EMBATTLED IN QUEBEC
The date is September 13th 2012, and had I been in this spot exactly 253 years ago I'd have probably been a corpse.
The air would have been filled with the acrid smell of gunpowder, a haze of smoke, and the boom of cannon. Were I a French soldier, I'd have stood facing row upon row of the enemy as they advanced inexorably step by step, holding their musket fire until they were within a mere 20 yards away from me. And then, it would all have been over in a scant fifteen minutes-us French routed in disarray, and the Redcoats victorious and pressing on towards the city of Quebec.
Today, however, it is windy and chilly on the Plains of Abraham, and Battlefields Park is empty except for a lone raven ruffling his wet feathers as he perches on the signpost that marks the spot where the history of Quebec changed forever.
Although the English were victorious, the price was heavy. At the battlefield, a few feet apart from each other are two tablets both dated September 13th 1759. One reads, "Here on the very eve of victory, Wolfe, received his mortal wound and at once was carried back to where he died victorious." The second says brusquely: "Montcalm defeated, here received his mortal wound."
It would seem as though Montcalm's death was given short shrift by the victors, but today, in the Governors' Garden Park, just a short distance away from these markers, is an obelisk that honours Montcalm on one side and Wolfe on the other. Courageous heroes, they were enemies in life, but are compatriots in death, sharing as they do a single monument (perhaps the only one of its kind in the world) that celebrates both the winner and the loser of such a strategic battle.
Other than a short-lived, abortive attempt by the French to recapture Quebec in the Battle of Sainte-Foy, the English were firmly in possession of Quebec City; four years later, in 1763, the Treaty of Paris sealed their sovereignty of the province. France decided to cede their wild, bitterly cold and inhospitable territories in Canada to the British, in exchange for Guadaloupe in the Caribbean. Apparently Voltaire was so delighted at this outcome that he threw a lavish party to celebrate the event!
But that wasn't the end of the story.
The British, jittery at possibility of an invasion from the Americans following their War of Independence, decided to fortify Quebec to the teeth. At Battlefields Park, I brave blustery winds as I follow my guide-charmingly dressed in period costume-into one of the fat sausage-like Martello round towers, once occupied by twelve soldiers. The lower floor was a storage facility with barrels of dynamite, water cisterns and provisions, while the top floor with its cannon embrasures and slit windows, muskets and cannonballs stood in readiness for action. The cramped middle floor consisted of the soldiers' living quarters-kitchen, sleeping area and storage for personal belongings.
As it turned out, however, the Americans decided that discretion was the better part of valour. They never showed up, and none of the four Martello towers in Battlefields Park were ever 'bloodied' in battle.
While Martello Tower 1 displays historical memorabilia, nearby Martello Tower 2 plays host to entertaining and interactive stage shows-a dramatic clash between Montcalm and Wolfe, or portrayals of the lifestyle of soldiers stationed in the Martello Towers during the war of 1812.
Old Quebec bills itself as the only fortified city in North America, and the following day, I join a group tour along the perimeter of The Citadel. In the erratic bursts of tea-coloured sunlight, a few brave little sailboats, drift like bits of confetti across the St. Lawrence River.
The Citadel's defensive masonry walls were built at the direction of Comte de Frontenac, the flamboyant socialite Governor of Quebec in the late 1600s. He had reason for concern-the English were eyeing Quebec as a strategic stronghold. Frontenac's response to Sir William Phips' attempt at establishing diplomatic relations was a blunt "Tell your General the only answer I will give him, will come from the mouth of my cannons…"
Fortunately he didn't live to see the outcome of the battle on the Plains of Abraham half a century later.
Today, the Citadel is the home station of the Royal 22e Regiment of the Canadian Forces. It is also an official residence of the Governor General of Canada, who by tradition resides there for several weeks in the year.
IF YOU GO:
" Contact the Discovery Pavilion for information on tour bookings, the engrossing multi-media Odyssey show and other programs at www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca or E-mail: email@example.com
" Parks Canada organizes group tours through the Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site. See www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/qc/fortifications/index_e.asp or Toll Free: 1-888-773-8888 Email: parkscanada-que @pc.gc.ca
Photos: Courtesy National Battlefields Commission and Margaret Deefholts, as specified.
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