However, in recent years there has been some pushback, mainly from Anglophone Quebeckers, who claim that in fact there was no such Conquest. In a March 2016 article in the Montreal Gazette by Celine Cooper, calling for an overhaul of the history curriculum in Québec schools, Cooper epitomizes this revisionist view. She characterizes the events of 1763 as "the abandonment of New France by the French monarch and its surrender to the English."
This sentence reframes a military conquest in passive terms. The agency is given to the French Crown rather than to the conquering English. It’s not the English who take the initiative to conquer the colony, but rather the French who "abandon" it, despite the fact that they had held it for the better part of a century and a half. It makes it seem as if France simply faded away without firing a shot.
Some years ago, Brian McKenna’s film Battlefield Quebec: Wolfe and Montcalm was an extended treatment of the revisionist view. In a preview of the film in the Globe and Mail, McKenna announced a new discovery. He claimed that a few days before the climactic battle on the Plains of Abraham, General Wolfe “[wrote] out the terms of Quebec's capitulation in the event of a British victory, terms which centered on the protection of French institutions, notably the French language and the Catholic Church.”
But McKenna’s argument contradicts itself. Who dictates terms of surrender but a conqueror? Assuming McKenna is correct that Wolfe’s overtures were beneficent, the fact that Wolfe anticipated giving his terms to a defeated city tends to prove the opposite of what McKenna's revisionist thesis contends.
And the revisionist view must also account for other, far less conciliatory words that Wolfe addressed to the Canadiens in 1759 as his flotilla made its way toward destiny: “If by vain obstinacy and a misguided courage [the Canadien civilians] want to take up arms, they must expect the most lethal consequences; their habitations will be pillaged, their churches exposed to an exasperated soldiery, their harvests completely destroyed, and this most formidable fleet will prevent them from having any relief.”1 If these aren't the words of a conqueror then what are?
|Québec City, 1759: |
But don't call it a conquest!
Whatever name we give this mid-18th c. conflict, it entailed warfare in N. America involving tens of thousands of combatants. Wolfe’s fleet in 1759 alone included 30,000 sailors and 9000 soldiers.2 After years of warfare, the British forces sailed up the river that year with purpose. The colony’s political capital was taken and its commercial capital, Montréal, surrendered into the hands of the looming British military. Although fighting continued after that, the war was won for the British and lost for the French and the Canadiens when it was British rather than French ships that were seen coming over the horizon in the Spring.
In the negotiations following the hostilities, France opted to negotiate the return of the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, which Britain had taken from France, while she ceded her claim to Canada to the English. The decision to cede Canada was made as a result of strategic and/or economic calculations on both sides of the treaty negotiations. The British dealt from a position of strength since their military held the country.
The notion that there was no Conquest does violence to history because it ignores the considerable pains the English had taken to seize the colony by force and it ignores the bargaining position that their military posture gave them. It also papers over the loss of life (about 10% of the Canadiens were killed) and property damage involved in that war. In fact it argues that the prolonged period of warfare was simply inconsequential since, revisionists pretend, the power was in the hands of the French who opted to “abandon” the colony.
In summary, there was warfare in N. America over a period of years; the capital of the colony of Canada was taken by force; there was an occupation; there was a military government; and there was what we now call “regime change.” And it was permanent. The British monarch is still officially the Queen of Canada. If that’s not a conquest then we’re equivocating on the meaning of the word. Invariably, Orwellian equivocations serve a political agenda.
The agenda here is clear. The revisionist view is intended to undermine Francophone Québec's sense of itself as a distinct society. It attempts to establish that the Québécois were always on an equal footing with their British-descent countrymen and it suggests that there was always a perfectly level playing field between the two groups.
Another reason for the revisionism is that the Québécois do not fit prevailing N. American racial narratives. The Québécois are in the anomalous position in North America of being a white-identified people who had been subjugated by another white-identified people. In this, they resemble the Irish.
Even if the British conquest of Canada were the most benign conquest in the history of the world, to be conquered and occupied by a foreign power is humiliating and traumatic. In all such cases, the conquerors hold the cards and the conquered have no choice but to submit to their fate be it benevolent or the opposite. Today, the descendants of the conquered Canadiens face the further humiliation of having their historical memories, a memory of cultural survival and eventual prosperity in the face of defeat, denied by the revisionists.
And, no, the point is not to wallow in victimization regarding events that happened long ago. It's about telling the truth and understanding the basis on which Québec's sense of collective self rests. The narrative that today's Québécois are the descendants of survivors of the Conquest is justified by the historical facts. Revisionists must not succeed in manipulating history.
In psychology there is a term for such manipulations: gaslighting. This is a form of psychological abuse where one person causes another to doubt their perception of reality through manipulation, distortion and denial. It is time for the historical revisionists to stop gaslighting the Québécois. It is time they faced up to the past as it really was and not as their political counter-agenda wishes it to have been.
1 Lamonde, Yvan. Histoire Social des Idées au Québec 1760-1896. Montréal: Editions Fides, 2000. Print. Cf. p 18. [The translation from the French is my own.]
2 Havard, Gilles and Cécile Vidal. Histoire de l'Amérique française. Paris, Flammarion, 2003. Print. Cf. p 442.
Picture creditA. Bennoist, engraver, after Richard Short (fl. 1754-1766), A View of the Church of Notre Dame de la Victoire, built in Commemoration of the raising the Siege in 1695 and destroyed in 1759. Hand-colored copperplate engraving. London, 1761. Graphics Division, Prints B-7.