A Bit More Detail

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[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

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • blogTO profiles Robert Burley’s lovely new photo book, An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands.
  • Border Thinking’s Laura Agustín looks at the New Orleans sex trade in the fiction of James Lee Burke.
  • Crooked Timber argues that philosophy majors are uniquely well-suited to being good citizens.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money makes the point that American conservative voters are not monocausal.
  • Steve Munro notes that the TTC can count on delivering unreliable service, thanks in part to its concentration on terminals
  • The NYRB Daily looks at the fables of Syrian writer Osama Alomar.
  • Savage Minds looks at the very serious anthropology of Bronislaw Malinowski.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi announces his upcoming participation in the Robots vs. Fairies anthology.
  • Window on Eurasia argues a Russian annexation of the Donbas would be doable only in the aftermath of a wider Russian war against Ukraine.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the SPECULOOS red dwarf observation program.
  • The Crux examines VX nerve agent, the chemical apparently used to assassinate the half-brother of North Korea’s ruler.
  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of the inhabitants of the Tokyo night, like gangsters and prostitutes and drag queens.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money examines Donald Trump’s tepid and belated denunciation of anti-Semitism.
  • Language Log looks at the story of the Wenzhounese, a Chinese group notable for its diaspora in Italy.
  • The LRB Blog looks at the by-elections in the British ridings of Stoke and Copeland and notes the problems of labour.
  • The Map Room Blog shares a post-Brexit map of the European Union with an independent Scotland.
  • Marginal Revolution reports that a border tax would be a poor idea for the United States and Mexico.
  • The NYRB Daily looks at the art of the medieval Tibetan kingdom of Guge.
  • Otto Pohl notes the 73rd anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and the Ingush.
  • Supernova Condensate points out that Venus is actually the most Earth-like planet we know of. Why do we not explore it more?
  • Towleroad notes Depeche Mode’s denunciation of the alt-right and Richard Spencer.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi considers the question of feeling empathy for horrible people.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the thousands of Russian citizens involved with ISIS and examines the militarization of Kaliningrad.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross wonders–among other things–what the Trump Administration is getting done behind its public scandals.
  • blogTO notes a protest in Toronto aiming to get the HBC to drop Ivanka Trump’s line of fashion.
  • Dangerous Minds reflects on a Talking Heads video compilation from the 1980s.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reflects on a murderous attack against Indian immigrants in Kansas.
  • The LRB Blog looks at “post-Internet art”.
  • Lovesick Cyborg notes an attack by a suicide robot against a Saudi warship.
  • Strange Maps links to a map of corruption reports in France.
  • Torontoist reports on Winter Stations.
  • Understanding Society engages in a sociological examination of American polarization, tracing it to divides in race and income.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the many good reasons behind the reluctance of cities around the world to host the Olympics.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that where the Ingush have mourned their deportation under Stalin the unfree Chechens have not, reports that Latvians report their willingness to fight for their country, looks at what the spouses of the presidents of post-Soviet states are doing, and notes the widespread opposition in Belarus to paying a tax on “vagrancy.”
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the linguistic markers of the British class system.

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • blogTO notes that yesterday was a temperature record here in Toronto, reaching 12 degrees Celsius in the middle of February.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly writes about the pleasure of using old things.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the death of Roe v Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey.
  • Language Hat notes that, apparently, dictionaries are hot again because their definitions are truthful.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers if the Trump Administration is but a mechanism for delivering Pence into power following an impeachment.
  • Steve Munro notes that Exhibition Loop has reopened for streetcars.
  • The NYRB Daily considers painter Elliott Green.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that North Carolina’s slippage towards one-party state status is at least accompanied by less violence than the similar slippage following Reconstruction.
  • Window on Eurasia warns that Belarus is a prime candidate for Russian invasion if Lukashenko fails to keep control and notes the potential of the GUAM alliance to counter Russia.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • blogTO notes the amazing spike upwards in temperatures for this weekend.
  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of some stark war memorials of the former Communist world.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on brown dwarf HIP 67537b.
  • The LRB Blog looks at Donald Trump’s interest in a Middle Eastern peace settlement that looks as if it will badly disadvantage the isolated Palestinians.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen reflects on his reading of Julius Evola and other hitherto-marginal writers.
  • The NYRB Daily notes the potential health catastrophe that could result from Donald Trump’s anti-vax positions.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer suggests that the corruption marking the relationship of France and Gabon over that country’s oil is finding an echo in the Trump organization’s involvement in Filipino real estate.
  • Torontoist calls for regulation of road salt on grounds of its toxicity.
  • Transit Toronto looks at the various scenarios for King Street.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia’s economic growth will lag behind growth elsewhere for the foreseeable future, and looks at protest in St. Petersburg over the return of an old church to the Orthodox Church.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO shares some secrets about the TTC.
  • Centauri Dreams notes how exoplanet HAT-P-2b somehow induces pulsations in its parent star.
  • Citizen Science Salon looks at a new crowdsourcing effort to find Planet Nine from old WISE images.
  • Dangerous Minds reports on a marijuana bouquet delivery service.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the detection of the atmosphere of super-Earth Gliese 1132b./li>
  • Language Hat examines the different source languages for neologisms in Russian.
  • Language Log reports on an obscene Valentine’s Day ad from Sichuan.
  • The LRB Blog reports on the search of Syrians in Istanbul for health care.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on the fascist experimentations of economist Franco Modigliani.
  • The NYRB Daily reports on the stunning war art of Paul Nash.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that non-Russian republics tend to have better health indicators than the average, and warns of the potential instability that could be triggered by the failure of Putin’s vision for Trump.