Sketch for the Death of Montcalm, by Suzor-Coté, 1902 (Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec)
Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (6 April 1869 – 29 January 1937)
I featured Suzor-Coté a few days ago. So I am using his sketch of “The Death of Montcalm.” Montcalm was defeated by James Wolfe at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. James Wolfe also died. He was 32 and Montcalm, 47.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with an educated French Canadian. It was an eye-opener. This gentleman is convinced that the arrival in Quebec of immigrants with multicultural backgrounds will ultimately lead to the disappearance of the French milieu in Quebec. Moreover, he is certain that Nouvelle-France was conquered, which negates the choice the French made in 1763, the year the Treaty of Paris was signed.
He emphasized that Britain had long wanted to add Nouvelle-France to its colonies, forgetting, for instance, that when Pierre-Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law, Médard des Groseillers, known as “Radishes and Gooseberries,” discovered the Hudson Bay and returned to Canada with a flotilla of a hundred canoes filled with pelts, they were treated as coureurs de bois rather than explorers. Unlike coureurs de bois, voyageurs were hired and had a license to travel and fetch fur west of what is now Quebec.
Because the fur he had brought to Montreal was confiscated, Radisson went to England and obtained the support of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, KG, PC, FRS (17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682). Prince Rupert financed an expedition to the current Hudson Bay. In 1668-1669, the Nonsuch sailed across the Atlantic. Radisson was right. Large boats could travel to the inner part of Canada, from the North. This way fur traders would not need canoes as much as they had to previously. Yet, let it be known that canoes manned by nimble voyageurs continued to do the better job of gathering precious pelts.
The fact remains, however, that when the Hudson’s Bay Company was founded, in 1670, Britain acquired Rupert’s Land. It was a vast chunk of North America which the French had an opportunity of acquiring, except that Louis XIV was building a castle at Versailles, which French peasants would have to pay for.
At the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, France’s financial circumstances were strained. In October 1776, Louis XVI appointed Swiss-born Jacques Necker director-general of the finances, but despite a degree of success, Necker could not prevent the French Revolution. In other words, in 1673, not only had France lost battles, but it was poor. Nouvelle-France being a financial burden, France chose to keep sugar rich Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Of course, Britain wanted to appropriate Nouvelle-France, i.e. Canada and Acadie, but France itself could not fight back. It seems that, in the end, the more prosperous nation won. At one point, France owned nearly two-thirds of North-America. It lost New France in 1763 and, in 1803, it sold Louisiana. Napoleon (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) needed money.
Battles do play an important role in history but, occasionally, there is a “bottom line.” New France fell to Britain, but in this particular demise, only a richer France could have kept New France. The puzzling element in the Treaty of Paris is Britain’s willingness not to take away from its new French-speaking subjects their farms, their seigneuries and their religion. Moreover, at the time of the French Revolution, Britain made it possible for émigrés priests to move to Quebec where they would not be idle and that many became educators.
I will conclude by expressing doubts as to the possibility of teaching their true history to those Québécois who have chosen to think that New France was conquered, that there were no ‘patriots’ killed in Toronto (see Upper Canada Rebellion), and that Canada is not an officially bilingual country promoting the use of French.
I would also like to stress that if French-speaking Quebecers want to keep their language, they should make it their personal duty to do so. Speaking French as well as possible begins at home. As for the Quebec Government, it would be my opinion that, with respect to the survival and growth of French, it ought to make it its main mission to encourage Québécois to speak and write their language more correctly. It would give itself a positive and attainable goal. Québécois should feel motivated to perfect their French.
At any rate, there was no “conquest” of New France. France had lost battles, but the truth remains that it chose to part with New France because it was not bringing in a profit.
With kind regards to all of you,
Paul Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) sings Un Canadien errant (Antoine Gérin-Lajoie)
Proclamation posted on December 7, 1837 offering a reward of one thousand pounds for the capture of William Lyon Mackenzie. (See Upper Canada Rebellion, Wikipedia.)
© Micheline Walker
June 5, 2013