A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘québec

[AH] What if French Canada survived past 1763?

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Detail, The Death of General Wolfe (1770)

Early in January, before my trip to Montréal, I went to the Royal Ontario Museum where I saw–among other things–the museum’s copy of Benjamin Wolfe’s painting The Death of General Wolfe. This famous tableau’s depiction of the death of James Wolfe, the commander of the victorious British forces in 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham that saw the fall of French Canada and the end of New France but who barely lived to see the end of the battle himself, is literally iconic. This moment marks the end of one empire and the expansion of another.

Was the end of New France inevitable? Quite a few fans of alternate history suggest that it was. In perhaps the classic few, the value of France to colonize its North American territories nearly as thoroughly as England (and later the United Kingdom) did theirs ensured that, ultimately, New France would be overwhelmed by the colonists. Some even go so far as to argue that New France was a failing colony, that the failure to expand French colonization much beyond the Saint Lawrence valley demonstrates a fundamental lack of French interest. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was irrelevant.

I’m not sure that I buy this. Conceivably there could have been more French settlement in New France, perhaps with a bigger push under Louis XIV, but it isn’t clear to me that France in America was a failure. New France’s economy was built substantially on trade with indigenous peoples and not on (for instance) the plantation colony of many British colonies, making increased French settlement irrelevant at best and potentially harmful at worst. As it was, French Canada was actually a dynamic society, the St. Lawrence valley becoming home of a colonial offshoot of France with outposts stretching far west into the basin of the Great Lakes and, not incidentally, managing to hold off conquest by the British for nearly a century and a half. New France was not nearly as populous as the Thirteen Colonies, but that no more proves that New France was a failure than (say) the fact that Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was less populous than Portuguese Brazil means that the Spanish colony was a failure. At most, there was underexploited potential. If French Canada has since largely contracted to the frontiers of modern Québec, it is because successive British administrations have taken care to hem it in.

Had the Battle of the Plains of Abraham gone even slightly differently, there could have been a French victory. The end of the Seven Years War could have seen the French flag continue to fly in Canada. Even if Canada had fallen, that it would be kept by Britain was by no means preordained: Had Britain preferred to keep the valuable French sugar island of Guadeloupe, or had the French government different priorities, Canada might have been restored to France in the peace.

What would this surviving French Canada have been like?

It’s certainly possible that a continued French presence in Canada would have helped discourage the Thirteen Colonies from rebelling against the British Empire, especially if it was perceived as a threat. It’s not clear to me that this would automatically be the case, especially if New France had been weakened in the conflict, demilitarized and/or territorially diminished. Perhaps, in this timeline, the Americans might revolt against Britain in anger that their interests were neglected in the settlement of the final peace. We might not see a conflict like the War of American Independence, but then again we might. If this war, or another great power Anglo-French war does come about, then France will face the same cascade of dysfunctional public financies than in our history triggered the revolution.

What will become of Canada in all this? I can imagine that it might, or might not, receive more attention from France. I suppose that, if history runs along the lines we are familiar with up to the French Revolution, Canada might be in an interesting position versus the metropole. (A French kingdom in exile?) It is imaginable that a populous French Canada might stay French, especially if the Americans are allies and Britain has interest elsewhere. The case can be made that French Canada could survive, within borders not wildly different from that of modern Canada, into the 19th century.

Here, I’m stymied. It is not easy to imagine the development of French Canada as a French territory for the simple reason that France had no colonies of settlement like (for instance) Britain had Canada. French Algeria eventually became a destination for European immigration, but most of these immigrants came from elsewhere in the western Mediterranean (Spain and Italy particularly) and they arrived in a territory that never stopped being overwhelmingly Arab-Berber and Muslim in nature. New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, also received substantial numbers of settlers relative to the native population, but the absolute numbers were low. There is no close parallel, not in the second French colonial empire, to a colony like Canada, a vast semi-continent with a substantial population mostly descended from French colonists.

I do think France could certainly colonize Canada as thoroughly as Britain later did, especially if France enjoys stability and peace. Franco-Canadian relations were broken by the Conquest and only began to pick up again a century later, as the French became dimly aware that the Canadiens survived. In a timeline where the relationship between France and Canada was never disrupted, Franco-Canadian relations would be far more intense. Trade and investment flows aside, we might see well see substantial amounts of French immigration to a prosperous Canada, and more immigrants coming from outside France, just as in the case of Algeria. The details depend critically on the borders of this Canada and its relationship to its neighbours, but I see no reason why French Canada could not be successful.

Even if–a big if–French history remains largely unchanged up to the mid-19th century, the existence of a large, populous, and growing French Canada will eventually change the French polity rapidly. How will the millions of Canadiens be represented in French political life? A populous American branch of the French empire will have very substantial consequences.

What do you think?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[LINK] The National Post on the Patriote flag

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The National Post has a feature from Graeme Hamilton noting the controversy associated in Québec with the flag of the Patriote rebels of 1837.

On May 22, as the rest of Canada celebrates Victoria Day, Quebecers will get a day off in honour of les Patriotes, the 19th-century rebels who fought to bring responsible government to what is now Quebec. It’s no surprise that the mostly French-speaking province isn’t terribly keen on paying tribute to a long-dead British monarch, and such Patriote leaders as Louis-Joseph Papineau, Jean-Olivier Chénier and Wolfred Nelson are worthy of celebration. Yet last week, Quebec’s Liberal government angered nationalists by blocking a proposal to have the Patriote flag fly above the legislature in Quebec City.

