Historia Nostra: Myth, Memory, and Misconception at the Plains of Abraham

By Erin Isaac

The Battle on the Plains of Abraham, on 13 September 1759, is heavily commemorated on Québec’s physical landscape. From the streets, buildings, and shops named for the French and British military men who fought that day, to the monuments that dot the city’s historic neighbourhoods, and commemorative panels or plaques at the Plains of Abraham, it’s hard to wander around Old Québec without being reminded of this moment in the city’s history.

But this battle is a bit of a sore spot when it comes trying to commemorate Canadian history. Do we celebrate the British victory there in 1759 or lament the French loss? We celebrate the martyred (if I may be so bold!) French commander Montcalm, sure, but the British commander, Wolfe also has his share of monuments and mentions. Public works seem to believe we can have it both ways, treating history like it is politically benign or neutral territory.

Wolfe–Montcalm Monument, Québec City, Wikipedia

It might not be surprising, then, that most misconceptions about the Battle on the Plains of Abraham seem to diminish its importance, or place blame for the French loss away from the imperial regimes that sought to shore up claims on Indigenous lands during the Seven Years’ War. We treat this battle as a one-off, singular, or definitive moment. The mythology around that day is parsed out from what came before or after it.

There are obvious political incentives for most myths about the Plains of Abraham. When history challenges French Canadian patriotism or Canadian nationalism, the narrative bends in the process of dissemination. Many Canadians may have heard these myths promulgated in our primary school classrooms—that is, if we learned about the Battle on the Plains of Abraham at all. I myself, raised in the Canadian West, didn’t learn about this event until I was well into my second year of my undergraduate history degree.

So, in this month’s episode of Historia Nostra, I’m joined by Dr. Joseph Gagné to debunk 5 common myths about the Plains of Abraham.

 Historia Nostra is on Facebook (@historianostrayoutube), Twitter (@historia_nostra) and Instagram (@historianostrayoutube). Follow us there to get updates on what we’re working on and to get notified when new videos go live. Erin Isaac (PhD student, Western University) is Historia Nostra’s creator, writer, and producer. Suggestions, collaboration pitches, or feedback should be directed to erin@historianostra.ca.

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