Joyeux Halloween, Mesdames et Monsieurs!
This week, we focus on how the BNA Act and the Constitution Act, 1982, affected Québec. The Dominion team chose this week to focus on Québecois history under Confederation because Friday, November 4th, marks the 35th anniversary of “la nuit des longs couteaux”, or “the night of the long knives”, when Minister of Justice Jean Chrétien (as he then was) met with all the provincial premiers… except Québec Premier René Lévesque.
That’s a scandalous story for later this week, but today, we kick off Québec week by reviewing the Battle of the Plains of Abraham of 1759. Incidentally, every year the City of Québec throws a spooky Halloween party in the Joan of Arc Gardens at the Plains of Abraham. The Plains are Canada’s oldest national historic park, likely named for Abraham “the Scot” Martin, a sailor and fisherman friend to Samuel de Champlain. If you’ve visited Québec City, you’ll likely agree it is aesthetically impressive. Because of its coveted geographic position, France had built up remarkable fortifications around the city to prevent the inevitable British invasion.
During the Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763, the British and French colonial forces were vying for economic and territorial expansion in many areas, including North America. The battle at Québec City was for a strategic position in the region. Québec City was the cornerstone of what was known as New France at the time. Recognizing its importance in international ship trade, its access to waterways, and its significance in the fur trade, British forces attempted to siege the city several times. The 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the 1960 Battle of Sainte-Foy nearby sealed the fate of New France’s subordination to British rule, leading to Québec’s subordination to British confederation 100 years later.
It is estimated that up to 20,000 men rallied to fight for the French Army, which was approximately one third of the population in New France at the time. Unfortunately, despite the high numbers of French fighters, the majority were unprofessional militiamen, with only about 3,700 troops (including approximately 1,800 Indigenous allies) regularly manning the fronts. The British Army’s well-trained professional soldiers only needed about 4,400 regularly placed troops to defeat the French in less than half an hour on the Plains. Both the French and English Generals died from their injuries in the battle.
The French Army surrendered the City just a few days later. Despite the city’s strong fortifications, the French were not confident that the city could withstand British attack. Pressure from residents to surrender was enormous. The French Army decided that it was better to negotiate a surrender than to risk more casualties and destruction to the city. One third of private residences had already been burned down and many more needed drastic repair. Almost all public buildings had been damaged. The formerly French citizens now had to swear allegiance to the British Crown and struggled to maintain their religious freedom.
Compared with most cities in Canada that developed over the last 150 years, Québec boasts a history evident in its architecture. Beautiful stone and brick structures remind one of centuries-old European cities. The fortified walls leave a legacy of the battles for control of this strategic city on the St. Lawrence River. If you have the chance to visit, check out Halloween on the Plains of Abraham from October 1st to November 6. There are Halloween decorations in the parks, haunted tours for families, spooky stories for older children, and scary historical legends and tours for adults. The tours are available in English upon request.
Le Dominion du Canada 2017
 “Plains of Abraham (Battlefields Park)”, National Battlefieds Commission, online: <www.quebecregion.com/en/historic-sites/plains-of-abraham-battlefields-park>; “The Tale of a Toponym”, National Battlefields Commission, online: <www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/history-heritage/site-history/illustrious-park>.
 “Plains of Abraham”, National Battlefields Commission, online: <http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/>.
 “Halloween”, Plains of Abraham, National Battlefields Commission, online: <www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/activities/halloween/>.