Essay 1

Monumental Tensions: the Commemoration of British Political and Military Heroes in Canada


In new countries we may discern the wilder and more romantic features of nature… [b]ut how much greater is it than this, to revert to the noblest of the creator’s works, and to call up the nations and men who have formerly trod the earth which now I tread.

—William Godwin, Essay on Sepulchres; or, a Proposal for Erecting Some Memorial of the Illustrious Dead in All Ages on the Spot Where Their Remains Have Been Interred (1809) (60-61)

A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great public structures, and fosters national pride and love of country, by perpetual reference to the sacrifices and glories of the past.                          

 —Joseph Howe, qtd. in The Golden Book (1927) (np)

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

                                   —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) (35)

Early on the morning of November 16, 1992—the anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel on November 16, 1885—a bronze statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Montreal was decapitated and the letters "FLQ" spray-painted on its base. Later in the day, a spokesman for "It’s Cool to Be Canadian," Philip McMaster, visited the statue and described those responsible for its decapitation as "insignificant, ignorant, and cowardly." The next day, the slyly orotund leader of the Parti Québecois, Jacques Parizeau, remarked on the "expertise" displayed by the decapitators and joked about the fact that "[a]nyone can get hold of an aerosol can— even if it does hurt the ozone layer." Conceding that the decapitation might have been an act of "political provocation or whatever," he added that, being  a "politician" rather than a "psychiatrist,"  he was unqualified "to find motives" for it ("Parizeau-Macdonald"). Many people reading this brief digest of reports carried in the Fall of 1992 by Canadian wire services under the heading "National general news" will doubtless find Parizeau’s disingenuousness amusing and the angry outburst of Philip McMaster decidedly "uncool." Some may have experienced a moment of sadness on seeing a photograph of Macdonald’s headless statue on the front page of The Globe and Mail on November 17, but few will have shared the sorrow and outrage of those whose commitment to the unity of Canada makes them constituents of such groups as "It’s Cool to Be Canadian." Why make a big deal over the destruction of a statue— a statue, moreover, which was criticized when it was unveiled on June 6, 1895 (the fourth anniversary of Macdonald’s death) for "having failed to capture the vitality of Canada’s first prime minister" ("Parizeau-Macdonald")?

Why indeed? One reason is that the creation and destruction of monuments has for nearly two centuries been a material manifestation of the tension between the forces of unity and disunity in Canada. Another is the intriguing relation between architectural and literary monuments to figures in Canada’s past. If all the Muses are the daughters of Memory as the ancient Greek myth proposes, none are more obviously so than the Muses who inspire commemorative works, whether "written" or "figured" (Le Goff 81-90). As already observed in the Introduction, Joseph Priestley in his Lectures on History draws a parallel between "visible monuments" and "historical poems" as means of "perpetuating memory" and preventing the "loss of history" (74-76), activities of crucial importance to civic life. An inhabitant of the Gutenburg galaxy and an emigrant to Republican America, Priestley perceived the practical and democratic advantages of books as a medium of commemoration: "[t]he imperfection of monuments, even with inscriptions, is, that they…record only a few events,…and that they are not easily multiplied; so that, remaining single, and little care being taken to renew them, the materials would in time moulder away, and the inscription become effaced" (80). Of course, the site of contact between a "written" and a "figured" monument is the "inscription," the tracing or affixing of numbers and words—not infrequently the words of a poet—in or onto the stone or metal of which commemorative monuments are usually composed.

On the Stones of Remembrance that commemorate the dead of the First World War in several small cemeteries across Canada are inscribed the words "Their Name Liveth for Evermore," "an extract from Ecclesiastes chosen by Rudyard Kipling" (Wood and Swettenham 12). To the left of the statue commemorating Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Baker, M.P. in the Main Lobby of the House of Commons in Ottawa is inscribed another biblical quotation (2 Maccabees 6.31) and to the right a stanza from "In Flanders Fields":

To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies blow
                              In Flanders fields.

"The words…to the right," said William Lyon MacKenzie King, "will continue to speak to us through all the years that lie ahead, reminding us of the obligations we who are living owe to those who are gone" (qtd. in Parliamentary Memoir 14). The publication of a Parliamentary Memoir of Baker that includes a photograph of his memorial, the addresses of King and others at its unveiling, an assortment of records and tributes, and a funerary poem ("Non Mortuus") supplements and democratizes the memorial while also ensuring the preservation of its history, appearance, and significance. Priestley considers commemorative "[c]oins and medals…as a kind of portable monuments" (80) and this is true also of memoirs, particularly when, like Baker’s, they are produced by the King’s Printer and bound in red leather. To inscribe their members and heroes into the "collective memory" (Le Goff 81-99) is a perennial perquisite of dominant social groups. Almost needless to say, the destruction or effacement of such inscriptions is a recurring aim of subordinate groups striving for power.

