The claim that history is written by the winners doesn’t apply to Canada. Our history is written by the whiners. This week’s cancellation of the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham at Quebec City is another lamentable moment in the troubling politicization of Canadian history.
Quebec separatist groups, some making vague threats of violence, expressed outrage over plans for the 250th anniversary of the most famous battle ever fought on Canadian soil. Any recognition of the fact the English won the Battle of Quebec, effectively ending French rule in Canada, is seen as a “humiliation” by hard-core separatists and evidence of “federalist propaganda.” The National Battlefield Commission, which administers the park, dutifully cancelled the re-enactment to avoid offending anyone.
While the move may keep a few loud-mouthed complainers at bay—and thousands of eager re-enactors at home—acquiescence of this sort does grave damage to our identity as a country. Serious historians acknowledge that those few minutes outside the walls of Quebec City on Sept. 13, 1759, marked the most important single event in post-contact North America. The battle’s immediate result was to seal the fate of New France and leave the continent in British hands. It also signalled the end of Aboriginals’ control over their own destiny. And the financial cost of victory in the Seven Years War led Britain to raise taxes on its American colonies, precipitating a revolution 17 years later. The foundations for both Canada and the United States were laid that day. This is historical fact. Ignoring it does not make it go away.
Curiously, last week several separatist Quebec politicians attended a ceremony honouring five patriotes who were hanged by the British following the defeat of the Rebellion in Lower Canada in 1837. But what makes one such event worth celebrating and another a trigger for outrage and violence? It is a self-delusional pursuit to allow political groups to cull historical events into acceptable and unacceptable incidents.
Other countries do not seem to suffer from this same fear of their own past. The Battle of Gettysburg was similarly a conclusive defeat for the Confederacy. Yet Americans from both the North and South manage to participate in annual re-enactments without animosity or threats. They are able to recognize the event for what it is—a significant and non-political event that defined a nation.
We lack this ability, as witnessed by the outrage-driven political revisionism of the Battle of Quebec, bombing campaigns of the Second World War, the Riel Rebellions and numerous other episodes. We are losing the war against our own history
A mature and confident Canada ought to be able to consider its own past without fretting about who might complain. And the complainers might even come to a greater appreciation for their own condition. The terms of surrender for Quebec drafted by British Gen. James Wolfe, who died on the battlefield that day, established the protection of Quebec’s unique culture, language, law and religion that has since become the hallmark of modern Canada’s identity. It seems a fact worth celebrating. Or at least acknowledging.
A war on our history
A few separatist agitators have managed to sweep away a part of Canada’s history