This political cartoon by Tim Dolighan (Dolighan Cartoons) satirizes the controversy over the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 2009 for the 250th anniversary of the conflict. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham—also sometimes referred to as ‘The Battle for Quebec’—occurred in 1759 between the British Army and Navy and the French Army, just outside the walls of Quebec City (britishbattles.com, 2007). It is remembered as a seminal battle and a key turning point in the Seven Years War, decisively in favour of the British forces (britishbattles.com, 2007). To commemorate the 250 year anniversary of the Battle of Abraham Plains, The National Battlefields Commission (the federal agency responsible for the Plains) had been planning a mock re-enactment of the battle to take place on September 13th, 2009, involving over 2000 re-enactors (CTV.ca News Staff , 2009). However, a furor erupted amongst Quebec sovereigntist groups after the Parti Quebecois and Bloc Quebecois denounced the event as “a slap in the face for Quebecers of French ancestry” (CBC News, 2009). The final straw came when organizers of the re-enactment began receiving threatening letters, eventually leading to the event’s cancellation amidst fears of possible violence (CBC News, 2009). Most sovereigntist groups expressed their satisfaction with the decision. Yet some, such as Sylvain Rocheleau, a spokesperson for Le Réseau du résistance du Québécois, voiced their own doubt concerning the official cancellation reason, “[I think] they had to cancel the event because it was insulting a majority of francophones” (CBC News, 2009).
The cartoon above has several implications in its portrayal of the controversy and makes use of the nationalist concepts, ‘a useable past’ and ‘banal nationalism’, thereby revealing the internal inconsistency of condemning the former by manipulating the latter. The cartoon clearly demonstrates the political opinion that Quebec sovereigntists have hijacked the memory of the historical event to air their modern grievances regarding perceived slights from the Anglo-majority of Canada. The concept of a “useable past”, coined originally by cultural critic Van Wyck Brooks, involves the mobilization of a past historical memory as a modern political resource for various movements (1918). This process is manifesting in the re-enactment debate. 250 years of temporal separation thus actually rendered the re-birth of the issue in a new light under the sovereigntist debate possible. Cartoonist Tim Dolighan mediates his opinion of the ‘ignorance’ of such historical appropriations through the father and son standing apprehensively in the background, observing the scene. The son is wearing a red scarf, hat and a sweater displaying the iconic, red Canadian Maple Leaf (It is also interesting to note they are the only figures in full colour range). This illustrates the use of banal nationalism; the normalized, ubiquitous and seemingly innocuously passive use of national symbols in everyday life (Winland, March 6, 2013). As banal as it may seem, the performative processes of banal nationalism actually constitute the very fabric and dominant narrative of nationalism (Winland, March 6, 2013). Even the planned re-enactment itself was demonstrative of the performativity (albeit on a grander scale in this case) of nationalism. In essence, the cartoon pits symbolic imagery belonging to two opposing political narratives to flesh out its own editorial sentiment. By observing this phenomenon, it is possible to recognize the mechanisms of nationalism—powerful yet often quite polarizing.
britishbattles.com (2007). The Battle of Quebec 1759. Retrieved from http://www.webcitation.org/5ctwr45mb
CBC News. (2009, February 17). Organizers cancel mock battle of the plains of abraham. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2009/02/17/mtl-plains-battle-cancelled-0217.html
CTV.ca News Staff (2009, February 17). Plains of abraham re-enactment cancelled. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/plains-of-abraham-re-enactment-cancelled-1.371078
Brooks, V. W. (1918). On creating a usable past. The Dial, 64(7), 337-341.