consultant; was chief of staff to former Alberta premier Ralph Klein)

    January 27, 2009

    It has come to my attention that the National Battlefields Commission has decided to re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on, well, the Plains of Abraham, in Quebec City. (I had a Jewish classmate at Crestwood Elementary in Edmonton who told me the Plains of Abraham was also another name for the Israeli Air Force).

    I don’t know who the National Battlefields Commission is, but I think this is a bad idea. It is a bad idea because it is like re-enacting a marriage that ended in divorce – I defy you to find two people who want to go back to the church to re-recreate that moment.

    Some things are just better left alone.

    To recap, the French lost this battle.

    The British who were downriver sneaked upriver and the French didn’t notice. Probably watching a Habs game at the time.

    The British then climbed up a cliff and started singing all those annoying soccer songs on the Plains of Abraham to let the French know they had arrived.

    Remember, it was September, and the French were inside the strongest fortress in the solar system with winter on the way. All they had to do was sit tight, invent poutine, lob a few shells out onto the front lawn to keep the English up at night, wait for the weather that made even the Quebec Nordiques leave town, and watch the English go back down the cliff and sail home for Christmas.

    But oh no.

    Mister Smarty Pants Montcalm has to sashay out of the fortress and dare the English to take him on, saying (in French) “You want a piece of me?! YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?!”

    They did, actually.

    In 30 minutes, it was over.

    Montcalm lost the battle, the fortress, and the continent, although bilingualism would survive.

    He even got himself shot and was carried to a house a few blocks from the Château Frontenac where he died. A plaque on the house still marks the occasion, and you can buy some truly awful souvenirs there while you mourn his passing.

    The only good news for the French was that they did pick off British General James Wolfe, although even then, he got a better painting of his death scene than did Montcalm.

    All in all, not a good day for the French, and I am thinking certainly not one that a national federal body should try to “recreate” for historical purposes.

    Here is the problem: Where do you stop? Why wouldn’t they also recreate the fall of the Fortress of Louisbourg to the British, where the winners got the fort and all the lobster they could eat? Or let’s have a do-over of the Battle of Batoche where an army of North-West Mounted Police and soldiers creamed a rag-tag bunch of Métis who just wanted to preserve a threatened way of life. I’m sure their descendants would be thrilled to participate. See if the Iroquois want to recreate the Battle of Sorel in 1610 when Champlain cleaned their clocks because all his guys had blunderbusses and the Iroquois just bows and arrows. Or let’s head out to the West Coast and throw some Japanese-Canadians in jail to recreate our horrible overreaction to the start of the Second World War. I mean, hey National Battlefields Commission, be creative!

    But of course, none of this should be done in the first place. That is why I think this whole Plains of Abraham thing is a bad idea.

    Sometimes, a country can have too much history, and bringing it all back brings old animosities back with it, even if events happened a long time ago.

    A memorial service to mark the soldiers who fell on both sides? Fine.

    But if we are going to do this, then let’s do it right.

    My personal favourite would be to get the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings Old Timers onto the ice to recreate the 1966 Stanley Cup final where the Habs won, only because Henri Richard illegally kicked in the puck to win Game Six.

    A true miscarriage of history.


    So there you have it guys! The national newspaper of ROC runs an opinion piece that is completely agreeing with your viewpoint here.

    Congrats, btw !


    January 29, 2009 at 10:02 pm

  9. Johnny, sorry for such an over the top RANT!

    (I just was seized by a little GCL moment! Never, anyone, please, please, please, never put a shot-gun in my hands!! Thanks all!)

    To Everyone: Its ‘fess up time here!

    Thanks to CLAUDE B in the previous thread for the radio-canada 1959 archive, ( but the interview was a bit boring, — style of the time — monotone, black and white etc.) which I couriel-ed to Alain Thomas, mon prof d’icitte à Guelph, bon homme qu’il est, AND … then it was HE who alerted me to Rod Love’s article in Tuesday’s Globe (I only do newspapers on the weekends…)

    So hat’s off here to Alain Thomas, originaire de l’ouest de France, et bon citoyen actuel de Canada!


    January 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm

  10. Celebrating the anniversary of this battle wouldn’t be so difficult if Quebec was an independent country. Then it would just be “history”. As it is now, it just seems like the start of all Quebec’s (or French-Canadians’) problems… and a long list of complaints to the damned English. I know it’s unfair for all you poor bastards of the ROC, but Quebec will ALWAYS be unsatisfied with the federation. You just don’t get over being conquered.