In Canada this dialectic of construction and destruction first took shape around the figure of General James Wolfe. Although Wolfe’s army reputedly marked the spot on the Plains of Abraham where he died with a large stone in 1759 (Fournier 160), this was either left uninscribed or forgotten fifteen years later, for when Thomas Anburey visited the battlefield in 1776 he merely saw "the remnants of the enemy’s encampment" (1: 93). A year after Thomas Cary had commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of Wolfe’s victory and death in Abram’s Plains (1789), a circular stone was installed on the spot where he was believed to have died (Fournier 160). This was the "stone…swell[ing] upon the heath" where "WOLFE, victorious, clos’d his eyes in death!" (1: 179-80) that J. Mackay saw in circa 1793 and describes in Quebec Hill (1797) and that Isaac Weld saw in 1797 and describes in his Travels (1799) as "a large stone, on which a true meridianal line is drawn" (2: 346)—that is, a line indicating the position of the sun at noon. In ensuing decades, the stone became so naturalized that at least one traveller, visiting the site in 1816, believed it to be "the stone…on which the hero expired" (Francis Hall 86; emphasis added). Like Abram’s Plains, the first Wolfe monument represented a growing sense of local pride among British residents in Canada: both the poem and the stone reflect an orientation towards the "origins and mythical heroes" (Le Goff 56) of British North America and, by their very existence, indicate the emergence of a collective English-Canadian memory and identity. It is scarcely surprising that in 1790, a year after the publication of Abram’s Plains and the year of the construction of the Wolfe monument, the British Parliament enacted the Canadian Constitutional Act, which provided Canada with its own Governor, Council, and House of Representatives.

Nor is it surprising that French Canadians, a group that inevitably loomed very large in the collective memory and emerging identity of British residents of Canada, were taken into consideration during the next episode of the Wolfe-monument saga. In a letter of May 26, 1804 to The Quebec Gazette, John Strachan, at that time still a grammar school teacher in Cornwall, Upper Canada, relays the results of a recent "conversation…upon the projected monument to GENERAL WOLFE":

[t]he company agreed that it was impossible to say more than he deserves in his Epitaph; but they wish’d it not to reflect on the nation he opposed. For it was observed, that this might not only hurt feelings, which it were better to conciliate, but detract from its elegance, since comparative praise is frequently disputable, and seldom sufficiently appropriate.

Strachan offered two epitaphs that "avoid this imperfection" and have the "merit…of being written in the country that immortalized their Hero." The first, composed, appropriately, in heroic couplets, celebrates Wolfe as a "modest," "brave," "enlightened," mild "manner[ed]," and compassionate "Youth" who, according to tradition, clung to life until the outcome of the battle was clear: "The shouts of vict’ry met his parting breath, / He heard with joy, and smiling sunk in death." The second, a brief statement in Latin, lik- ens Wolfe by way of his timely death to Epaminondas, the Theban commander who was similarly killed at the Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC: "WOLFIUS, victoria annunciata, ut Thebanas / Expiravit."1 Since no monument to Wolfe was built in the first decade of the nineteenth century, neither of Strachan’s two epitaphs became an inscription. As efforts to celebrate Wolfe without offending French-Canadians, however, they anticipate the attempts of later inscriptions and monuments in Lower Canada to honour the Province’s uneasy biculturalism.

Just how uneasy is evident from the subsequent history of monuments to Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham. On the orders of Lord Aylmer a column simply inscribed "Here Died Wolfe, Victorious, Sept. 13th, 1759" was erected in 1832 because by that time the stone marking the site had virtually been destroyed by vandals (Fournier 160). To Edward Allen Talbot and Standish O’Grady, Aylmer’s "pillar" was a "pitiful tribute"—"A scanty, sad memento of the brave" (Talbot 1: 49; O’Grady 920)—but  to less conservative souls it was an all-too-substantial reminder of British oppression. In 1849, this time on the orders of Sir Benjamin D’Urban, the British Army in Canada erected a much larger column bearing the same inscription on oneside and, on the other, the information that the 1832 monument "was broken and defaced, and is deposited underneath" (Fournier 160). "Here stands a pile that dares the rebel’s lust for spoliation," proclaimed Charles Sangster in 1856: "one that will remain— / A granite seal—brave Wolfe! set upon Victory’s fane" (The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay, Bentley ed., 592-94, and see 123-24, 138-41). In Sangster’s view, "every man of truly British feeling should have by heart" the inscription on the 1832 and 1859 Wolfe monuments as a reminder of "the hard struggles that England had to undergo to preserve…her…Colonial possessions, [and] of the blood spilt by her fearless heroes in maintaining her supremacy against the French in the early history of these Provinces" (124). It was such thinking that resulted in the necessity of replacing the Wolfe monument yet again during the First World War. According to a new inscription that, in effect, commemorates the creation and destruction of the previous monuments, "[t]his fourth memorial reproduces the column of the third, preserves its crowning piece [a bronze sword, laurel, and Roman helmet] and two inscriptions and was set up by the National Battlefields Commission [in] 1913" (qtd. in Fournier 160). That the fourth Wolfe monument has lasted as long as it has is surely due, not to any diminution of independentiste sentiment in Quebec, but to the redirection of that sentiment from Britain to English-Canada, from Wolfe to Sir John A. Macdonald (and, less abstractly, to the placement of the monument on a high plinth above the easy reach of vandals).

