Amid the controversy dividing federalists and sovereigntists over the festivities marking the 250th anniversary of the British conquest of New France on the Plains of Abraham, at least one event is uniting people regardless of their political beliefs.
On Sept. 13, the date in 1759 that British General James Wolfe defeated the French army to establish British rule in what is now Quebec, at least 30 communities will stage commemorative bonfires marking the scorched earth tactics the British army used to destroy settlements along the St. Lawrence River.
Organizers said it will be a symbolic gesture, mostly a tribute to the courage of the 7,000 widows of the soldiers in the French militia who were killed in battle. Many of the women took refuge from the invaders in nearby forests and later returned to rebuild homes and villages that had been burned to the ground.
"We always talk about the war and the armies involved but we often forget what civilians had to go through to survive," said one of the organizers, former Bloc Québécois MP Antoine Dubé. "This isn't about weaponry or pointing a finger at Wolfe or the British army who used tactics that were common practice for the battles at that time similar to those used by the French. This is about remembering the heroism of the women who rebuilt their communities."
Towns such as La Pocatière, Montmorency, Rivière-Ouelle and Beaumont will ring church bells, hold public gatherings and light bonfires.
The event was made possible partly through donations from MPs of all political stripes who represent ridings in the region. "What we are doing is irreproachable," Mr. Dubé said of the efforts made to avoid controversy.
Andrew Wolfe-Burroughs, a descendent of Gen. Wolfe, applauded the initiative even though he argued that controversy and lively debate are good for democracy.
Mr. Wolfe-Burroughs, a former BBC news correspondent who now works as a freelance journalist and musician, recently wrote a song about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham that was posted on the website of the Moulin à parole, a controversial spoken-word event that takes place this weekend.
The literary celebration came under harsh criticism for a plan to include the manifesto of terrorism group Front de Libération du Québec as part of the 140 historic texts to be read during the 24-hour marathon prose-fest. Premier Jean Charest said last week the Moulin à paroles "trivializes the FLQ, terrorism and violence." Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois yesterday demanded that Mr. Charest publicly apologize for his comment. The Premier scoffed at the request and said he wants nothing to do with the event.
"We've said about everything we want to say on this issue and I think we need to respect the fact that we don't feel comfortable with an event like this," he said.