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Book Reviews The Art of Nation-Building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec's Tercentenary . H.V. NELLES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1999· Pp. x, 397, illus. $45.00 Over the past twenty years, historians have become increasingly interested in how earlier societies secured an understanding of the past. Perhaps reflecting a sense that our own society pays relatively little attention to such matters, historians have begun to explore the tools by which history was communicated, with a particular emphasis on public acts ofcommemoration such as the construction ofmonuments and the staging ofelaborate spectacles. Moreover, historians on both sides ofthe Atlantic have shown a certain preoccupation with the heyday of such commemorative activities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. H.V. Nelles's fascinating account of the celebration of the Quebec tercentenary of1908 fits into this growing literature, but in manyways is far superior to much ofwhat has been written on the subject. Historians have tended to deal with these tum-of-the-century commemorative celebrations rather mechanically, describing the motivations ofthe elites who staged them and somehow assuming that the public came away with the desired messages about the past. Nelles, by contrast, recognizes that there was nothing straightforward about the process by which Champlain's founding of Quebec City was commemorated. Rather, he takes the time to deal with the conflicting conceptions ofthe elites who were responsible for staging the spectacle, as well as the often unanticipated perceptions of both the participants in and the spectators of the various events associated with the tercentenary. In the first halfofthe book, Nelles focuses largely on the creation ofa consensus among a wide array ofleaders that a celebration should take place during the summer of 1908. Governor General Lord Grey, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the leaders ofvarious provincial govemi:netits, and the lay and religious leaders of Quebec City ultimately managed to repress 176 The Canadian Historical Review their differences so that the show might go on. Nelles spends the second halfofthe book looking at the various means by which the tercentenary brought participants and spectators into the process. Over a period oftwo weeks, Quebec City was home to lavish historical pageants, parades, and military and naval reviews. In addition, those who found themselves incapable of travelling to Quebec City were able to come into contact with the tercentenary via the photographs, postcards, medals, and books that were produced to increase the impact ofthe event. Along the way, Nelles takes the time to explain to the reader how the different media influenced the nature ofthe message being communicated. He observes, for instance, that photographs somehow could not do justice to the tercentenary: 'The magic of the event eluded the camera,' which was incapable ofcapturing motion. The camera was particularly incapable ofdoing justice to the historical pageants, lavishly staged on the Plains of Abraham, which Nelles describes as the dramatic high point of the celebration because of their drawing together of participants and spectators. Such pageants were at the peak of their popularity in 1908, and Frank Lascelles, the professional pageanter chosen by tercentenary organizers, was one of the leading figures in his field. Lascelles tried to craft a spectacle that might bring all three ofthe 'founding' people of Canada onto the stage. In the end, he brought together more than three thousand participants, men and women, French-speaking and English-speaking, people ofEuropean origins and Native people. It would have been easy for Nelles to observe simply that the actors had been recruited to reflect and reinforce the nature of power in Canada. In the case of Native people, however, the actors refused to accept the role that _had been scripted for them. They 'declared their presence and insisted that their history and future should also be recognized.' More generally, Nelles finds that the pageants had an emotional impact on all the participants. As he puts it, 'even in the stress ofthe dress rehearsals, the evanescent enchantment ofhistorical pageantry began to work its magic.' The final piece ofthe pageant puzzle, which Nelles similarly handles with a sure hand, is the question ofwhat the spectators came away with. This is a difficult question for the historian ofcommemorative events to unravel, simply...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 175-178
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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