Graeme Hamilton, 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.
ROC en colère
Quebec separatist army claims victory
Plains of Abraham revisited