    Kick us out, please, since we can’t seem to do it ourselves! We seem to prefer complaining about petty matters like this Quebec 1759 “commemoration”.


    January 31, 2009 at 2:23 am

  11. damn you too schmorgluf.

    that’s not the way it works around here. elect your majority of representatives with a mandate for seccession and let the people of quebec speak on the subject. if a majority opt for a nation outside canada – then and only then will negotiations take place. nobody gets kicked out because their ideas lack effective popularity or they complain. in fact, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

    as for when history starts or stops – with all respect – why don’t you take a long walk off a short pier?


    January 31, 2009 at 2:12 pm

  12. As an English-born Canadian who learned the details of this particular battle along with other Canadian kids, it never ceases to amaze me that those details get glossed over by sweeping generalizations such as one finds in the Wikipedia entry, which refers to it as a “decisive British victory”. In the battle on September 13th, Wolfe had a simple objective, that of occupying the Quebec garrison. Montcalm’s objective was also simple: retain possession of that same garrison. On September 14th, AFTER the battle, by all accounts the French still retained possession of the garrison. Both Wolfe and Montcalm were dead. Both sides suffered around 600 wounded, with France having 116 dead to the British 58 (hardly decisive numbers either way). The British occupation did not take place until 5 days after the battle ceased, and most of the French troops had left to join the troops at Cap Rouge. Some might say that on September 13th, since Montcalm’s men achieved their objective and Wolfe’s men did not, that the French won that day…

    Adrian Berry

    February 13, 2009 at 10:50 pm

  13. a month later and the hubris is down to a dull roar…

    another opinion.


    February 21, 2009 at 10:47 am

  14. Dude…………. your a tool


    April 1, 2009 at 10:09 pm

  15. just kidding april fools



    April 1, 2009 at 10:10 pm

  16. Johnnyonline,

    Obviously irony is not your forte!


    April 22, 2009 at 10:20 am

  17. Yum. My first Lisa conemmt. I am never going to wash this conemmt ever.I do not really live anywhere. But right now I am in Santa Barbara, I will be in LA for the next week or so, ad then I will probably be in San Diego partying like a rock star with Kid Disco and some others the next.Disco I will be in the OC I think around the 17th or so, I might be there awhile.Lisa Hmmmm, Can I get a little interview/catfight of you and Susan while in La? (I am going tomorrow, and I think I will be around a week or so.)


    December 30, 2013 at 8:13 am

  18. that if we get off the bus at the zoo, then “we will rat school,” using the French verb rater, which means “to miss” (as in “to miss the bus”).On the other hand, they also try to taasnlrte French structures literally into English. In Leo’s case, he almost always constructs the past tense in English using “have” as a helping verb. So he’ll say “I have do it” instead of “I did it.” I think this is pretty clearly a carry-over from French. Another one is using indefinites like “anyone” and “anymore” as though they’re inherently negative. So Leo will say things like “He is anymore here” to mean “He isn’t here anymore.” Again, it’s clear he’s translating literally from French.Another funny one is the use of “chez.” In French, chez is a preposition that means at someone’s house (like “chez moi” is “at my house”). But the word “chez” ends up having a more extended meaning in French, which you might predict by thinking of an English sentence like “This is how we do things at my house.” There is really no equivalent word in English, so a lot of sentences with “chez” that are perfectly simple and natural in French just cannot be taasnlrted literally into English. That doesn’t stop my kids from trying though. There was a nature documentary Nico was watching about primates, and there was some explanatory sentence that went “Chez le singe [things work a certain way].” When Nico was explaining to me what he’d learned, he told me that this is how things work “at the monkey’s house.” ;^)Regarding Swiss German: The thing is that I’ve recently moved to Zurich, so I have to learn Swiss German. I want to be at the level where I’m noticing all these fun insights about the nuances of the language, but I don’t know any German, and I’m having a little trouble surmounting the initial hurdle of basic vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. There’s this big, boring memorizing basic stuff phase, and as far as the necessary study is concerned, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak… ;^)


    December 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm

  19. Your story was really inrimfatove, thanks!


    December 31, 2013 at 3:53 pm

  20. I told my kids we’d play after I found what I needed. Damnit.

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