Well before the installation of the first Wolfe monument on the Plains of Abraham in 1790, the American expatriate artist Benjamin West had painted what remains the best-known image of the conqueror of New France. First exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1771, The Death of  General Wolfe quickly became a "portable monument" through prints taken from James Woolcott’s line engraving of 1776, a work that not only earned Woollett the title of Historical Engraver to his Majesty George III but also helped to make West’s painting "an icon of the British Empire" (Schama, Dead Certainties 32). (When he painted the Death of General Wolfe, West had already  found favour with the King,  and in 1792 he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy.) As depicted by West in his military uniform (rather than in Greek or Roman dress as was conventional in neo-classical art) and in the posture of Christ after the deposition from the Cross (as in Michelangelo’s Pièta), Wolfe is the central figure in a contemporary and secular "Passion scene" (Schama 32)—a military saviour who sacrificed his life for King and Empire, as would the even more Achillean Lord Nelson on October 21, 1805.2 As Simon Schama has pointed out, the curve of Wolfe’s body in West’s painting is echoed by the British flag that billows above him so that the flag "becomes [his] cross; his saintly attribute; the shroud for his body; and the meaning of his history" (33-34); moreover, the church spire that is visible in the clearing sky above the battle suggests the coincidence of Britain’s imperial endeavours with God’s providential scheme. In the foreground, at Wolfe‘s feet, sits a representative of the Native peoples whose attitude of pensive yet canine devotion is consistent with the four-stages theory conception of North American Indians as occupying the position closest to animals on the ladder of social development, a state that it was the duty of civilized nations to ameliorate (see Essay 2: Tokens of Being There: Land Deeds and Demarkations). By divine grace and Wolfe’s Christ-like self-sacrifice, the painting suggests, a new dispensation has dawned for New France and its Native peoples.3 Cary may have been thinking of West’s painting or Woollett’s engraving when he described Wolfe’s death in Abram’s Plains:

Whilst, o’er his sight, spreads thick the veil of death,
And life suspended stays the struggling breath,
Anxious, he hears the shout—"they fly, they fly,"
"Who fly?" "The foe"—"contented then I die."

So, too, may a later poet, Cornwall Bayley (who probably knew both Cary’s and Strachan’s poems) when he described Wolfe at the moment of his death as "reclin’d in Vict’ry’s bosom" (175) in Canada. A Descriptive Poem, Written at Quebec, 1805 (1806). That the works of West, Woollett, Strachan, Cary, and Bayley have survived three Wolfe monuments (and may yet survive a fourth) bears out Priestley’s contention that mechanically produced books and images have an advantage over monuments and inscriptions as commemorative vehicles in that they are "easily multiplied" and, therefore, less likely to disappear.

If The Death of General Wolfe is the best-known pictorial image of the general, the most cryptic is Joseph Légaré’s Paysage au monument à Wolfe (Landscape with Wolfe Monument), which was painted in the aftermath of the Rebellions of 1837-38 and exhibited in the Quebec Assembly Chamber in 1848 (John R. Porter 64). Both the landscape and the statue of Wolfe in Légaré’s painting are based on engravings of other works of art: the landscape on that in Émile Cartier’s engraving of Salvador Rosa’s Mercury Putting Argus to Sleep and the statue on R. Houston’s engraving of a drawing of Wolfe by his aide-de-camp Hervey Smyth (Porter 64). In contrast, the plinth upon which Légaré has placed Wolfe’s statue—a small, scarred stone column with a cracked plaque from which the inscription appears to have been effaced—could well be a rendition of the Wolfe monument on the Plains of Abraham as it existed when the picture was painted in the late eighteen thirties or early eighteen forties. What makes Paysage au monument à Wolfe so cryptic is its relationship to the Rebellions of 1837-1838 and Mercury Putting Argus to Sleep, for Légaré, who was arrested but never tried on a charge of "forming the design of opposing the Government by force and by violence" (qtd. in Porter 13), appears to have altered the setting and subject of Rosa’s painting with a view to creating an allegory of the political situation in Lower Canada following the uprisings. By emphasizing the broken and dead trees in Mercury Putting Argus to Sleep, he creates a mise en scène marked by decay and violence; and by replacing the mythological subject of Rosa’s painting—Mercury playing to Argus in order to lull him to sleep and kill him—with a Wolfe monument in front of which a reclining Indian is "hold[ing] a bow that he seems to be offering to…[the] statue" (Porter 64), he raises some intriguing questions about the possible allegorical significance of the monument, the Indian, and this gesture. Does the monument, which depicts Wolfe pointing the way towards the Plains of Abraham and Quebec City, "symbolize…the conqueror…[and] perhaps also the whole anglophone ‘establishment’" in the eighteen thirties? Is the Indian merely "the first owner and…the defender of the country surrendering his arms" or is he an allegorical representation of French Canada or French Canadian nationalism? Are his gesture and demeanor indicative of submission or mockery? Will he surrender or retain the axe, tomahawk, and gun that he has also brought with him? Is the canoe that lies partly concealed by dead and dying trees the remnant of a defunct way of life or the vehicle that will carry him to freedom (Porter 64; and see also Gagnon, "The Hidden Image" [1979-1980] and Cook, "Who’s Afraid of an Imaginary Wolfe" [1995])? Today, as in the eighteen forties, the answers to these questions will probably depend heavily on the viewer’s political perspective: a Quebec nationalist might well read Paysage au monument à Wolfe as a subversive allegory of resistance, but a Canadian federalist would be more likely to see it as a straight-forward depiction of the ackowledgement of defeat and authority.

