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Canada - Wolfe and Montcalm, Episode 28 - 02/11/05


Representatives from various Native American tribes (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Representatives from various Native American tribes
(Getty Images)
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In 1759, the year Josiah Wedgwood opened his first pottery, General James Wolfe (see below) overcame the Marquis de Montcalm in the battle for Quebec. Canada is often the forgotten story of the dominion empire, yet there is evidence that Europeans had sighted the Canadian eastern seaboard as early as the 12th century. The Cabots charted part of the Newfoundland coastline in the late 15th century and in 1603 the French claimed the St Lawrence Seaway which they believed would be the main artery for Arcadia, or New France.

Henry Hudson in 1609 sailed into the river now named after him and sounded it for 150 miles as far as the present Albany in New York State. In 1610 in the Discovery, he entered what is Hudson Bay. That winter, the Discovery was trapped in the ice. By the spring, a desperate crew accused Hudson of keeping too much of the food for himself, his twelve year old son and a couple of officers. As the ice melted, Hudson, his son and his seven officers were put adrift in an open boat. They were never seen again.

The French and British battled for control of the territories that provided mighty fish stocks and fur trading. In 1689, the English joined a mixed European alliance against the French and although it was a European conflict, it spread to colonies with Canadian chieftains siding with whoever they thought was winning or likely to win. The 1713 Treaties of Utrecht had the French conceding Canadian territory to the British - Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and all land whose waters drained into the Hudson Bay.

By the 1750s, the French and the British were at war again (Seven Years' War 1756-1763). General Wolfe was ordered to take Quebec. In September 1759, Wolfe and about 4,500 men had climbed from the river to the Heights of Abraham. Montcalm inexplicably attacked in columns of three. This meant that his soldiers could only fire at an angle and therefore at the edges of the British lines. The British centre fired at random and broke the French assault. The irony was that both generals were killed. At the end of the Seven Years' War the Treaty of Paris gave Canada to Britain.

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Historical Figure

James Wolfe 1727-1759 (Mary Evans Picture Library)

James Wolfe 1727-1759
(Mary Evans Picture Library)
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James Wolfe 1727-1759

Wolfe was born at Westerham, Kent. He joined the army in 1742 and, in June the following year, fought at Dettingen as an ensign during the war of Austrian Succession. In April 1746, Wolfe was at the uncompromising defeat of the Scots at Culloden. He arrived in Canada in 1758 as a colonel with a brigade under General Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797), marking the precursor of Pitt's plan to take Canada from the French. The following year, by then a major general, Wolfe planned the assault on Quebec and after his death became a hero. Wolfe was buried at Greenwich. A statue on the green at Westerham commemorates his celebrity.

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Did You Know...

The 1743 battle of Dettingen, in which Wolfe served as a junior officer under George II, was the last occasion a British monarch commanded his troops in battle.

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Have Your Say

Events of this episode took place in Canada region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:

Comment on Canada

Christine Cormier
What you call quite interestingly the First World War was also preceded in North America by an ethnic cleansing similar by some aspects to the ones the world would see through out the XXth century. In 1755 and the following years, the Acadians (called the French in the English documents though there were by the time they were deported British subjects) were violently drove from the land they inhabited and cultivated since one century. A large number of them perished in sea in the wrecked boats they were forced to embark. The families were forcibly separated in an obvious attempt to destroy more than any hope to ever see that part of the world. They were never to return to the land (Nova Scotia) the English gladly settled on in the years to follow. The Acadians now living in Canada are located mainly in New Brunswick though some returned in a different area of Nova Scotia. A great number are living in Louisiana, some remained in France where they were deported. I am of Acadian descent. Among my ancestry, many were deported in different “States” of the English North American Colony. A small number were deported in Southampton and in La Rochelle : they came back in North America by Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon as soon as the could (some around 1780), a “familial proof” that the Acadians were, as they were pleading to be to defend their position in the war between France and England, neutral, not French nor English but Acadians (meaning a new people from North America). I was surprised that not a single word was said about those events.

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Contemporary Sources

Written remarks by Thomas McCliesh, a Canadian trader in 1656

Here McCliesh ends a litany of complaints about English supplies to the colony just after the Treaty of Utrecht.

"York Fort, seventeen hundred and twenty eight. We have sent home 18 barrels of powder that came over in 1726. For badness I never saw the like, for it will not kill fowl nor beast at thirty yards distance: and as for our kettles, in general they are not fit to put into an Indian's hand, being all of them thin, and eared with tender old brass that will not bear their weight when full of liquid and soldered in several places. Never was any man so upbraided with our powder, kettles, and hatchets than we have been this summer by all the natives, especially by those that border near the French. Our cloth likewise is almost torn from one end of the piece to the other.

Here came at least 40 canoes of Indians this summer. They likewise brought several strong French kettles and some French powder in their horns, with which they upbraided us by comparing with ours, at same time told us that they would give us the same number of beaver as they gave the French, provided our kettles be strong and clear of soldering."

Sermon by Richard Winter delivered in London 1656.

Winter gives thanks for a great and glorious success the British victory at the battle of Quebec.

"It is with cheerful obedience to royal command we assemble this day in religious manner thankfully to acknowledge the great goodness and mercy of our God for those signal successes he has given to the arms of Great Britain both by Sea and by land, and particularly by the defeat of the French army in Canada and the taking of Quebec, the capital of the French Empire in North America."

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