NEIL REYNOLDS - OTTAWA -- Contrary to what people think, the English did not conquer the French on Sept. 13, 1759, at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. And the French didn't surrender, either. As a matter of fact, it was a Scot - Brigadier-General James Murray - who accepted the capitulation of French forces five days after the battlefield death of General James Wolfe, and it was a Scot - Major Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay - who capitulated. De Ramezay was a Ramsay, a clan that traced its Scottish ancestry back to Norman origins in the 12th century. Looking strictly at the battle that made Wolfe famous, a Scot won it and a Scot lost it. For good measure, it took place on a field named for Abraham Martin, an early settler known as The Scot.
Wolfe himself took two musket shots within moments of the first volleys on the morning of Sept. 13 - one hitting him low in the stomach and one ripping into his chest, a mortal wound. He survived long enough to learn that the French forces were momentarily in retreat, to give a few orders and to mutter finally his memorable last words: "Now God be praised. I will die in peace." The Marquis de Montcalm, also mortally wounded, died the next day.
It was Murray, the fluently bilingual Scot who led the famous Fraser's Highland Regiment, who assumed command of the British forces on Wolfe's death. It was Murray who, a few days later, wrote such friendly draft articles of capitulation that the French inhabitants of Quebec City begged de Ramezay, as commander of the besieged city, to accept them. It was Murray who subsequently, as the first British governor of Quebec, championed the preservation of the traditional rights and privileges of the French Canadians - an essential, initial tolerance that would ultimately make credible the concept of a sea-to-sea Canadian nation.
When the Scottish regiment disbanded five years later, it was Murray's soldiers who settled permanently where they were, buying farms in the Eastern Townships and starting businesses in Montreal and Quebec City.
In Les Ecossais, a history of the pioneer Scots in Lower Canada, Lucille H. Campey says: "[These] Scottish settlers and French settlers were clearly comfortable with each other. As some of the earliest British arrivals in the province, the men of the Fraser's Highland Regiment played an important role in cementing good relations. Naturally, the Scots shared with the French a common hostility to England. Steeped in the traditions of the auld alliance, which sometimes meant an education in France, they blended effortlessly into French-Canadian society."
The Scots emerged quickly as leaders of the economic and social life of French Canada - in the fur trade, in farming, in timber, in finance and, for that matter, in government. (A certain Hugh Finlay became Quebec's first postmaster in the 1760s.) Pierre Berton attributed the remarkable advance of the early Scot settlers in Quebec to the famous Scottish work ethic: "For the Scots, it was work, save and study; study, save and work." The Scots formed only one-fifteenth of Quebec's population - with the Irish and the English outnumbering them - yet they advanced quickly to leadership roles in business and in the professions.
In 1803, Lord Selkirk, the Scottish colonizer who settled hundreds of Highland Scots in Prince Edward Island and in Manitoba, visited Quebec - and observed that the majority of Montreal's "mercantile people" were "Scotch," an observation that would be valid for the next 100 years. Among the vastly successful Scottish business barons of the 19th century, one stood out: the legendary Simon McTavish, son of a lieutenant in the Fraser's Highland Regiment who founded the North West Company and came to control a business empire that stretched from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains.
In 2007, the Scottish Parliament honoured the entrepreneurial Scots who succeeded in 19th-century Quebec, among them such pre-eminent merchants as James Dunlop (imports-exports); James McGill (fur trade, land speculation; benefactor of McGill University); Alexander Walker Ogilvie (flour milling); Henry Morgan (the first department store in Canada); and Sir Hugh Allan (transatlantic shipping).
Whatever his genius as a military strategist, Wolfe left an indelible imprint in Canadian history as a brave and honourable man with a memorable way with words. In a small rowboat, making its way in the dead of night along the St. Lawrence shore, on its way to the famous cliffs that the British forces would scale, Wolfe (as history has it) quoted from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard - with its melancholy observation that the paths of glory lead but to the grave. He would rather have written these lines, he told his companions, "than take Quebec."
If we are to believe Sir Walter Scott's version, however, Wolfe also once said that nothing good ever came from Scotland "but for the marmalade." These are memorable words, too, but highly defamatory. English Canada and French Canada alike owe much to the economic insight and entrepreneurial spirit of the Scots - including, arguably, the country itself.