Less prone to "spoliation" than the Wolfe monuments on the Plains of Abraham, and for obvious reasons, is the joint monument to Wolfe and Montcalm that was erected in Quebec City in 1827-28.4 Proposed "with equal good feeling and good taste" by Lord Dalhousie, runs a footnote to Catharine Parr Traill’s Backwoods of Canada (1836), this reconciliatory monument represented to many "a liberality of feeling that cannot but prove gratifying to the Canadian French, while it robs the British warrior of none of his glory" (30). With equally patrician feeling and taste, both French and English are eschewed in favour of Latin in the two inscriptions on the Wolfe-Montcalm monument. The longer of these is a description of the monument’s genesis, the shorter a tribute to the two generals: "Wolfe. Montcalm. Mortem Virtus Communem Famam Historia Monumentum Posteritas Dedit": "Their courage gave them a common death, history a common fame, posterity a common memorial." "[M]ore renowned than its author," this memorable inscription was written by John Charlton Fisher, King’s printer, publisher of The Quebec Gazette, and promoter, treasurer, and later president of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (Lebel), an organization founded by Lord Dalhousie in 1824 and numbering among its charter members William Smith, François-Xavier Garneau and other scions of the English and French intellectual and social establishments.

When Sangster visited the Wolfe-Montcalm monument in the eighteen fifties, he saw "One graceful column to the noble twain" that "Speaks of a nation’s gratitude, and starts / The tear that Valor claims, and Feeling’s self imparts" (611-12).5 To less sentimental eyes, however, the monument is more than a gesture of racial reconciliation and symmetry: it is simultaneously an attempt to conceal and to  enshrine  the  dominance  of  the British over the French that devolved from the events of September 13, 1759. Only one French-Canadian, Judge Jean-Thomas Taschereau, sat on the committee struck by Dalhousie to oversee the design and construction of the monument. The others were prominent members of the English legal and military establishment in Lower Canada, including Chief Justice Jonathan Sewel, Major-General Henry Charles Darling, and the designer of the monument, "Major Young of the 97th Regiment" (Fournier 161; Traill 30 n.). Dalhousie himself considered the imposing obelisk "Wolfe’s monument" and, in vainer moments, "a monument to [his] own name, at the last hour of [his] Administration of the Country" (qtd. in Peter Burroughs 731). It may be a sign of the transparency of Dalhousie’s patronizing and personal designs that the Wolfe-Montcalm monument had to be "completed with his own subscription to compensate for Canadian indifference" (Burroughs 731) and that "French-Canadian participation" in the Quebec Literary and Historical Society "was infrequently realized, even after partial union with a rival society in 1829" (Klinck, "Literary Activity in the Canadas, 1812-1841" 128). As the Rebellions of 1837-1838 would soon confirm, the fantasy of common heroes and a common history for all Canadians had a narrower appeal in Lower Canada than the colonial establishment hoped would be the case.

In Upper Canada the monument that served as a focus for political tension during the Colonial period was the memorial to General Isaac Brock at Queenston Heights. "The War of 1812…left an indelible mark on the Upper Canadian identity," observes John Webster Grant (68), bequeathing the Province a legacy of querulous patriotism, military heroes, and anti-American sentiment. As different as they are in magnitude and kind, the Welland Canal and John Richardson’s Tecumseh (1828) are both manifestations of the redefinition of themselves, their history, and their neighbours that was forced upon Upper Canadians by the events of 1812-1814. Much nearer than Tecumseh to the new core of collective memory and identity in Upper Canada, Brock is commemorated as a "dauntless spirit" (16) near the structural centre of Adam Hood Burwell’s Talbot Road (1818), but the first monument to him was not begun at Queenston Heights until 1824. As Strachan recalls by way of introducing a possible inscription for a Brock "monument, should it ever be built," in A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819 (1820):

Queenston has become famous by the death of the gallant General Brock, who was killed on the 13th October, 1812, bravely repulsing the landing of the enemy. His body is interred under one of the bastions of Fort George at Niagara, without any stone or memorial to mark the spot where the saviour of Upper Canada lies. It is said that the legislature, some years ago, voted one thousand pounds for a monument, and that a committee was appointed to procure and set it up; but nothing has been done. Such conduct requires explanation. Was the sum too small? It might have been easily increased by private contributions; and, till the monument is erected, the province is disgraced.