Q: Who were the Patriotes?

Charles Alexander Smith via Wikipedia
Charles Alexander Smith via Wikipedia”Assemblée des six-comtés”, a painting depicting the Assembly of the Six Counties, held in Saint-Charles, Lower Canada on October 23 and October 24, 1837
A: The Patriotes was the name given to Papineau’s Parti canadien and the popular movement he and others inspired to rise up against British colonial rule in 1837-38. “The primarily francophone party, led mainly by members of the liberal professions and small-scale merchants, was widely supported by farmers, day-labourers and craftsmen,” the Canadian Encyclopedia says. They advocated democracy and the right to self-government, but at the same time they were in no hurry to get rid of the seigneurial system. After the rebellion was crushed, many participants were imprisoned, exiled or hung.

Q: What is the Patriote flag?

A: The flag was introduced in 1832 by Papineau’s political party and was carried at political speeches and into battle during the rebellion. It is a simple design consisting of three horizontal bars, green, white and red from top to bottom. The flag was seen by the Montreal aristocracy as a revolutionary symbol, and in 1837 the Montreal Herald wrote urging people to destroy it. Some early versions also featured a beaver, a maple leaf or a maskinonge fish. Today, the flag often has the profile of a musket-toting, toque-wearing, pipe-smoking rebel superimposed in the centre.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 16, 2017 at 11:29 pm

‘Revolted’ Quebecers turn on Bombardier, once the jewel of province’s economy

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The National Post‘s Graeme Hamilton suggests that backlash to loans made to Bombardier by the Canadian and Québec governments has badly hurt a company that was once a prize.

In recognition of the lingering stench left by generous raises recently awarded Bombardier executives, protesters outside the company’s annual general meeting Thursday chose a theme: feces.

There were turd balloon sculptures, turd placards, a turd costume and novelty eyeglasses that made their wearer appear to have a turd on his head. Inside the jet hangar where the meeting was held, the atmosphere was less vulgar, but executives were clearly on the defensive.

The nearly 50-per-cent raises for top Bombardier executives, first made public in March and later deferred in part after a public outcry, were in line with executive compensation at comparable large companies, Jean Monty, chairman of Bombardier’s compensation committee told the meeting. On the large screen behind him, it was spelled out that big paydays are required to “attract the best talent” and “retain talent.”

But try as Bombardier’s management might, they could not polish what has long been considered a jewel of the Quebec economy but is now increasingly an object of scorn.

Karl Moore, an associate professor at McGill University’s business school who attended the shareholder meeting as an observer, said the provincial and federal government investments and loans that pulled the company back from the brink last year have changed public attitudes in the province toward the company.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 16, 2017 at 11:01 pm

Posted in Canada, Economics

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[PHOTO] The tracks of Bonaventure station, Montréal

The tracks of Bonaventure

Montréal’s subway stations, like Bonaventure, are at their best gorgeous public spaces full of art and light. Even at their more pedestrian, they show a good sense for design that I wish was more common on Toronto’s different routes.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Canada, Photo

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[PHOTO] Looking west, rue de la Gauchetière and Mansfield, Montréal

Looking west, rue de la Gauchetière and Mansfield

Written by Randy McDonald

March 3, 2017 at 11:00 am

[LINK] “How geologists found the world’s oldest fossils in Canada”

In an interview with the discoverers, Meagan Campbell of MacLean’s explores how fossils 3.8 billion years old were found in a rock formation in northern Québec.

The oldest proof we have of life on Earth is in Quebec, according to a team of international researchers. On the edge of the Hudson Bay, geologists and biologists from England, Australia, the United States and Canada collected fossils of microscopic lifeforms. On March 1, they published an article in the journal Nature, suggesting that these lifeforms existed 3.7 to 4.3 billion years ago, before the planet had oxygen or oceans—meaning life could begin in other barren parts of the universe, too. For a look behind the scenes of the discovery, Maclean’s spoke with Jonathan O’Neil, a geologist at the University of Ottawa who dated the fossils.

Q: Can you describe the moment of discovery?

A: I was with some of my colleagues at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington. The first moment, you don’t even believe it. You say, “that can’t be.” So you reanalyze it, and you get the same result. You redo it again, redo it again, redo it again, and you start coming back with the same data, same results, same numbers, and you start to believe it. It’s a weird feeling. It pushes everything back.

Q. Why is the finding controversial?

A: Rocks are always dated with radioactivity. We use that as a timer. The golden standard for us is we’re trying to date a certain mineral, a Zircon. We’re excellent at it. We can get super nice and precise and robust dates. The only drawback is you need Zircons to do it. These rocks from northern Quebec, they don’t have them. We used a different clock. It’s only good for rocks that are 4 billion years old. We’ve done it for some rocks from the moon, but it’s the first time we’ve done it on Earth.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2017 at 10:30 pm

[PHOTO] Pink holiday tree, Gare centrale, Montréal

Pink holiday tree, Gare centrale

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Canada, Photo

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