Quebec's Military Background, Quebec
It seems the famous “Plains of Abraham” were named after a farmer of that name who had farmed them some years before the British arrived. That happened on the morning of 13 September 1759 and their arrival that day surely must have put the Marquis right off his breakfast!
I’ve asked, I’ve researched, but nowhere can I find a good reason why Montcalm did not simply hoist a flag saying “go away”, followed by a broadside of cannons from within the walls. He had a depleted force comprised mainly of volunteer militia (some of his forces had gone away trying to intercept the British upstream) facing a substantial and highly trained professional army. Winter was coming and would have made a British siege nearly impossible. Instead he made what I find the incomprehensible mistake of leaving his fortifications and advancing on the British forces, who promptly cut down him and his men: in the process changing history by allowing the colony of New France to fall into British hands. And also allowing for the formation of what became the modern country of Canada.
Our knowledge of history sometimes has gaps for various reasons and it’s probably idle to speculate why. I must admit though that, until our visit, I wasn’t aware that revolutionary forces from what became the United States had attacked Québec in 1775. Nor, for that matter, was I aware of the War of 1812 with the USA which led in 1820 to the beginning of work on the Citadel, the new and major fortification in Québec, finally completed in 1850. In the 1940s, Roosevelt and Churchill met here twice to discuss World War II strategies: how times change!
Although it has never been used in military action, this remains an operational military base, the sometime home of Canada’s Governor-General, and (somewhat incongruously) a tourist attraction. As with the city walls, large European style fortresses are decidedly uncommon outside Europe!
We took a guided tour around the Citadel and, I confess, apart from being impressed by the amount of earthworks (generally visible from the outside walls without taking a tour) I wouldn’t rank this among the most rivetting parts of our visit to Québec. There is a small museum, the opportunity to wander by various buildings, a diversion down some tunnels to peer from defensive ports, then before you know it you’re finished. If time is short, my suggestion would be to simply walk around the outside of the walls, without doing the tour. And I think that’s enough of military history for now!
Main photo: Panorama from the top of the Citadel
Second, third photos: The first two stages of entering the Citadel
Fourth photo: One of the guns, in a commanding position
Fifth photo: An indication of the fortifications, with “New” Québec behind.
When you enter old Québec, the city walls make an immediate visual impact. This is the only fortified city north of Mexico, so the ‘uniqueness’ factor is pretty high. Come to a point, we have no walled cities in Australia and even in Europe few cities have complete remaining city walls.
Completed during the first half of the 18th century, following the War of 1690 between the English colonies and New France, the walls of Québec presumably would have been a significant hindrance to most armies of the time. With cannons mounted to help deter the British forces, the Marquis de Montcalm should have felt comfortable staying behind them. After the British victory at the start of winter, the occupation forces they left behind were in turn defeated by French forces six months later – but (oh the irony) the British retreated behind the walls and the siege was relieved by a British fleet when the river ice cleared as warmer weather arrived.
In those days, the gates through the walls would have involved several layers of military defences. Since then, the need to provide efficient services to the city and the lack of need for such barricades have led to the construction of large, quite stylish and elaborate “gates” through the walls to provide access to the city.
Main photo, photos 2,3,4: City walls and fortifications
Fifth photo: One of the gates (Porte Ste Louis).
As I noted in my introduction page, my earliest perceptions of Québec were formed by a painting of General Wolfe and his men climbing the cliffs along the St Lawrence in order to attack the French garrison. Seeing those cliffs was not just a ‘to do’, for me it came in the category of ‘must see’.
Somehow the scene from the top, as shown in the photo, doesn’t look quite the way it did in the painting of that night of 12 September 1759. Although in the painting (or my memories of it) the cliffs seemed steeper and higher, doubtless they are much the same as then. They probably were as heavily vegetated at that time, which would have helped hide the climbing soldiers should anyone have looked. But Wolfe would surely have had a hard time negotiating all the industrial developments now sprinkled along the foreshores!
Still, without doubt, the French commander the Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm thought the cliffs provided reasonable protection from the rear and they were not highly defended: in any case, the English were not supposed to be able to get upriver into a position where a landing near the cliffs would be possible! As I mentioned in my previous tip, Wolfe and his men had indeed passed upstream, leading the French to send part of their forces by land even further upstream in the hope of making an interception – instead, Wolfe returned downstream to land near Québec.
I hope you will wander with me down the historical path for this and the next few tips? In the early days of European settlement in Canada, the St Lawrence River provided the sole realistic access to the interior of the country. Not surprisingly, the penny dropped that whoever controlled the river essentially controlled the region. High escarpments over a narrow point in the river provided a natural defensive point and Québec became a key fortress for the new colony of New France. It served to defeat a British invasion attempt in 1690, then new city walls were built.
Apparently the French considered the approaches up the St Lawrence to Québec impassable at a place called La Traverse to all but those with special knowledge. Time for one of my heroes from history, James Cook, to make an entrance – at that time he was one of the few practitioners of the new skill of detailed nautical surveying and cartography. Cook found and mapped a route past the natural barrier, the French gunners failed to stop the British ships from passing (seems they must have been poor shots), and General James Wolfe was able to travel upstreamwith his army. He subsequently returned, as in the next tip.
From the top of the walls, watching shipping passing up and down the river, it is easy to understand Québec’s strategic importance.
FRANCOIS DUBOIS ARRIVED IN QUEBEC CITY AS A SOLDIER IN 1665 or so. He may have been dressed like this.
CREDIT FOR THE WATER COLOR PAINTING GOES TO FRANCIS BACK PARKS CANADA
Fondest memory: web page
It's History. My ancestors came from Bretagne in France and was a soldier perhaps in this uniform or the next picture.
CREDIT FOR WATER COLOR PAINTING GOES TO MICHEL PÉTARD NATIONAL DEFENCE.
Favorite thing: SEE THE Regular Soldiers in Period Uniforms marching on the Boardwalk in front of THE CHATEAU FRONTENAC HOTEL and the river front.