OTTAWA — Although more than 252 years have passed since a battle was fought on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, it remains an area fraught with historical significance.
And, in a break with past policy for the area, which is now a large park, on Sept. 1 Madonna will be the first performer to stage a for-profit concert there.
As the site of the defeat of French forces, which turned what would become Canada into a British colony, the Plains of Abraham are a still-potent symbol of the tensions between French and English Canadians. And the federal commission that manages the land had barred for-profit events from its rolling hills and fields.
But the Madonna concert, which has sold 70,000 tickets, has been allowed to go forward; and, adding to the controversy, her tour promoter, Live Nation Entertainment, and its local partner have been granted use of the park rent free.
The plains have been the site of concerts before. A local, nonprofit summer music festival uses the park and sells passes that allow visitors to see a variety of acts. Paul McCartney also performed there in a free concert that was part of Quebec City's 400th anniversary celebrations.
Exactly why Madonna gets a special deal, however, is unclear, particularly at a time when the Canadian government has been looking to cut spending and raise revenues other than from taxes. A spokeswoman for the National Battlefields Commission told The Globe and Mail that the arrangement was made "because we presume there will be major economic benefits for Quebec City."
But André Juneau, the former head of the commission, told the newspaper that he disagreed with the decision.
"You can make an exception for one case, but then they should have to pay," he said. "Otherwise, you open the door to anyone who wants to organize something commercial on the plains.
Tickets for the concert cost from about $70 to $300.
Like with the nonprofit music festival, Madonna's organizers will have to cover clean up and repair costs.
But Le Soliel, a Quebec City newspaper, reported that other federal historic sites are much more financially demanding. Parks Canada requires a $10,000 fee and $2 to $3 a ticket to use its fortress in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for profit-making ventures. Organizers of a Metallica concert there last summer, the newspaper calculated, paid the national parks service at least $50,000 in fees as well as $10,000 for clean up.Live Nation did not immediately respond to a request for comment