Cartes postales, Canadien III
Wolfe’s Hall of Fame
No trip to Quebec is complete without a trip to the old city’s Plain of Abraham’s site and exhibition. To appease the inhabitants, the place where General Wolfe proved “ dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is marked with no note of victory. But we English know better.
For 8 million French Canadians the events of 1759-60 are referred to as The Conquest. Nouvelle France was brought to heel by Old England(Ok with help from the Scots!) . The exhibition is well worth the money even if the main video is typically and defiantly in French with no subtitles.
While school boys may revere the youthful Wolfe(1727-59) historians are not so sure. Was it his plan to scale the heights,why had all his other attacks failed, why did he get on so badly with some of his officers and so it goes on. But to the victor the prize and the statues. The French gleefully point out the cruelty of his scorched earth tactics. These were to try antice Montcalm out of his fortress. As such they failed. But he of course didn’t.
But the man who the night before the battle read Grey’s Elegy and said “I would rather have written that poem than take Quebec tomorrow” deserves his place in history. The Benjamin West picture of Wolfe’s glorious death inspired Britain’s God of War, Nelson.
But in this year when we remember the futility of the 100,000s who died on the Somme at Verdun the casualties on the Plain of Abraham are worth mentioning. In the fifteen minute battle, 140 French and 60 British died . Wolfe always knew that once it was mano a mano there would be only one result. So it proved.
For that small body count a considerable page of world history was written. For instance if New France had not become part of the British Empire could it have resisted becoming part of the USA. For less than the numbers who die in an air crash, or drown in a refugee boat, North America was guaranteed an Anglo Saxon future.
But French Canada is just that. All attempts to try and drown and or repress its language, heritage and tradition have failed. In the last fifty years the emergence of nationalist parties have reversed the tendency to integrate the 8 million with the other Anglophone 300 million North Americans.
English in Quebec has been almost outlawed in official and commercial use, language police have tried to ban words like pasta and all English signs, businesses when they reach a certain size must work in French. Hardly surprisingly Montreal,once home to many great companies, in no longer a world commercial centre, although it remains a class city. A vendre and A louer signs are everywhere. Quebec has great food but also the obesity and SUV’s which categorise the rest of the continent.
On a personal note, no where in France do I feel my sub school boy French is worth trying, but in Quebec some working in shops and hotels could barely say good morning or thankyou in English. I understand that Quebec schools are more interested in teaching French culture than the language of the rest of the continent. Compare that to other small nations such as the Dutch and the Swedes-has becoming bilingual effected their identity?.Of course the history is different. The French Canadians like the Welsh would rather preserve their self consciously besieged culture than compete educationally. Bless.
Ironically I was told that the French Canadian accent is so strong(see Glasgow and Jamaican English) that some who go to France find it easier to communicate in English! Wolfe did not die in vain.