No doubt the existence of the monument five years later (it was dedicated on October 13, 1824) was partly due to Strachan’s efforts to strengthen the attachments between Canada and Britain by reminding Canadians of their indebtedness to "the parent State" (Visit 196). But during its construction, an incident occurred that foreshadowed events to come: when the column had reached forty-eight of its eventual hundred and thirty-five feet in height, it was discovered that William Lyon  MacKenzie had arranged to  have "a copy of his anti-government paper, The Colonial Advocate, surreptitiously placed in the corner-stone…. Work stopped dead until the offending journal could be removed." In To Mark Our Place: a History of Canadian War Memorials (1987), Robert Shipley adds that "[n]ot everyone in the colony was…enthusiastic about the British connection…. For MacKenzie and his partisans, the continued veneration of Brock as the defender of Canada against Americanism was simply a cover for depriving Canadians of greater democracy" (28).

Within months of its completion, the Brock monument became a focal point for people living and travelling in Upper Canada. On a tour of the battlefields in the Niagara area, the French travellers in James Lynne Alexander’s Wonders of the West (1825) expend "unwonted labour" in climbing the internal staircase that led to its "summit" (9), an "observation platform…over four hundred feet above the level of the Niagara River" (Shipley 27). (In a nice variation of Edgar’s description of the cliffs at Dover in King Lear, each seems "no larger than a crow" to the "traveller[s] below" [9].) One of their number, a despairing lover named St. Julian, attempts to leap to his death from the "tower’s giddy height" (11), but the remainder respond in more conventional ways to the vertiginous sublimity of the view, some "shrink[ing] from the appalling scene" and others "look[ing] upward to the skies" with "terror in their eyes" (9). After several set pieces inspired by the height and associations of Brock’s monument, Alexander allows his tourists to proceed to Lundy’s Lane, but not before using his own poem to commemorate "[t]he late Colonel [Robert] Nichol," a prominent militia officer, politician, and judge who in May 1824 fell to his death from the "precipice that overlooks the river at Queenston Heights" (45-46). "And what! no monument! Inscription, stone!," he exclaims after recounting Nichol’s sad tale,

’Twere needless; for his virtues shall be known,
In after ages, when his honour’d name,
Shall teach the young to emulate his fame:
And when the future traveller espies
That lofty column pointing to the skies,
"There," shall his leader say, "lies gallant Brock,
And here brave Nichol tumbl’d from the rock."

The obvious purpose of these lines is to annex Nichol’s memory to Brock’s—to extend the mnemonic power of the "lofty column" on Queenston Heights to a man who had not only served with distinction in the War of 1812 but also fought hard in ensuing decades for a variety of causes, including responsible government, improved inland navigation, and union with Lower Canada (Fraser 540-43). There is a certain appropriateness to the fact that in Wonders of the West the Brock monument is democratized to include a staunch Upper Canadian patriot and Whig.6

Of course, this did nothing to satisfy the proponents of republicanism that came to the fore in Upper Canada in the next fifteen years. On April 13, 1840, the Brock monument was severely "injured by an explosion of gunpowder by Benjamin Lett, who had taken part in the Rebellion of 1837-38 and had fled across the border" (Carnochan, "Brock’s Monument" 11). As O’Grady put it in a note to The Emigrant (1841): "[t]he monument to General Brock lies at present shamefully injured by the daring hands of the disloyal; a contribution has been levied to erect a new one worthy of his memory" (80). The levy to which O’Grady refers was initiated at "what was called the ‘Indignation meeting’ on June 30th, 1840," when it was determined "by thousands from the vicinity" of Queenston Heights "to erect a finer monument by contributions from the people, the military, [and] the Indians" (Carnochan 10-11). That the decision of the meeting was designed to display the loyalty and harmony of the peoples of the Province is confirmed by the Correspondence, Addresses, Etc. Connected with the Subscriptions of Various Indian Tribes in Upper Canada, in Aid of the Funds for the Re-construction of Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights (1841). "When the passer-by gazes on the Monument of Brock," reads one of the Indian addresses, "let him see written—‘The Red Men struck the foe by the side of the head; [Brock] lives in our hearts, and their hand has here placed one stone to his memory" (11).7 Such "manifestations of devoted Lo[y]alty and sincere attachment to the British Government," reads one of the official portions of the document, "cannot fail to strengthen those favourable sentiments which have always been entertained towards [Canada’s Indians] by the whole British Nation"(5). As well as arranging for the publication of Correspondence, Addresses, Etc. as a testament to the social contract confirmed around the new Brock monument, the government ensured that the shortfall in contributions from "the people, the military, [and] the Indians" was made up by "a grant from Parliament" (Carnochan 11). On the forty-first and forty-seventh anniversaries of Brock’s death—October 13, 1853 and 1859—the cornerstone was laid and the monument inaugurated. Both ceremonies were attended by representatives of the groups whose collective memory and social contract the monument represents.

