Our Canadian excursion continued with our final days in Quebec. Yesterday, we went to the Plains of Abraham, the site of the key battle in the Seven Years War. We then walked around Quebec experiencing the shops and cafes. It was a huge amount of fun, though I had to Shanghai the kids into more military historical sites. They proved far more committed in searching for new crêperies and croissants.
In the morning, we first started at a pastry shop and bought an incredible breakfast with fresh apple butter and local jams. We then made the trek to the plains of Abraham — going up the long stairs from the river. This is quite a challenge. After narrowly missing a heart attack (unfortunately health care is free but not for foreigners), we made it on the Plains (which were not named for the Biblical figure as often assumed but a farmer named Abraham Martin). The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, occurred on September 13, 1759 and is notable in history as a battle where both commanding generals were killed — even more remarkable given the short duration of the battle (roughly 20 minutes). General James Wolfe commanding the British forces (left) and General Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm (right) were both killed. The battle (the culmination of a three-month siege) became the turning point in the war.
I was most interested in exploring the “other” Battle of Quebec — the little discussed American invasion of Canada. I have always been fascinated by the invasion which came close to taking Canada in the eighteenth century. It was preceded by an incredible journey in the dead of winter by General Benedict Arnold from Maine. Before turning traitor, Arnold was a great military leader — twice wounded in battle. Also on this campaign was Aaron Burr, who would later kill Alexander Hamilton.
The conditions were horrific and 500 men of the original 1,100 died en route or returned home. When the men arrived in Canada, they were starving and wearing little but rages. Yet, Arnold made it to Quebec and entered the Plains of Abraham to attack the city. He relinquished command to General Richard Montgomery, who had taken Montreal in an earlier battle. When Arnold sent a letter demanding surrender to Quebec’s provincial governor, General Guy Carleton, the British general reported burned the letter in reply.
Arnold and Montgomery would attack separately in a blizzard. We walked the paths of both attacks. I was most excited with following the steps of Montgomery (with an increasing reluctant entourage of kids who noted every passing crêperie as I tried to point out historical landmarks from the battle like St. John’s Gate. We walked down the street where Montgomery led 50 men toward a two-story building that was part of the British defensive line. It was held by 15 Quebec militia armed with muskets and cannons and they opened fired upon their approach. Montgomery was killed instantly and we went to the stone house where his body was carried. As a military history nut, I was on cloud nine.
Of course, the battle fell short and the Americans had to abandon both the campaign and the dream of taking Canada.
We also took a tour of the Citadelle, the home of the the Royal 22e Régiment of the Canadian Forces. It is part of the historic fortification of the city. It was fascinating that gave the best views of the city from cannon overlooks defending the city. The museum is quite small but it is still worth the trip.
We finished the day by stopping for (of course) more crepes and a beef fondue (which the kids loved and Jack declared his intent to open a fondue business after “discovering” the dish in Canada. We ended up eating at the Cafe Du Monde for the third night in a row. The service in the restaurant is unbeatable and we had their fries cooked in duck fat which is probably as unhealthy as it is irresistible.
This morning we start back for the U.S. and Vermont. We will miss the Auberge San-Antoine. Last night, the kids ordered a showing of Master and Commander in the cinema. I am not sure if it was the movie or having a big theater to themselves that thrilled the kids the most. Either way, they are now obsessed with returning to the Auberge San-Antoine (as are their parents).
We are off to buy the morning croissants and then to the Quebec falls before turning toward Vermont.