Plains of Abraham re-enactment plan under fire

1759-2009 - point de vue anglo-saxon

By Peter O’Neil, Europe Correspondent, Canwest News Service

PARIS — A Canadian government-sponsored initiative to re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham this summer has baffled the small group of historians in France who specialize in Canadian history.
The National Battlefields Commission is helping to finance the re-creation this summer to mark the 250th anniversary of the 1759 victory by British forces over the French at Quebec City.
This year's event, involving up to 3,000 volunteers, has triggered consternation in Quebec over whether a folkloric celebration involving history buffs could inflame Quebec nationalist sentiment.
Many nationalists view the battle as a humiliating defeat and the start of English domination over French-speaking inhabitants of North America.
French historians have similar concerns about the wisdom of the re-enactment, and even question the battle's historical significance.
"This is stupid," said University of Caen historian Andre Zysberg. "This celebration of a military event will just revive old political, religious and ethnic antagonisms. It is the use of history as a political weapon."
Francoise Le Jeune, who heads the University of Nantes' Centre for the Study of Canada, said it is important for a young country like Canada to find unifying landmarks.
But she agreed with critics who have noted that the French wouldn't dream of re-enacting Napoleon's historic 1815 defeat at Waterloo.
"Normally you would choose a moment in history in which every party of the nation was positively involved," she said Wednesday. "This is the wrong moment."
University of Montreal historian John Dickinson, now chair of Canadian Studies at the Sorbonne in France, said the re-enactment is unnecessarily provocative.
"Not only hard-line separatists will be upset, but the population at large (will be)," Dickinson said in an e-mail, describing the initiative as "absolute folly."
He compared the event to the video footage of English-speaking Canadians walking on the Quebec flag in Brockville, Ont., during the debate over the Meech Lake Accord, the proposed constitutional deal that was intended to give Quebec distinct society status.
The scene inflamed Quebec nationalist passions after it was replayed constantly on Quebec news programs leading up to Meech's 1990 collapse.
"What better way to promote Quebec independence," said Dickinson, co-author of A Short History of Quebec.
Zysberg argued that the battle was not, in any event, a turning point in Canadian history. France, he said, was disinterested in its New France colony and had no ability to hang on to it, given that France was totally dominated at sea by the British during the Seven Years War (1756-63).
Dickinson concurred, saying the battle "speeded things up, rather than changed the course of history."
In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois has accused Josee Verner, the federal minister responsible for the region of Quebec, of sparking a new political quarrel by saying she will attend the commemoration even though organizers have said they won't send invitations to politicians.
"She is making a terrible mistake by taking this into the political arena," said Agnes Maltais, a Parti Quebecois member of the Quebec national assembly. "She's creating controversy herself."
She noted that even though the historical battle is still a sensitive subject, she doesn't oppose the re-enactment as long as it doesn't lead to a "commemoration or celebration." She stressed that Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who is a federalist, has made it clear he won't attend the event.
But Verner's office downplayed the meaning of her comments made during an interview with a Quebec newspaper, noting she only said she might attend if her schedule permits it.
"As a Quebec City resident, she has the right to attend any public event she wishes and she doesn't need anyone's permission to do so," said Pierre Florea, director of communications for the minister. He added that Verner has not yet received an invitation to attend the event.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Quebec lieutenant, Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, said he wasn't planning to attend, but offered his support.
"Personally, I don't have the time, but I always encourage people to mobilize to remember historic events," Paradis said on Wednesday, following a meeting of the Conservative caucus. "I didn't say it's something to celebrate. I said that if people want to gather, it's not me, Christian Paradis, as a member of the government who will start to comment on the organization of events. There are all sorts of events out there, and I can tell you one thing: people are free to do as they please, but I will stay here and work on the budget."
When asked why a federal government agency was planning the event, Paradis, said he was not aware of all the details.
With files from Marianne White in Quebec City and Mike de Souza in Ottawa
CORRECTION: John Dickinson is chair of Canadian Studies at the Sorbonne in France.

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé