Little fanfare for Quebec Confederation parlay

Little fanfare for Quebec Confederation parlay

LiQ_Mag_Cover_July2014This column first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering the Quebec region and is currently published at least 3 times per year.
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By Peter Black

This is an epic year for epic anniversaries with a connection to Quebec City.

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph marks 250 years of English-language journalism in the old city.

There’s the centennial of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, which embarked from Quebec. Dozens of the dead are buried in cemeteries in the city.

Also a century ago the First World War broke out and within weeks the Valcartier army garrison sprung up to supply soldiers for the slaughter in Europe.

There’s the 70th anniversary of D-Day, in which soldiers from the Régiment de la Chaudière helped take Juno Beach. Quebec City, of course, was where Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt met at the Chateau Frontenac the previous year to plan the invasion of Normandy. It’s known as the Quebec Conference.

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousAnother Quebec Conference celebrates an anniversary this year, though there’s not much fanfare. It was 150 years ago this October that delegates from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland gathered in Quebec City, which at that time was the capital of the province of Canada, a quarrelsome union between what are now Quebec and Ontario.

Canada’s delegation, led by John A. Macdonald, George Brown and George-Etienne Cartier, was eager to strike while the iron was hot and forge a federal state out of the British colonies. They were building on the champagne-fuelled success of the Charlottetown Conference a few weeks earlier which started as a discussion of a union of the Maritime colonies but ended with the beginnings of a much grander plan.

It is Prince Edward Island, though, not Quebec, that has the much grander plan to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Confederation conferences with an extensive agenda of events, including a cultural exchange with Quebec’s capital. This is ironic in that P.E.I.’s delegates got constitutional cold feet in Quebec City, only signing on to Confederation in 1873.

Whereas Charlottetown has plenty of monuments to Confederation, including the original building where talks took place, Quebec, alas, has virtually nothing.

Indeed, the intense negotiations took place in a former post office building, non-descript but blessed with an inspiring view of the St. Lawrence River. It burned to the ground in 1883 and, in the words of history writer Christopher Moore, has gone “largely unremembered and unlamented.”

Moore, incidentally, is the author of 1867, How The Fathers Made A Deal, a lively work on the Confederation process, and a guest speaker at two modest 1864 events in October in Quebec City – a colloquium at Laval University and the Morrin Centre’s annual Literary Feast.

Though the sesquicentennial anniversary of the key Quebec Conference is subdued given its importance in the creation of Canada, at least it’s not attracting the same kind of hostile attention a similar milestone in Quebec history got back in 2009: Nervous officials cancelled a planned 250th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and it was replaced by “le moulin à paroles” marathon of sovereignty-inspired readings.

Perhaps, under the circumstances, discreet celebrations are best.

About Author

Peter Black

For years Peter Black was the producer of Breakaway, on CBC Radio One in Quebec City. Before arriving in Quebec City in the 1990s, he lived and worked in Ottawa and Montreal. Peter is married and has two sons.

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