Historical Day on the Plains of Abraham: city under siege

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Photo: Cassandra Kerwin

During their spare time, villagers in New France played music for the pleasure of neighbours, families and friends.

On the beautiful afternoon of Sept. 8, large numbers of people learned about Quebec City’s rich history. The National Battlefields Commission has a strong tradition in organizing a free Historical Day. Each year in September, it presents important moments that have shaped Quebec City, Canada and North America. This year, the theme was Québec, Besieged City.

Upon entering the area near Martello Tower 1, visitors first encountered a group of bourgeois citizens teaching period dances accompanied by musicians. Women in modern clothes joined the men dressed in elegant New France outfits.

Across the lane, groups assembled in front of historians. They learned about typical meals. Hard-as-a-rock bread made from flour and water had to be dipped in hot water, soup or tea so as to not chip a tooth. Meats such as ham, pork, beef and fish were often smoked and dried in order to preserve them for long periods of time, an important factor during long Quebec winters and sieges!

Speaking of which, engineers offered advice on military tactics to attack a fort or a star-shaped citadel. Thanks to historical drawings by the military engineer de Vauban, armies created zigzag trenches leading up to the forts, a defence mechanism to counter straight-shooting cannons. The final military tactic was to use a siege cannon that would fire bombs filled with shrapnel, to explode over the walls and fall into the fort. This was more practical and fatal than a cannon aimed straight at a wall.

Visitors also encountered family members dressed in period clothing helping their husbands, sons and fathers prepare for battle. The officers assembled the soldiers in pre-designated areas, where they fired blanks from their rifles and cannons. In the background, members of the 78th Fraser Highlanders played their bagpipes. People seeking information from the pipers were told about the regiment's involvement during the siege of 1759.

Arriving at Martello Tower 1, people waited in line to visit two exhibitions. On the top floor, they learned about the fall of New France and the British siege of Quebec City in 1759-1760, as well as the purpose of the tower, built in 1810 by the British. On the lower floor, they learned about the War of 1812 between the United Kingdom and the United States.

“We are huge history buffs and our children love re-enactments. When we were planning a trip to Montreal and Quebec City, we knew that we had to make room for this activity,” said Sandra Murphy. “It is always great to visit another city with a citadel. We come from Halifax. Like Quebecers, history is alive in our city.”

 

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Fire! It’s loud and it’s smoky. A cannon was fired near Martello Tower 1 during the National Battlefields Commission’s Historical Day on the Plains of Abraham. Photo by Cassandra Kerwin

 

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New France soldiers form into ranks on the Plains in preparation for another siege by the British. This was one of the many demonstrations during Historical Day on the Plains of Abraham. Photo by Cassandra Kerwin