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Baron Georges Savarin de Marestan, left, poses with Andrew Burroughs at McGill University dowtown of Montreal. They are the decendants of Wolfe and Montcalm. (Andre Pichette/Andre Pichette)
Baron Georges Savarin de Marestan, left, poses with Andrew Burroughs at McGill University dowtown of Montreal. They are the decendants of Wolfe and Montcalm. (Andre Pichette/Andre Pichette)

War of the proses

A poetry slam on the Plains Add to ...

Trading verbs rather than volleys, the descendants of two of Canadian history's most famous military enemies will meet on the Plains of Abraham to mark the 250th anniversary of their forebears' famous dust-up.

A spoken-word show will unfold on the battlefield this month to replace the controversial military re-enactment cancelled by federal officials after protests and security concerns. Instead of the sounds of gunfire, the Quebec City battlefield will resonate with non-aggressive prose and poetry.

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The lineup of readers unveiled this week is heavy with pro-sovereignty figures such as Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and the Parti Québécois's Pauline Marois, as well as some radical-fringe separatists.

Yet it also includes two men directly linked to the 1759 conflict: Andrew Wolfe-Burroughs and Baron Georges Savarin de Marestan, the descendants of Britain's James Wolfe and France's Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, respectively.

An organizer for the wordfest, called Le Moulin à Paroles, says the men agreed to read excerpts from letters the two generals wrote before their fateful confrontation, which was won decisively by the British.

"We want this to be as unifying as possible," said Sébastien Ricard, an actor and rapper with the group Loco Locass. "We felt it was in bad taste to replay the battle and relive the psychodrama of defeat."

The verbal commemoration on Sept. 12-13 is meant to celebrate the survival of the French fact in North America, replacing the military recreation this summer that was cancelled in February by the National Battlefields Commission.

Rather than take place on the soil where it occurred, the battle rerun will unfurl instead in Westerham, England, a village in Kent where dozens of British re-enactors will repeat their nation's victory over French troops. Members of the New France Old England re-enactment society will play both sides in the staging.

They will gather on grounds near Quebec House, Wolfe's childhood home, with a lake standing in for the St. Lawrence River. A handful of North American re-enactors from the scuttled Quebec City event plan to fly over to participate, according to British organizers.

"While there are many re-enactment groups in the UK - some large, some small - ours is a small but high-quality group of about 100 members," Ian Castle, communications officer for the re-enactors, said in an e-mail from England.

The lineup for the Quebec City event features some controversial figures such as Patrick Bourgeois of the pro-sovereignty newspaper Le Québécois, whose backers mounted the opposition against the military re-enactment and alluded to potential violence at the event.

Still, Mr. Ricard says the readings are meant as an inclusive and festive event. Participants include such well-known Quebec artists as Robert Lepage and Gilles Vigneault, along with Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume and former Conservative cabinet minister Benoît Bouchard. Premier Jean Charest declined an invitation to take part, Mr. Ricard said.

He noted that participants will not only read works from the Jesuits and Jacques Cartier, but also from The Street, a collection of short stories and memoirs by Mordecai Richler, an author who skewered Quebec nationalists. "We want Quebeckers from all walks of life and allegiances to come and express their love of Quebec, nothing more," he said.

For its part, the battlefields commission will mark the battle's anniversary, Sept. 13, by unveiling a monument to the French and British regiments, militiamen and aboriginals who took part. The federal agency, stung by its handling of the military re-enactment, promises it will be a "solemn" commemorative ceremony.

 

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