Given Brock’s prominence in the history, mythology, and landscape of Ontario, it is no wonder that his monument has inspired more poetry than any other monument in the Province. For inscription on its plinth, Sangster wrote an ode that begins by stressing Canadian unity ("One voice, one people, one in heart / And soul, and feeling, and desire!") and ends in a welter of classical allusions aimed at confirming Brock’s place among the heroes of history, religion, literature, and myth (Hesperus 84-85). In between, the poem goes beyond a celebration of Brock to honour all the Canadians killed in the War of 1812 and to confirm the persistence of the past in the present: "The hero deed can not expire, / The dead still play their part." Some twenty years earlier Anna Jameson had expressed the hope that future writers would convert the sites of the "bloody and obscure conflicts" of Canada’s early history into "classic ground" and make the names of "Pontiac, Tecumseh, [and]…Brock …[as] familiar on all lips as household words—…at least…here" (qtd. in Machar 23n.). Perhaps Agnes Maule Machar was thinking of Sangster’s poem as well as Jameson’s hope when she wrote in the July 1874 issue of The Canadian Monthly and National Review that "Queenston Heights, where [Brock’s] death occurred, and where his memorial now stands, is, no less than the Plains of Abraham, one of Canada’s sacred places, where memories akin to those of Thermopylæ and Marathon may well move every Canadian who has a heart to feel them" (9). "All over the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec," she continues, "are scattered our Canadian battlefields, where our fathers fought and fell, or gained a hardly won and bloody victory. The least their descendants can do is to keep their memories green—to let ‘the brave days of old’ come in contact with the living present, instead of keeping them shut up in little-used volumes of history" (23). If it was true, as Ray Palmer Baker claimed in 1920, that "Brock" did "much to further the development of national consciousness" in Canada (161-62; and see Logan and French 97-98), then one reason for this must have been the presence of the poem in such influential anthologies (and, indeed, aggregations of cultural memory) as Edward Hartley Dewart’s Selections from Canadian Poets (1864) and William Douw Lighthall’s Songs of the Great Dominion (1889). In his survey of "Canadian Anthologies, New and Old" (1942), even the incorrigibly cosmopolitan A.J.M. Smith was prepared to concede, albeit only at the height of the Second World War, that "Sangster’s memorial ode on Brock" is a creditable expression of "national enthusiasm" (464).

Much more palatable to modern tastes than "Brock" is the poem "From Queenston Heights" that Sangster wrote sometime before 1856, perhaps while seeking inspiration for his commemorative ode. After describing the "classic hill" and its peaceful surroundings on a Sunday in "autumn," the poet turns to the object of his pilgrimage from Kingston:

     Here is the Monument. Immortal Brock,
Whose ashes lie beneath it, not more still
Than is the plain to-day. What have we gained,
But a mere breath of fame, for all the blood
That flowed profusely on this stirring field?
’Tis true, a Victory; through which we still
Fling forth the meteor banner to the breeze,
And have a blood-sealed claim upon the soil.
’T were better than Defeat, a thousand times.
And we have rightly learned to bless the name
Of the Old Land, whose courage won the day….
(The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay, and Other Poems 218)

More enamoured of peaceful scenery than military victories, the poet nevertheless "Tread[s] lightly, in remembrance of the dead— / My brothers all, Vanquished and Victors both" (219). Perhaps with an eye on his international audience—The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay volume in which the poem was published bears the names of an American and a Canadian printer—Sangster concludes "From Queenston Heights" by focusing on the bridge across the Niagara River:

      Here, where the wondrous skill
Of the mechanic, with this iron web
Has spanned the chasm, the pulse beats hopefully,
And thoughts of peace sit dove-like in the mind.
Heav’n bridge these people’s hearts, and make them one!                                                                                (219)

Whereas the Brock monument represents Canada’s military past, territorial integrity, and British connections, the technological marvel of the suspension bridge across the Niagara River that was designed by the American engineer John S. Roebling and built in 1852-1854 by "a joint company of Canadians and Americans" (W.H. Smith 1: 197) represents the spirit of peace and co-operation that took a less localized form in the Reciprocity Agreement of 1854-1866. Like the Wolfe monument on the Plains of Abraham, the Brock monument on Queenston Heights is a symbol of the victory of one nation and race over another; like the Wolfe-Montcalm monument in Quebec, the bridge over the Niagara River offers the prospect of reconciliation: the descendants of those whom history drew into conflict may yet be united by contemplating an image of the (British) lion lying down with the lamb or, as the case may be, the (American) eagle or the (French) fleur-de-lys.

In the present century, poets have preferred to ignore or scant such weighty national and international issues when writing about the Brock monument. In "The Valiant Vacationist" (1944) for example, Margaret Avison associates the monument with "genteel" tourism, and quickly proceeds to grapple with matters more congenial to a Modernist such as the banality, ugliness, and unintelligibility of the contemporary world. And in "The Ballad of Queenston Heights," Francis Sparshott makes light of the monument and the event that it commemorates:

Who is that sweating officer
waving a useless sword?
That’s General Sir Isaac Brock
who wants to be a Lord

                                                  •     •     •

Now all you bold Canadian girls
remember Queenston Heights
its thanks to such as Brock and Sheaffe
that you sleep safe at nights

Cool Sheaffe was made a Baronet
and back to England sent
but Brock still stands on Queenston Heights
upon his monument.

