Monday, September 17, 2007

Canada's history - abridged yet again

On the weekend, an out-of town friend and I had a good look at the statues of the 'Valiants' , the fourteen bronze statues of military heroes from our past that stand on the overpass near the end of the Rideau canal.

I asked my buddy - "What two prominent figures are missing from this collection?"

It didn't take long for a response...of course, General Wolfe and Marquis de Montcalm are missing. Most of us would give the same answer if we stopped to think about it for a minute.

We both agreed that this is yet another example of Canadian bureacratic pussy-footing around some obvious historical facts. To have a war-related memorial and to profile Canada's military past without mentioning the two central leaders in the most pivotal battle ever on our soil, the Plains of Abraham, is like having a rock n'roll hall of fame without the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix. And it is also an example of hypocrisy because the 'Valiants' contains at least two figures from our past (Count Frontenac and D'Ibreville) who had been, in their era, actively engaged in the British-French conflicts in what was later to become, no one should be able to play the politically correct card and say, "oooh, can't have Wolfe and Montcalm there, it's too controversial."

For starters, I have no problem with WHO is among the so-called Valiants. I also have a good feeling about having a monument in Canada's capital that simply acknowledges good, competent soldiers and commemorates acts of individual heroism in miltary struggles. All of the people portrayed there had served either our country or the predecessor countries, England and France, some of them died, some died while saving others, and some of them had lead our armed forces to significant victories. Isaac Brock, to name one, can be credited with having saved the 'country that was yet to be' from American takeover in the War of 1812. These are no small deeds.

So, I ask, why not Wolfe and Montcalm? They were both, according to historians, brilliant and - for their era - gallant soldiers. Both had distinguished themselves in actual hand-to hand combat in their youth, and later became leading strategists of the time. Both died in the eventual battle in Quebec City; a reminder of another, much more dangerous time, when generals actually commanded their troops into the line of fire and faced bullets along with common soldiers. So, physical bravery is not at issue. Neither is compassion at issue, as both men were known to treat non-combatants and captures enemies very humanely, at least by 18th century standards. When taken, the city of Quebec was not sacked and pillaged, its people were not harassed or forced to convert. Finally, Wolfe's and Montcalm's importance, albeit almost accidentaly, is so central to the birth of Canada (and to its evolution as a bilingual and bi-cultural nation) that they should tower over any other of the otherwise brilliant 'heroes'.

Of course, we know two possible answers to why these men are not standing in their bronze liknesses at the memorial: Political cowardice, or plain old lack of perspective.

I think here is a symbolic cause waiting to be taken up by a local politician.


joncormier said...

While I think some are okay, and I agree about Wolfe and Montcalm it's the size of the monument that is ultimately Canadian. It's not very big or intrusive. It's unassuming and sort of haberdashed and thrown together. A few slightly off-putting because they're slightly too small statues randomly placed in the middle of a road sort of by a massive monument already honouring our soldiers.

Yeah, I'm happy the NCC is going to become more transparent so we can just scratch our heads in bewonderment before and during these plans rather than after they exist.

Jan Triska said...