INGRID PERITZ - MONTREAL -- No one's even fired a musket, but this summer's lavish re-enactment of the British victory over the French on the Plains of Abraham is already setting off some pre-battle jitters.
The chairman of the National Battlefields Commission says Ottawa has warned him to tread cautiously around the 250th anniversary commemorating Canada's famous battle, which will feature a full-scale, costumed replay of the historic showdown.
"Ottawa is saying to be careful: We don't want to offend people. We don't want a political confrontation," André Juneau said in an interview. "Everyone, including the National Battlefields Commission, is aware of the emotional nature of the event."
The 1759 battle marked the beginning of English rule in Canada and, 250 years later, remains a sore point for some French-speaking Quebeckers. Some sovereigntists and observers say the commemoration is misplaced, and one well-known Quebec historian compares it to France marking the anniversary of its humiliating defeat at Waterloo.
But some are questioning what exactly is being commemorated, and how. The Parti Québécois is expressing concerns and has scheduled a meeting today with the head of the federal battlefields commission.
"We understand that Quebec City is a magnificent place to do historical re-enactments," PQ MNA Agnès Maltais said in an interview. "But I remind people that it's still popularly known here as the defeat of the Plains of Abraham, not the victory of the Plains of Abraham.
"You don't commemorate the defeat of a people, and you don't celebrate the defeat of a people," said Ms. Maltais, her party's critic for the Quebec City area.
Quebec City is expecting 3,000 participants to re-enact the faceoff between the British and French generals James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, which lasted less than 30 minutes but sealed the destiny of the continent. Participants are coming mostly from the United States but also Britain, France and the rest of Canada.
The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, has listed the battle re-creation as one of its top 100 events of 2009. As many as 200,000 people are expected.
A hard-line sovereigntist group is urging the cancellation of the event, which it calls "a demonstration of humiliating and provocative propaganda" by the federal government.
Patrick Bourgeois, head of the Réseau de résistance du Québécois, said Ottawa's online publicity for the commemoration - featuring the descendants of Wolfe and Montcalm shaking hands amicably on the battlefield - was an attempt to whitewash history to promote federalism.
"It's closer to vulgar propaganda than an honest interpretation of the conquest," Mr. Bourgeois said.
Quebec historian Jacques Lacoursière, a popular commentator and author of about 20 books on Quebec history, said the French army's defeat on the Plains of Abraham has taken on a "mythic" status in the province.
"We are probably the only people who mark defeat. It's like recalling your first spanking," Mr. Lacoursière said. The French wouldn't celebrate their defeat at Waterloo, he said.
Mr. Juneau, whose commission is an agency of Canadian Heritage, acknowledged that he was "a bit on the defensive" about the event, but said the anniversary could be an opportunity to mark Quebec's advancement in 250 years.
"Yes it was a defeat. We took a beating in 1759," he said. "But we got up again. We survived. Today we're recognized as a nation."
While you can't rewrite history, you can change the way it's commemorated - and Mr. Juneau left the door open to modifications. "Can we change the theme? We'll ask ourselves the question," Mr. Juneau said. "We didn't see this as a provocation. If it becomes one, we'll ask ourselves what to do."
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