________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 6 . . . . November 17, 2000

cover The Fate of America.

Jacques Godbout (Director). Eric Michel (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1996.
81 min., 27 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C0196 108.

Subject Headings:
Canada-History-To 1763 (New France).
Wolfe, James.
Montcalm, Louis-Joseph.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Ian Stewart.

*** /4

History is the imaginary dimension of a people.
     Rene-Daniel Dubois, Quebecois playwright

There is no more decisive date in Canadian history than September 13, 1759, the day of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. On that fateful day, British troops, under the command of Lieutenant-General James Wolfe, defeated the French forces, led by the Marquis de Montcalm, and captured Quebec City. The eventual surrender of French Canada was inevitable and, in accordance with the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, New France ceased to exist and Canada became a British colony.
    Now, this is an historical event, a fact that cannot be disputed, but how do we discover and then interpret its meaning? These are the vital questions documentary filmmaker Jacques Godbout and playwright Rene-Daniel Dubois explore. Of course, some historians and many teachers believe, like Charles Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind, that the truth of history is found within its facts and in the singular and inevitable unfolding of cause and inexorable effect. What does this do from a student's perspective, however? History must be inevitably boring; there is nothing to learn beyond the determined textbook ending and nothing of value to contribute from your individual point-of-view.
    However, as the pair interview historians, the descendants of Wolfe and Montcalm, and examine their own beliefs, Godbout and Dubois discover that the truths of history are elusive and relative. They begin to see that historical interpretation differs little from artistic creation, a process of discovery winnowed through individual and social perspectives. Ironically, then, students today are as vital to the historical process as those who lived in the past because they create or change the central myths of our origins and the truths by which we live.
    The historical relativism revealed by Godbout and Dubois is a challenging concept that may shatter the simple deterministic concept of history many students have. However, in a pluralistic society, it is vital to see that no individual historical interpretation of events has a stranglehold on truth.


Ian Stewart is a regular contributor to CM and the book review pages of the Winnipeg Free Press.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364