These stanzas were published in 1979 well after the nationalistic fervour that produced Brock University and Expo 67 had begun to cool: as Canada moved towards the century that may well belong to the trans-national corporations, the Brock monument was only marginally less fashionable poetically than the patriotic ode.

Today literary interest in Canada’s monuments is almost non-existent. Writers and readers have been trained by generations of Modernists and Marxists to disregard national heroes, or to treat them with irony, contempt, and other types of condescension. Yet most Canadians have contact on an almost daily basis with material forms that attempt in one way or another to embody and perpetuate shared remembrance and national identity. The Memorial University of Newfoundland was founded in 1925 as a living monument to Newfoundlanders who died in the First World War. The Victoria Memorial in Ross Bay Cemetery on Vancouver Island commemorates forty-one men who were lost or buried at sea in the Pacific Ocean (Wood and Swettenham 125). All across Canada, as throughout much of western Europe, row on row of democratically identical headstones mark the place of soldiers, sailors, and fliers who died in this century’s great wars. Why, Pierre Berton asks in the Foreword to Shipley’s History of Canadian War Memorials, does this country contain so many monuments to the dead of the First World War? The answer, he suggests, is that the First World War was a "turning point" in Canadian confidence and consciousness: "Canada entered the war as a colony [and] emerged as a nation" (8). "[T]he folk memories of our triumphs and our tragedies," Berton adds, are "[t]he glue that helps to bind us as a nation." If so, then it would seem on the evidence of recent years that glue is less popular than hacksaws and spray paint.

In Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989), Modris Eksteins observes that today more people respond elegiacally to crushed cars in automobile "cemeteries" than to the "impersonal horror" of massed war graves and immense war memorials (xii). Despite this seeming reorientation of sentiment from human history to mechanical obsolescence, a service of remembrance is held every year on November 11 at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. A few blocks away, the National Library and the National Archives wisely preserve the nation’s records and gather up its muniments. Thanks to a national broadcasting network, most Canadians are able to see at least a portion of the remembrance service, and thanks to a lesser-known federally-funded organization—the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions—Canada’s printed heritage is available on microfilm in dozens of research libraries from St. John’s to Victoria. But on Canada Day, Parliament Hill glows with the music and costumes of a multi-cultural Canada, and at universities across the Ottawa River dozens of researchers are producing a series of tomes on La vie littéraire from 1764 to the present. At Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg, "the geographical centre of Canada, the heart of the nation," a Stone of Remembrance stands near the graves of servicemen and women of many different ethnic and religious groups, but on Mount Royal there are two military cemeteries—Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery for Roman Catholics and Mount Royal Cemetery for Protestants (Wood and Swettenham 204, 216). As Priestley recognized, there are biblical precedents for nearly all of this: in one book of Genesis, Jacob and Laban assemble a "heap" of "stones" as a "memorial of their mutual reconciliation and covenant" and, in another, a God apparently committed to human diversity destroys a "lofty tower" precisely because it was constructed by a proud people who were unified by "language and speech" (Genesis 31; Priestley 76; Genesis 11). As the headless statue of Sir John A. Macdonald testifies, the debate continues.

And continues: the first page of the July 1, 1993 issue of The Globe and Mail carries a picture of the statue getting "a new head for Canada Day, thanks to Albert Sévigny." The accompanying article by André Picard reads in part:

There’s a popular image of Canadians as an unpatriotic people with no sense of history, but it’s not one that Albert Sévigny accepts as true…."I was deeply disturbed by the vandalism," said Mr. Sévigny, sales manager at Aluminum Foundry and Pattern Works Ltd. "I couldn’t believe that we have forgotten our history so much that we would let someone get away with this."

•     •     •

     The City of Montreal said it was too broke to do the $40,000 restoration work, and the federal and provincial governments shied away from the potentially hot political potato.
     Mr. Sévigny, for his part, became a citizen politicized. He started the Macdonald Heritage Fund, and went looking for private cash to
put the head back on the first PM’s shoulders. As part of his pitch, he promised to mould and install a new bronze head by July 1—a self-imposed deadline he met yesterday afternoon, with the help of sculptor Darrell Legge.
     "This is my answer to the gravediggers who defiled Canada’s history," Mr. Sévigny said proudly…."I couldn’t let the spirit of John A. Macdonald be dishonoured in such a way."




  1. Variations of these epitaphs can be found in Wanda Campbell’s edition of Strachan’s Poetry (1996), 81 and in A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819 (1820), where Strachan, in the guise of his brother James, writes of feeling "very strong emotions when walking on the Plains of Abraham, and standing over the place where Wolfe expired, just as his troops became victorious" and offers an "Epitaph" as proof of his "powerful feelings" (17-18). [back]

  2. Because, as Robert Shipley observes, "imperial outposts such as Montreal" depended for their "very existence…on the strength of the Royal Navy," a monument to Lord Nelson was commissioned for that city as soon as the news of his death was received in the winter of 1805-1806 and erected "a full thirty-five years before completion of the familiar landmark in London’s Trafalgar Square" (23-24). In his Travels in Canada, and the United States, in 1816 and 1817 (1818), Francis Hall comments on the oddity of there being in Montreal "a column to Lord Nelson, whose services, however glorious, were not very immediately connected with Canada" and wonders why "it was not thought preferable to erect some memorial to the memory of Wolfe" (142 n.). [back]

