“What is to be done with 1759 ?”, In Remembering 1759: The Conquest of Canada in Historical Memory, Philip Buckner & John Reid (Eds.), Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012, p. 279-302.
The title of this chapter is not meant sarcastically. It implies that the difficulty with 1759 is not historical in nature, haying to do with the event in and of itself, but ideological. What matters is the use people might make – or try to make -of the event in political terms, along with the consequences flowing from their efforts to do so. Put another way, 1759 is not a problem when considered as an event embedded in time or from the point of view of determining what happened in the past, but it becomes so when these past realities are used to create a collective identity and a common cause in the present. Accordingly, one can argue that 1759 does not belong primarily to a past that we might wish to study and understand, but, rather, to a present and a future that we might wish to shape and control. This distinction allows us a clearer perspective on the virulent debates that broke out in Quebec in the spring of 2006 and the winter of 2009. The first centred around the significance attached to the Conquest in a new history curriculum, while the second focused on how to commemorate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Each controversy in its own way highlighted how 1759 remains, despite the lapse of time, an event enshrined in the collective imagination of Quebec. Although it is possible to reinterpret the Conquest in a way that departs from the accepted canon, revisionism inevitably runs afoul of the fear of endangering a sense of identity to which the Conquest is foundational.
On 1759 and the future of memory in Québec, see also :
“Remembering (from) Where you are Going: Memory as Legacy and Inheritance”, In Contemporary Quebec: Selected Readings and Commentaries, Michael Behiels & Matthew Hayday (Eds.), Montréal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011, p. 730-754.
The problem that concerns me, and for my examination of which the Report of the Task Force on the Teaching of History provides an ideal pretext, is the relationship of Quebecers of French-Canadian heritage to their past, a past seen as one of ordeals and sacrifices requiring an undying memory and necessitating reparation or redemption. It is through the memory of a difficult, sometimes tragic past that the relationship of these Quebecers to the world, to « others, » and to themselves is generally mediated.