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Globe writer Ian Brown dresses up in 18th-century British regalia on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec: 'It felt surprisingly grave.' (Francis Vachon/Francis Vachon - info@francisvachon.com)
Globe writer Ian Brown dresses up in 18th-century British regalia on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec: 'It felt surprisingly grave.' (Francis Vachon/Francis Vachon - info@francisvachon.com)

Globe Focus

In Wolfe's clothing Add to ...

Nor are military re-dos the only way to play the game. The Rendezvous is the current rage - a weekend act favoured by younger history buffs who practice pre-contact skills such as trapping and flint-knapping and tanning. In Boston, an artist named Mark Tribe has been re-enacting Vietnam protest speeches, using actors to portray the likes of Coretta King.

But not in Quebec City.

III. 'If you tell a re-enactor that the battle will happen on the original place, this is what they live for'

On Saturday morning at the top-secret re-re-enactment at Ogdensburg, the French and English camps were still cooking breakfast over open fires as Horst Dresler made his way over the battlefield with his French opposite, choreographing the afternoon's battle.



He didn't need notes. Three years earlier, Mr. Dresler and the Quebec Historical Corps, his re-enactment group, had been asked by the federal national battlefield Commission to organize the replay on the Plains of Abraham. By last fall 2,100 re-enactors had committed from California, Europe, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Winnipeg, and the US. "The national battlefield commission loved the idea, and so did we. If you tell a re-enactor that the battle will happen on the original place, this is what they live for."

At 57, Mr. Dresler has been re-enacting the French and Indian War, the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War for nearly 40 years. He married American-born Deb Goodman (an intensive-care nurse when she isn't playing a French commander) in a fully authentic 18th-century-style ceremony at Louisbourg, the French redoubt on Cape Breton that the British conquered in 1758 as a prelude to Quebec.

They still sleep on a replica of an 18th-century rope bed, even at home in Woodstock, Vt., where muskets also stand by the fireplace. Mr. Dresler sometimes seems to keep one part of his mind permanently back in the other time, observing from a distance the antics of the present. The Plains of Abraham project was to be the pinnacle of his career.

But by February it was a shambles. Le Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (the Québécois Resistance Network), a passel of fewer than 500 hard-line separatists, claimed the Conquest ought not to be commemorated with "a celebration." Every political party in Quebec backed away from the event as if it had impetigo.

Mr. Dresler's reaction: "It was a bunch of idiots using it for their own political purposes." You could say he's a little bitter.

In no time, he was fielding 18 calls a day from reporters; soon after that, it was anonymous threats from separatists offering to "stick your bayonets up your asses." The battlefields commission could no longer guarantee the safety of the participants and the public.

Not that Mr. Dresler was scared: Re-enactors are the jocks of the history set, big guys who carry bayonets and tomahawks. What surprised him was the level of public support for the opposition. When his Quebec Historical Corps had performed Revolutionary War battles on the Plains, restaurants had given them discounts if they ate in costume. But this was the Conquest.

"There's nothing more right-wing than a separatist movement," Ms. Goodman said. (She has a master's degree in political science.) "To me, separatism is repression. Moving on is progressive. I mean, for instance, I'm Jewish, and Horst is German. Come on."

"Not one of our events in five years has been called a 'celebration,'" Mr. Dresler replied, sticking to the facts.

"If you were set on being a separatist, why would you abandon your history?"

"If you don't acknowledge history as it happened, then you have no one to villainize," Mr. Dresler added. "My point is that they're idiots."

The generals were back from the reconnoitre. Camp conversations were bubbling everywhere, the standard, unpredictable re-enactor fare: Which movies were most accurate, historically ( Black Rob e wins, The Patriot loses). Whether Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, governor general of New France and commander in chief of the North American fighters in 1759, undermined Montcalm's chances of winning because Montcalm informed the French court that Vaudreuil was skimming the colony's finances (Desmond Morton thinks not, some re-enactors think maybe). How slippery the hills would have been at Anse au Foulon, where the British landed, considering that it was 4 a.m. and dewy and the Brits had two cannons to carry ("This is an 18th century shoe," Mr. Dresler said, hoisting his hoof - "it's not a lot of traction"). As I said, the usual.

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