Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Pt. III, Plaines d’Abraham

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  In Part I, we looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People who have called the our country home for thousands of years, and Part II looked at the early European Explorers.

There are many moments one can look at in the history of Canada which are clearly a defining moment, a turning point. September 13, 1759 is one such moment: the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

First, context. In the mid-1700s, North America was home to many different European colonies; New France was well and successful, while to its south, England’s Thirteen Colonies were also thriving, not quite yet feeling the sentiments of discontent that would lead to the American Revolution. Those were coming. An ocean away, the colonizers, England and France, were none to pleased with each other.  Everything came to a head in 1854, the start of what would become the Seven Years War.  Its name is derived from the seven primary years of conflict, from 1856 to 1863, and it would result in conflicts in Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines, five continents in all. The Seven Years War could be considered one of the first global conflicts, a world war.

In North America, the English were at war with the French and First Nations.  After a series of skirmishes, including the capture of  Louisbourg on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and other French possessions in the Atlantic, the British forces continued their campaign further into New France, eventually reaching Quebec City.

Through the summer of 1759, the French were secure in their fortified city.  The British, led by General James Wolfe, tried to deplete stock and supplies and also tried a few strategic maneuvers to ‘lure’ the French to attack, but Marquis de Montcalm, the French officer leading the troops, held firm.

PicMonkey Collage

Photographs from around the Plains of Abraham

Wolfe saw opportunity on the morning of September 13; in the very wee hours, the British force managed to secure their position.  As described by the Canadian Encyclopedia:

…By 8 a.m. the entire force of 4,500 men had assembled. The British force stretched across the Plains of Abraham (named for 17th-century fisherman Abraham Martin) in a shallow horseshoe formation about 1 km long and two ranks deep.

I would imagine this was quite the sight for Montcalm and the French forces. Montcalm had a force of roughly the same size; where they differ is in experience.  The French forces were comprised of soldiers, militia, and First Nations; the British forces were regular soldiers, highly experienced and well trained.  Montcalm decided to attack immediately, hoping to catch the British unprepared.

Here’s where hindsight comes in handy: many historians believe that if Montcalm waited for reinforcements rather than act right away, the result of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham may have turned out differently.  The battle resulted in a retreat from the French forces, and both Wolfe and Montcalm died due to wounds.

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“The Death of General Wolfe,” by Benjamin West, oil on canvas. The Royal Ontario Museum has this portrait in their collection, an ‘Iconic’ artefact. This Video has a great analysis of its importance and symbolism.

The Plains of Abraham wasn’t the final battle of the conflict, but it represents the turning point in the North American theatre. By September 1760, British forces manage to capture Montreal, and the Treaty of Paris in 1763 brings an end to the Seven Years War. This treaty results in New France being ceded to the British, the start of British rule of what would become Canada.

 

Wolfe Street is found off Simcoe Street, south of Bloor; Oshawa’s Harmon Park Arena is located on Wolfe Street.  Montcalm is located one street south of King Street between Waverly and Stevenson.


References

Official website for the Plains of Abraham, National Battlesite Commission: http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/

The Canadian Encyclopedia: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-the-plains-of-abraham/

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