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Considering the `What If' of Quebec

HISTORY is no more than a running consideration of ``ifs.'' If Hannibal hadn't crossed the Alps.... If Caesar hadn't crossed the Rubicon.... If Napoleon hadn't crossed into Russia.... And I thought ``if'' as I watched this spring's freshet on the Chaudi`ere River, wondering about today if Benedict Arnold had reduced the city of Quebec in 1775 and the United States were now considering the separation that seems possible in Canada. We were in Canada for our annual visit to the sugaries in County Beauce, Quebec, and an unseasonable thunder shower with heavy rain had released the river ice until the city of Beauceville was in trouble. The ice was grinding at the bridge piers, the bridge was closed, and police and firemen were rescuing people by boat from very wet homes. It was at Beauceville, in 1775, that Col. Benedict Arnold came to realize his venture would fail.

This was well before his defection, and he was an officer on General Washington's staff. Young, eager, a good strategist, he had prevailed on Washington to attempt a surprise attack on Quebec City, to sever the British supply line into New York, where General Burgoyne was to prove a nuisance.

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Arnold's skill as a leader was proved by the way he took his troops through the Maine wilderness. He had now passed the Height of Land, and was coasting down the Chaudi`er in bateaux, a few days from the citadel at Quebec. He would rendezvous with supplies and provisions General Washington had agreed to send up by way of Fort Ticonderoga, and the war might - might - be over by Christmas 1775. That war had begun on the April 19, 1775 - something to think about in 1991 as we marvel that our Kuwait venture was over in mere weeks. General Washington did not send support.

Historians may blame and excuse, one way or another, but ``if'' Arnold's attempt had succeeded, our Revolutionary War would certainly not have dragged on until the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown in October of 1781. Not only that, but we'd have owned Quebec as we became the United States of America, and today we folks in Maine wouldn't be paying $14 for 10 worth of electricity.

Like Sir Gareth, I stood there in Beauceville by the raging Chaudi`er and stared at the spate. It seemed to me ``if'' was well worth my time.

The next day the ice had freed itself, the water had dropped, the television crew had returned to Montreal, and we were at the Bolduc sugar cabin participating again in the sweet rites of the ``season of maples.'' I suggest to all who haven't attended to do so.

Pierre-Marie Bolduc, our host and friend of many years, is but a small operator - he taps only 2,400 trees. We had the traditional sugar-house lunch - baked beans, ham, fried salt pork, hot rolls, eggs-in-syrup, and sugar-on-snow. Everything is sticky. All over Quebec, in the maple season, sugar cabins offer these pleasures.

Since we Yankees don't have to worry about Quebec's separatism, thanks perhaps to General Washington, we can take an unpartisan interest. I surmise Quebec's leaving Canada is a big thing with politicians, who keep the ball in the air. We heard nothing about it during our long weekend in Quebec. (Weekend is the French word for weekend.) The argument that ``French culture'' must be preserved erodes somewhat in terms of fact.

Four years ago, the Bolduc children knew no English. We found, this year, that the two girls, H'el`ene and Dianne, had become proficient. The oldest, Richard, told us he has a business on Route 201 and so many of his customers are passing tourists from the US that English is imperative. Pierre-Marie told me once his children started learning English, they vied with each other and the lessons were easy. The Bolduc children showed an eagerness for a second language that I have not seen amongst school-agers in the States.

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I think there is little sincere Canadian interest in the ``culture'' of France - I think I know more about Racine and Daudet and Moli`ere and Ronsard and Rousseau than the average well-educated and French-speaking Canadian. More than a few of our Beauceron friends have said, one time or another, ``I'm not French - I'm Canadian.'' In one language or the other, Est-ce-qu'il fait une diff'erence?

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