The Siege of Quebec was a pivotal 1759 battle in the North American theatre of the Seven Years War. In the battle, British General James Wolfe’s derring-do defeated an undisciplined French and Indian force, striking a blow against the French colonial presence in North America. The eventually-victorious British allowed some French colonials to remain in North America, paving the way for Canada’s peculiar cultural makeup and marking the end of the NHL’s “Original Two” era.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, France and Great Britain held a series of “exhibition wars” in North America. The purpose was to introduce European colonialism to a new market, and get developing soldiers more playing time. These wars had all the good parts of European play (glory, death, spoils) without the bad parts (unruly peasants, despoiled fox-hunting grounds). Everybody also got to say “North American theatre” a lot, which is really fun.
The fourth war took place between 1754 and 1763. Sadly, poor branding resulted in way too many names: The French and Indian War, aka The War of the Conquest, aka The Seven Years’ War (note that 1754 to 1763 is nine years). This list doesn’t even include names the Native Americans gave to this latest round of colonial fisticuffs.
The backstory was familiar. The French and British were trying to outmaneuver each other for economic and military opportunities, and for the rights to the best Native Americans in the amateur draft. In 1754, tensions in both North America and Europe caused the two nations to throw down their sticks, pull off their gloves, and go at it. Both sides brought starters over from the Old World, and the play was spirited. The hearty French “Les Habs” (as their fans called them), with their entertaining coalition of stocky fur trappers, Iroquois Confederacy warriors and French soldiers, scored major victories at Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry.
In June of 1758, British coach King George pulled the goalie and instructed General Wolfe to take Quebec before the horn. The British sailed twenty-two ships up the hazardous St. Lawrence River right into the heart of French Canada, much to the surprise of the Habs capitaine the Marquis de Montcalm. The British hoped to bombard Quebec into submission, but Montcalm’s “stay at home D” and Habs rookie keeper Patrick Roy made it clear that wasn’t going to happen.
After three months of plotting, General Wolfe decided to attempt a risky upstream troop landing. The British sailed up the river, past the French D line, who apparently missed the conspicuous British whispering and even-louder “sssshhh, lads!” from the officers. Wolfe managed to land 3,300 first-string troops on the outskirts of Quebec during the night of September 12th, 1758. Montcalm had almost 14,000 troops in the area, and had he waited for them to amass, he could have attacked the British from two sides. Instead, he hastily attacked the British line on September 13th with only 3,500 troops, a motley O-line of French soldiers, Native Americans, and French militia.
The “Siege of Quebec” ended within the regulation three 20-minute periods.* The British troops’ mastery of musket fire and the neutral zone trap, combined with Montcalm’s poor field generalship and puck control, led to a British rout. The first British volley sent the French line into a retreat, although Wolfe was killed almost immediately by a brutal Iroquois enforcer’s cross-check. Brigadier-General George Townshend organized two battalions to turn and face French reinforcements approaching from the rear (the reinforcements Montcalm had failed to wait for). Those French also retreated, allowing the remainder of Montcalm’s army to complete their retreat into Quebec. This is the first known use of the famous French military tactic called Two French Armies Retreating In Opposite Directions.
Montcalm, who was not required to wear a helmet (having been in the league prior to the 1747 helmet rule) was struck by a stray puck and died the following day. Most of the French forces abandoned Quebec and the remaining garrison signed over the city to the British on September 18th. The British won a resounding naval victory in November 1759 which ended French hopes of reinforcing their colonies. By 1760 most of the fighting had ended, and the Treaty of Paris formally ended the exhibition season on February 10, 1763. The British allowed French colonists remaining in Canada to keep their property and Roman Catholic religion, resulting in the bilingual problems Canada experiences today.
The following off-season was a busy one. Britain offered France the choice of keeping either its North American possessions or the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (all of which Britain had invaded). French chose to cede Canada. That same season Spain traded Florida to Britain for Cuba and five navigational sextants, then spun those sextants off to obtain Louisiana from France (a move Don Cherry called outstanding). France was unperturbed by the loss of Nouvelle France; French hockey blogger Voltaire declared that the Treaty of Paris cost France only “a few acres of snow; France ftw!” No one anticipated, however, that the Spain-Britain trade would eventually result, two centuries later, in that most unholy of apparitions, ice hockey in Florida.
*Another example of poor branding. A siege that lasts an hour is no siege at all.
Drink: The Siege of Quebec
- 1 recently-emptied (not cleaned) 16 oz maple syrup jug
- 2 oz French Brandy (cognac/Armagnac)
- 1 oz Canadian Ice Wine
- 1 tsp Drambuie
- Pour ingredients into jug
- Shake or swirl to mix.
- Garnish with a maple leaf.