Who’s stealing the brass plaques?

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Rich Cahill (right) and his son Benjamin stand at the base of the monument that once held a brass plaque honouring the more than 1,000 French and British soldiers whose remains are buried in the cemetery in front of the Hôpital Général de Québec. Who is stealing the plaques and when will they be replaced?

Rich Cahill, a historian and teacher, contacted the QCT recently to report that he had noticed a number of brass plaques located at historical locations around Quebec City had gone missing.

Cahill said he was concerned about this because “I wasn’t sure if anyone else was aware that this was happening. It’s important to me as a history teacher that if these plaques go missing and they’re not replaced, or no one takes any interest in it, then our history is being taken away from us and it’s gone.”

Originally from Pembroke, Ontario, Cahill worked for the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa for 15 years, but took a leave of absence five years ago when he and his family moved to Quebec City. He taught history at Quebec High School for a few years and is currently doing some substitute teaching there. He is taking French classes and hopes to find a job with the federal government in Quebec City.

The first time Cahill noticed a plaque missing was from a stone cairn where the Battle of Beauport was fought on July 31, 1759. “They [Parks Canada, which manages the National Historic Sites] had previously taken some time to clean it up, repaired the pointing on the stone work, put a new plaque on it (to replace a missing one) and that plaque disappeared within months of being replaced!”

Another plaque had been affixed to a cement base at Montmorency Redoubt, established by the British in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War by British General James Wolfe in present-day Montmorency Falls Park. The wooden fort was later abandoned and burned but the raised earthenworks are still there for visitors to see. The thieves obviously had quite a struggle to remove the plaque, as bits of metal at the top corners are still attached to the base.

A third plaque was removed from the site of a large memorial in the central portion of the cemetery in front of the Hôpital Général de Québec, which honours over 1,000 soldiers of the British and French armies who died in the battles of the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy in 1759 and 1760 respectively. General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm is also buried in a large mausoleum in this cemetery, which is now a National Historic Site of Canada.

“These historical places are very important to me,” said Cahill. “I don’t know if they are losing their importance to the younger generation, but it’s important to at least have the information there for locals and for tourists.”

It is difficult to understand why anyone would steal these plaques, especially from such a sacred site as the cemetery. “I don’t think it’s a French-English thing; it’s probably somebody stealing the material to melt it down and sell it off,” added Cahill.

This has been happening regularly – too regularly – all across Canada. We cannot expect local police to keep an eye on every historic site, especially those in remote locations. Local scrap metal dealers, however, could be advised not to accept historical brass plaques in exchange for cash.

 A reply from Parks Canada re missing brass plaques


Shirley Nadeau

[email protected] 

In response to the QCT’s enquiries, the following message was received from Parks Canada on Oct. 8, too late for publication in the Oct. 9 edition.

After reviewing your request, we believe you are referring to the Battle of Montmorency and Hôpital-Général de Québec Cemetery plaques which are under the responsibility of Parks Canada, while the Wolfe Redoubt plaque is not.” –  Joanne L. Zalera, National Communications, Parks Canada Agency. 

(Wolfe Redoubt, located at Parc des Chutes-Montmorency, is managed by the Société des établissements plein air du Québec (SEPAQ). The QCTis awaiting a reply from SEPAQ regarding the missing plaque on its property. On Oct. 8, the QCT learned that the missing plaque at the Hôpital Général site was not placed there by Historic Sites and Monuments of Canada/Parks Canada but by the Commission de la Capitale Nationale. The QCT is following up on that with the commission.)  

QCT –  Have you been advised of these missing plaques, and when they might be replaced?

Parks Canada – The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, designates people, places, and events that have shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians connect with their past. The National Program of Historical Commemoration dates to 1919. Since then, more than 2,150 designations of nationally significant persons, places, and events have been made, the majority of which have been commemorated by a bronze plaque.

When Parks Canada becomes aware or is notified that a plaque has been stolen or vandalized, a police report is filed. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is then notified, which initiates the creation of a replacement plaque. Parks Canada was made aware of the theft of the Battle of Montmorency plaque and has taken the steps mentioned above.

 

QCT – I know this is an ongoing problem, with plaques being stolen for the metal content. What, if anything, is being done about it?

Parks Canada – Parks Canada is a leader in protecting Canada’s cultural heritage and fostering public understanding. One of our roles is to tell the story of Canada’s history.

 The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has used bronze plaques as its mode of commemoration since the 1920s. Most of the Board’s commemorative bronze plaques are located on private property. Parks Canada works together with the site owners to ensure that a plaque is located in a secure location, while at the same time ensuring its visibility for public viewing. Unfortunately, there is always a risk of theft and/or vandalism when items of value are placed in public spaces and thefts of Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaques occur occasionally.

 

QCT – Are there plans to replace the bronze plaques with less valuable metal or even a “non-metal” but durable material?                                                                                                                 

Parks Canada – There are currently no plans to replace bronze plaques with a different material. When Parks Canada is notified a plaque has been stolen, it goes on a replacement list. They are replaced as time and resources permit.

 In many cases, the plaque texts are several decades old and must be reviewed to ensure they meet current historiography on the subject. A significant amount of research, writing, and policy work is required for the preparation of a revised plaque text and may involve external consultation, review, and approval processes. 

 National historic designations represent thousands of years of human history. These are designations of profound importance to Canada as they bear witness to our country's defining moments and illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognize that bronze plaques have their limitations as a mode of commemoration and we are exploring options for new forms of commemoration to expand the reach of designations and the ways in which history is remembered and shared.  

  

 

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                Photo by Rich Cahill

The brass plaque that was attached to this stone cairn at the corner of Rue de la Terrasse-Cadieux and Côte du Saint-Grégoire in Beauport, described the Battle of Montmorency where, on July 31, 1759, the French troops, under Montcalm and Lévis, repulsed General Wolfe’s army. Plaques on this particular monument have been stolen at least twice in recent years.