  3. In Schama’s view, the presence of the Indian in the painting is its "most startling fiction" for the Native peoples "fought exclusively" on the side of the French on the Plains of Abraham, and, in fact, Wolfe himself "considered them to be irredeemable barbarians, cruel and depraved…. West’s sentiments, on the other hand, were quite different…. What the Augustans saw as repellant barbarity, the devotees of sensibility thought virile, natural and uncorrupted….[H]ow better to reinforce [the grandeur of Wolfe’s death] than by making the Indian embody the essence of natural aristocracy…?" (30-31). Schama is right in observing that the Indian is "posed in the Antique form of poetic contemplation" made famous later by Rodin’s Le Penseur, but he overlooks the significance of his subordinate position vis-à-vis Wolfe and his European attendants. In the fall of 1996, the similar position of the Native scout on the Samuel de Champlain monument at Nepean Point in Ottawa caused Ovide Mercredi, the grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to call for its removal. As Conrad Saulis, an Ottawa resident and Maliseet native of New Brunswick observed in the ensuing controversy, "‘[t]he monument is offensive…. The positioning of the First Nations figure below Champlain is what bothers me. It makes him subservient…. It may seem trivial in the eyes of white people, but to us it’s significant’" (qtd. in Christopher Hume). Despite mild objections from, among others, the Canadian art historian Dennis Reid ("‘I can see how someone would take offence’" but "‘[w]e can rewrite history without altering the books—we can write new books’"), the National Capital Commission "agreed to remove the figure some time before or after the winter" (Christopher Hume). A parallel controversy involving a Champlain monument in Orillia, Ontario that depicts "the explorer tower[ing] above two groups of Indians" ("[t]o [his] left, a pair of Indians cower before a Jesuit priest; to his right, they’re presenting pelts to a European fur trader") has not been so hastily resolved: "‘[p]eople have mixed feelings,’ says Dennis Martel of the Rama First Nations band. ‘There are some who want it taken down right away, but we’re reluctant to ask for its removal. What we would like to do is use the statue and learn from it…. We want to work with the community of Orillia and write a new plaque that explains the true relationship between Champlain and the Hurons. Removing the figures and storing them in a warehouse like they’re doing in Ottawa doesn’t make sense. Gee, whiz, isn’t that what they did to Indians in the first place?’" Christopher Hume’s concluding remarks on the controversies in "Is Removing Indian Statue Tampering with History?" in the October 13, 1996 of The Toronto Star neatly summarizes most of the issues involved: "[a]s much as one sympathizes with the First Nations’ position, it would be a shame to remove Champlain’s faithful scout. If nothing else, his presence is a reminder of attitudes that Canadians must never forget." Since the early nineteen seventies a similar controversy has swirled around Captain Vancouver (1939) a mural by Charles Comfort that depicts three West-Coast Indians, one, a chief, with his arms raised in supplication, below Captain George Vancouver and two very able-bodied seamen. The controversy started when, after proclaiming its message of European superiority for decades in the lobby of the C.N.R. Hotel Vancouver, the mural was removed, cleaned, and donated to the University of British Columbia, where it came under attack for its demeaning depiction of Native peoples (see Margaret Gray, Margaret Rand and Lois Steen, Charles Comfort [1976] 21-22). [back]

  4. In Picturesque Quebec (1882), J. M LeMoine records that in 1761 "the French troops who had served in Canada under Montcalm…applied to the British Government for leave to raise a monument to the illustrious dead hero. The British Government…sent back…a graceful letter of acquiescence. The inscription…[was] prepared by the Académie dés Inscriptions et Belles Lettres. Unfortunately the marble on which the inscription was engraved by some cause or other never reached Canada. However, in 1831, Lord Aylmer erected over the tomb of the marquis…a simple mural tablet of white marble…[with a] concise and beautiful epitaph from his…own pen" (310). [back]

  5. In "Wolfe’s Monument," Quebec Morning Chronicle, August 15, 1848, an anonymous poet celebrates the defeat of the French on the Plains of Abraham as a triumph of the "victor and the vanquish’d from / Culloden’s blood-stained heather," and regrets the contribution to the victory of "The savage darkly red." He or she does, however, manage to pay tribute to Montcalm. The poem ends with an appeal to Canada to "Loose not the ties" that bind her to Britain. [back]

  6. In a note about Nichol in Tecumseh (1886), Charles Mair recounts the facts of his life and death, and concludes that "[a] memorial should certainly be erected to this able loyalist’s memory, for his services to Canada were vital" (264). [back]

  7. The message from Joseph Brant and other chiefs: "[b]efore the Indian saw the White Man, the Great Spirit taught him to look upon the tsi-kagh-ne-gagh-to-de (monuments) of the dead as sacred, and much more so those of the grand and the brave" (Correspondence, Addresses, &c. 28). [back]