Photo of the week: fur hats and a goat called Batisse

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You see some odd things when you travel. And during my visit to Quebec City around this time last year, I saw one that easily makes the list. One of the city’s historic attractions is the Citadel (or La Citadelle, in French). That’s a massive fort that’s home to Quebec’s famous Royal 22nd Regiment, more often called the Van Doos. They do a changing of the guard ceremony every day at 10, and I came expecting red coats and tall fur hats. But the Van Doos have another trick up their red sleeves: a goat called Batisse.

The goat is the regiment’s mascot, and a star performer in the daily ritual. As the brass band marches and the officers shout orders, he emerges, ledgoat called batisse Quebec by his handler, to give his tacit salute to the soldiers, the country and the Queen. It’s an odd tradition, but it’s one that stretches back more than a century or more. And as you might have guessed, there’s a story there.

Back in 1884, the Shah of Persia offered Queen Victoria a couple of Persian goats as a gift. The Queen accepted,  a royal goat herd was created, and the goats became a fixture as the mascots for British regiments. Then, in  1955, Queen Elizabeth gave one of her goats to the Van Doos, and they decided to make it truly French-Canadian by naming it Batisse. Apparently some politicians objected to the presence of a goat at formal ceremonies, but they were soon butted out of the way.

There has been more than one goat called Batisse — at least 10, from all accounts. For a while, a new goat was sent from London when the current one was feeling his age. But an outbreak of disease stopped the practice, and since then the regiment has got its new Batisses from British Columbia. However, we’re told the goats are all still from the same lineage.

And so, every morning at 10, a goat called Batisse gets on his spiffy blue coat and has his horns freshly burnished, to carry on a tradition that started with a gift from the Shah of Persia. Just another one of those quirks of history — like finding a British-style changing of the guard in the heart of Quebec.

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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