Winter has been slow coming to Ontario this year. So slow, that although I prefer the sun and the warmth, I was beginning to feel somewhat deprived that winter still hadn’t arrived by January. In a fit of what could only be described as Canadian winter angst, I booked a ticket to somewhere I’d never actually visited, somewhere more likely to be experiencing some semblance of winter than Toronto.
In mid-January, I boarded a train at Union Station that took me as far as Montréal, where, after a brief pause on my journey, I was able to board the train to Québec City, where, yes, there was snow! Albeit not enough snow to open all the ski resorts. Adding to the pleasure of the trip was that my good friend and fellow writer Kathy Mac was able to join me, also arriving by train, but from Fredericton, New Brunswick. Between us, we’d travelled across at least a third of the country to meet at a point roughly halfway between our two homes.
The first evening we were there, we wandered along the boardwalk of the Château Frontenac, climbed many stairs and strode out onto the Plains of Abraham, named for Abraham Martin, an early settler who once grazed his cattle on its grasses. Site of the 1759 battle that altered the course of Canadian history, this is where both Wolfe and Montcalm died (along with countless other British, French, Canadian and Aboriginal soldiers). What surprised me most on first viewing was that the Plain was not the flat landscape I recalled from reproductions of paintings in my grade five history text, but was in fact more like a mogul ski course with a series of hillocks. I was quite distressed by this apparent inconsistency between what I knew the Plains of Abraham was supposed to look like and the seeming reality.
Over the course of the weekend, we wandered about the city (including an exploration of the old lower town ending in a funicular ride back up), ate great food (including a dessert called Pears Pernod that very nearly had me licking the plate), drank amazingly good coffee (everywhere), checked out museums and took the ferry to Lévis.
From across the St. Lawrence, it was possible to fully appreciate the grandeur of the height on which Québec City is perched. Although I’d seen pictures of the cliff face, it was far more treacherous and vertical than I’d realized. If I’d been in Wolfe’s army, I would’ve thought my general quite mad! It also explains why several failed attempts were made to approach Québec.
Later, during daylight hours, we took a longer walk out onto the Plain and I was finally able to appreciate its height, magnitude (one hundred and eight acres) and flatness (which begins further from the city walls than we had walked on our previous visit). Although relics of war still scatter the Plains in the form of various monuments and Martello towers, since 1908, this site has been known as Battlefields Park. Now the centre of Québec City recreation, the park is used year-round by residents and visitors alike. As you can see from the photo, a snowman now stands guard in front of one of the Martello towers.
Plans are afoot for the park’s centennial celebration next year, the centrepiece of which will be the Plains of Abraham Epic, a theatrical retelling of the park’s 400-year history, in mid-August. (More information is available at: http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/_en/index.php.)
The world is littered with battlefields, some ancient, some contemporary. I truly wish more politicians and governments could see the wisdom of transforming our battlefields into parks where kids and parents can play together in peace. It’s a great use for a battlefield and I would like to think it improves the vibes of a place that has seen so much death and suffering.
The weekend went by too quickly, ending with a few laps around the hotel pool before we had to board our divergent trains to return us to our different everyday worlds. But it was a pleasant and necessary time-out for us both. And of course it snowed a few days after I returned home.
© Catherine Jenkins 2007