Plains of Abraham re-enactment cancelled
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, February 17, 2009 7:01PM EST
Following a firestorm of protest, a planned re-enactment of the 1759 defeat of French forces on Quebec City's Plains of Abraham has been cancelled.
The National Battlefields Commission, the federal agency that helps to preserve the Plains, made the announcement Tuesday while explaining revisions to the programming surrounding the 250th anniversary.
The decision comes after Quebec sovereigntists denounced the planned celebrations as an insulting reminder of their ancestors' defeat 250 years ago. Many threatened to protest the events.
Commission chairman Andre Juneau says battle reenactment plans have been scrapped "because of the impossibility of ensuring the safety of the public and the participants."
"Given the excessive language and threats we have heard in recent days, we can't as responsible managers risk compromising the safety of families and children who might attend the event," he told a news conference in Quebec City.
Other events related to the anniversary such as architectural digs, guided cruises, and art exhibits will go ahead, he added.
NDP Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcair told CTV's Power Play the re-enactment was "an incredibly bad idea" that was destined to fail in a province that still views its history as pre- and post-conquest by English forces.
"I think that it was a mistake from the beginning and it's a good thing that it was cancelled," Mulcair said Tuesday.
"But the problem is it's being cancelled now for the wrong reasons, because of threats of violence," he added. "And it's never a good reason to cancel something just because you're afraid."
Those who had opposed the re-enactment said they were pleased by its cancellation.
"The re-enactment is off, that's great," said Patrick Bourgeois, of Le R�seau de r�sistance du Qu�b�cois. "This thing unleashed passions. But ultimately, the responsibility for all of this is the people who concocted this dim-witted plan."
The president of the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montreal, Mario Beaulieu, called the cancellation a "victory for citizen mobilization."
"It's the federal government, which is controlled by the English-Canadian majority, that wants to commemorate one of the biggest defeats of the Quebecois people on its territory."
Michel De Waele, a historian at Laval University, told CTV's Power Play he thought the biggest casualty in the cancellation was history itself.
When celebrations took place for Quebec City's 400th anniversary last year, nationalists felt that the government "stole" the commemorations, De Waele said.
He said that it appeared the nationalists "felt that they had a chance to take their revenge," by making the proposed re-enactment into a controversial issue.
"Both sides were using history for their own political purposes and I think the victim of all this is history itself," he said.
The Commission had planned to allow 2,000 re-enactors dress in period clothing and uniforms to recreate events leading to the Plains of Abraham battle, which was pivotal in the Seven Years' War.
The clash between the British and the French, just outside the walls of Quebec City involved fewer than 10,000 men, but proved to be a deciding moment in the conflict over the fate of New France and helped lead to British dominance in North America.
Sovereigntist groups found the plans to relive those moments offensive, with one group, Le R�seau de r�sistance du Qu�b�cois, calling the celebrations "federalist propaganda."
They threatened to rally hundreds of demonstrators to disrupt the events.
Horst Dresler, president of the Quebec Historical Corps, a group of historical buffs who planned to lead the simulated battle, has said his group will push forward with the re-enactment at another venue. But Dresler adds it will not be held anywhere in Quebec.
"These threats of violence that have been issued towards us would make it totally unsafe for anyone to participate in an event like this," he said.
He says his group and others have been staging re-enactments in Canada and the United States over the last four years to mark the French and Indian War -- the name some give to the North American portion of the Seven Years War. He said that after 11 years of planning, it wouldn't make sense to stop now.
Dresler told CTV Newsnet that the re-enactment was never meant to foment anger among Quebec nationalists.
"In re-enacting history, there are no winners and losers. All we're trying to do is show history. Period. It's non-political. It's just us trying to bring the facts to the forefront," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press