Quebec historians take the field

Re-enactments - We've been denied a valuable lesson - Desmond Morton

1759-2009 - point de vue anglo-saxon

Desmond Morton of McGill says we missed an opportunity to portray the valour of militiamen in New France. Photograph by: Gazette files, Gazette files
Battle re-enactments like the Plains of Abraham event that was cancelled last week generally fail to teach people very much about history, one of Canada's leading historians says.
But a faithful recreation of the battle would at least have had the merit of drawing a sharp distinction between the way the French army fought vs. the way the local Canadien militiamen fought, says Desmond Morton of Montreal.
"The French army took to its heels, but the militia did not," said Morton, a professor of history at McGill University and a former director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
"And so rather than draw attention to this rather courageous stance, we've been denied it." Like other historians, Morton watched with fascination last week as the National Battlefields Commission cancelled plans to stage a 250th-anniversary re-enactment of the battle associated with the fall of New France.
While original news reports blamed threats from separatist splinter groups for the cancellation, it has since become clear that there was broader public ambivalence about the wisdom of the idea in the first place.
Some of the earliest opposition, in fact, came from historians themselves.
Three of Quebec's most prominent francophone historians - Jacques Lacoursière, Denis Vaugeois and Guy Vandeboncoeur - complained directly to the National Battlefields Commission about a promotional brochure that was finally the subject of a public recall on Jan. 26.
Rather than portray the event as an objective retrospective, the marketing brochure gave the impression that a jovial celebration was being planned.
Various pictures and captions suggested that a light-hearted musical comedy was in the works.
"The negative first impressions created by this brochure created a backlash that organizers couldn't overcome," Lacoursière said.
"The problem came to be the way the event was perceived," said Denis Vaugeois, president of Les Éditions du Septentrion and a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister.
The whole affair, Vaugeois said, was aggravated by the fact that the Battle of the Plains of Abraham has assumed a mythical status that it doesn't deserve.
Part of the larger Seven Years War involving European powers, the battle itself wasn't what caused the fall of New France, according to Vaugeois.
The following spring, there was a repeat engagement, the Battle of Ste. Foy, which the French side won, Vaugeois noted. But when British rather than French ships subsequently sailed up the St. Lawrence River with reinforcements, it was over for the French.
But even if the French side had prevailed, Vaugeois said, it doesn't mean that New France would have survived.
France had lost interest in New France, he said. In the backroom political horsetrading that produced the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Britain gave France the option of taking back New France; but France declined, choosing instead to take back Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia.
Vaugeois said it makes more pedagogical sense to re-enact the Treaty of Paris negotiations than the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Morton, who was commissioned last year to write an account of the battle for The Beaver, a Canadian magazine, said battle re-enactments "tend to be somewhat working class in their sociology, which is one reason that led me to believe that the attack on this particular re-enactment was snobbish, among other things." Still, Morton said, most re-enactments fail on the pedagogical side of things because the uniforms and drums and gunfire tend to overshadow everything else.
"I've always seen this as an economic issue for Quebec City," Morton said.
"I think this whole re-enactment idea was really about filling hotel rooms that they managed to get filled last year for the 400th birthday celebrations and now won't manage to get filled this year." djohnston@

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé