Canada ...Witha French Polish; Dan Snow Soaks Up the Authentic Gallic Culture of Quebec, the Spot Where a Small British Army Changed History; It's Astonishing to Think All of North America Could Have Been like This

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Canada ...Witha French Polish; Dan Snow Soaks Up the Authentic Gallic Culture of Quebec, the Spot Where a Small British Army Changed History; It's Astonishing to Think All of North America Could Have Been like This


Byline: Dan Snow

I ARRIVED in Quebec on the trail of a famous British victory. Just over 250 years ago on a plain above the city, a British army in the heart of enemy territory, and wholly outnumbered, fought a battle which would change the world.

The Battle of Quebec was a triumph for British General James Wolfe, who died from musket wounds at the glorious moment of victory. The battle is now largely forgotten but it is a story that was once familiar to every British schoolchild and a founding myth of the British Empire. The details are relatively simple. The British Government sent a fleet of nearly 200 ships carrying 20,000 men on an extremely hazardous mission through uncharted waters. The battle would become the template for how Britain would go on to conquer vast areas of the world and British victory at Quebec led to the creation of modern America as we know it today.

It was the pivotal encounter of the Seven Years War in which the world's two great superpowers, Britain and France, fought over the future of the American continent. At the centre of the conflict lay Quebec, the capital of what the French called New France. At its peak in 1712 the territory of New France was vast, extending from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

I am half-Canadian (my mother comes from Toronto) and I've always been fascinated by the events of 1759. During my schoolboy summer holidays in Canada I used to hear stories of that battle, tales of the British army's daring exploits on the water and on the battlefield.

Recently I spent three years writing a book - Death Or Victory - on the subject of the battle. Last year I was fortunate enough to spend time making a film which relates the events outlined in my book. Working on the film gave me another very welcome chance to remind myself just what a fantastic country Canada is for a holiday.

AS A boy I spent much of the time in Toronto but as I grew up I went out We s t , l i k e a l l young Canadians seem to do. Those were good times: we had the chance to hike and live life to the full - it was great fun.

Now I don't understand why so many young British people choose to head to New Zealand for their gap-year adventure. Half of my friends tell me that their great ambition in life is to head Down Under. It takes ages to get there and once you arrive, because of the jet lag and the time difference, you feel terrible for the first week.

New Zealand is very nice but pretty empty. For the most part the scenery isn't great. People get excited about the prospect of going bungee-jumping in Queenstown on New Zealand's tiny South Island, but Canadian towns such as Banff, Canmore and Jasper are so much more fun, much more accessible and a whole lot more exciting. Canada or New Zealand? To me it's a no-brainer.

Canada is beautiful on an epic scale: from the lovely eastern seaboard and the wonderful lakes of Quebec and Ontario through the prairies to the Rockies, it's all simply wonderful. The Canadian Rockies, in my opinion, is one of the best places on Earth. Jasper and Banff are unbelievable. I don't know why young people aren't hiring cars to drive up and down the Rockies. The weather is reliably good on the west of Canada - hot in the summer, and with amazing skiing in the winter. The people there are wonderful and the ambience is safe and friendly - crime, for example, isn't a problem.

As a student I worked as a guide in the Rockies. Without a doubt, it was the best time of my life - a simply wonderful experience.

For those three months that I was guiding, I didn't watch TV once. I used to be outside every day hiking with the lovely guests who were staying at the Mount Xiboine Lodge next to Banff National Park, a threehour drive from Calgary. Assiniboine is a historic log lodge on the Great Divide which forms the border between Alberta and British Columbia.

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Canada ...Witha French Polish; Dan Snow Soaks Up the Authentic Gallic Culture of Quebec, the Spot Where a Small British Army Changed History; It's Astonishing to Think All of North America Could Have Been like This
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