Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Laurier LaPierre, 1929-2012... via 1759

Christopher Moore's blog draws our attention to the passing of Laurier LaPierre, the great Canadian broadcaster, senator and historian.  While LaPierre's historical writings focused on the nineteenth and twentieth century, late in his career he made a notable foray into an earlier period with 1759: The Battle for Canada (McClelland & Stewart, 1990).

Experts in the field barely acknowledged this lively narrative recounting, aimed at a broad audience, of the last eighty-five days of the siege of Quebec.  Those who did review it pointed out that LaPierre was basically rehashing Frégault and Stacey's old tomes, and that he had not exercised the due dilligence of consulting any of the scholarship produced on the subject since 1975.  LaPierre's imagined conversations with participants of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham also broke with the conventions of academic historical writing, annoying many in the process.  It certainly made for a good read, though.

In a recent essay on the memory of the Conquest, historian Jocelyn Létourneau notes that LaPierre's book was widely distributed but that it is impossible to say what influence it has had on the public understanding of the event.  Leafing through the book now, I wonder if LaPierre's 1759 was not only a throwback, but also in a sense a precursor.  Does LaPierre's bemoaning of the lack of truly national heroes in Canadian history, with each linguistic community policing its own pantheon (viz. Wolfe for the Anglos and Montcalm for the Francos), not bring to mind a refrain now heard from the other end of the political spectrum?  This is a useful reminder that facile equations of the cult of the straight narrative and the hero with the the political right, and of real, nuanced history with the political left, do not always quite add up.  It is amusing, moreover, to observe that LaPierre himself could not entirely break with the reality he denounced: while the "Death of Wolfe" served as the cover of the English edition of the book, a painting of the death of Montcalm was chosen for the cover of the French one.


Champlain, Champlain, toujours Champlain

Le Bulletin du mois de décembre de la Commission franco-québécoise sur les lieux de mémoire contient un article de l'historien Éric Thierry qui remet en question la découverte présumée, au mois d'avril de cette année, de l'acte de naissance de Samuel de Champlain dans les registres du temple protestant de Saint-Yon (La Rochelle). 

À ce rythme-ci, je crains devoir tôt ou tard renommer ce blogue "Champlain"!  Le Père de la Nouvelle-France a, manifestement, un excellent agent publicitaire.


Friday, December 14, 2012

If I had a couple of thousand euros, I’d buy myself…

Photo: Piasa.

The Parisian auction house Piasa will soon be auctioning off a manuscript copy of Denis Diderot’s Pensées philosophiques.  What’s so cool about it?  Its title page includes the curious mention “copié / à Québec / au dépenz de la compagnie / 1750” (copied at Quebec at the expense of the Company, 1750).  

With a bit (a lot?) of digging in select inventaires après-décès and other extant library catalogues it might very well be possible to identify who, precisely, was reading this at Quebec in the 1750s.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

L'image de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain était à l'honneur en Acadie en 2004 et à Québec en 2008.  En 2013, ce sera au tour des deux rives de la Rivière des Outaouais de commémorer l'explorateur.  L'année 2013 marquera en effet le 400e anniversaire de sa remontée de la Rivière des Outaouais.  Soit dit en passant, cette année marquera aussi l'anniversaire de la fondation du Séminaire de Québec, tel que souligné dans un billet antérieur, mais aussi du Traité d'Utrecht, de la fondation de Louisbourg, du Traité de Paris et de la Proclamation royale.  De quoi alimenter plus d'un billet chez Charlevoix.

En tout cas, l'artiste Jérémie Giles, auteur d'une sculpture de bronze de Champlain inaugurée à Gatineau il y a quatre ans, profite de l'occasion pour faire paraître quelques mots sur l'image de l'explorateur dans les pages du quotidien Le Droit.  La perspective de l'artiste est intéressante, mais son interprétation de "l'affaire de l'astrolabe" de l'autre statue de Champlain, celle de la Pointe Nepean, est sans fondements.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Assassin's Creed III

I suppose that it was just a matter of time before I joined my fellow Canadian history bloggers on the "commenting on Assassin's Creed III" bandwagon (see here, here and here). 

For those  unacquainted as of yet with this controversy, Assassin's Creed III is a new video game set in colonial America during the Revolution and the decade leading up to it.  It initially garnered high praise in many quarters for its attention to historical accuracy.  But a few weeks ago a very critical editorial appeared in the Globe and Mail, the gist of which is that the game, produced by Montreal-based Ubisoft, is sinfully ahistorical given its pro-American bent.  The game purportedly "distorts history" and "grotesquely twists the facts" because it implies that Aboriginal peoples rallied to the side of the American colonists during the Revolution.  As is often the case, the reader response displayed more sagacity than the editorial itself.  To summarize the reaction: relax, high-strung editorialist, this is just a video game; its core story revolves around an ancient order conspiring to control the world by means of alien artifacts and time travel, so let's not worry too much about historical accuracy, ok?

This just in, Assassin\'s Creed III is historically inaccurate.
A snapshot from one of the game's cinematic sequences.
Tom Peace's piece at, which links this peculiar editorial stance to the government's heritage policy, is particularly worth the read.  I will, for my part, confine myself to pointing out that while much of the attention to the game has revolved around its Revolutionary content, the game actually begins during the Seven Years' War.

Indeed, one of the early missions in the game is "The Braddock Expedition".  The player's avatar, an Englishman by the name of Haytham Kenway, has to chase down and kill poor Gen. Edward Braddock.  But wait, there's a good explanation!  You see, it seems that Braddock was a member of the "Templar Order" that pseudohistorical creation bent on word domination.  He also has to be killed to gain the trust of a Mohwak woman by the name of Kaniehtí:io, who promises to show the player the location of an interdimensional gateway in exchange for the elimination of Braddock.  The player later fathers a son with that woman (a character voiced, incidentally, by Kaniehtiio Horn, actress and daughter of Kahnawake political activist and former model Kahn-Tineta Horn and sister to olympic water-poloist Waneek Horn-Miller).

A friend summarized it well: "They really lay into Edward Braddock. I don't think his own mother could love him in this incarnation."  Or, to quote the exchange between the dying Braddock and his murderer, i.e. the player's avatar: "Why?" "Your death opens a door [that portal], it's nothing personal.  Well, maybe it's a little personal.  You've been a pain in my arse, after all."  Poor Edward. 


Thursday, December 6, 2012

350e du Séminaire de Québec

Photo: Commission de la capitale nationale du Québec.
L'année prochaine marquera le 350 anniversaire du Séminaire de Québec, fondé le 26 mars 1663 par François de Laval, premier évêque de Québec.  On lançait les fêtes hier avec l'annonce d'une programmation publique gratuite, variée et abondante : des conférences, un colloque international, des expositions de documents d'archives et d'arts décoratifs, des concerts, du théâtre, un spectacle multimédia et, bien entendu, des visites guidées des lieux.  Vous pourrez en apprendre plus sur le site suivant: