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Upper and Lower Canada

Upper and Lower Canada

We are now returning to an earlier post:  Upper and Lower Canada.  Let me copy its final paragraph.

“At this point, we pause so we can remember the essential facts. 1) In 1774, Canadiens inhabited a very large Province of Quebec, but 2), as of 1791, due to the arrival in the Province of Quebec of the United Empire Loyalists, the Province of Quebec was divided into Lower Canada and Upper Canada. 3) As a result, Canadiens lived in a smaller territory, but a territory which they felt was theirs.”

Number 3 is our key sentence: 3) As a result, Canadiens lived in a smaller territory, but a territory which they felt was theirs.

The Constitutional Act of 1791: a Mirage


The Rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada occurred because Britain was dipping into taxes levied by the governments of both Canadas.  There were two rebellions and two leaders: William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau.  Preserving the French Language was not on the agenda.  However, after Lord Durham proposed that the two Canadas be united, many of the Rebels started to look upon the Rebellion and its aftermath, the Act of Union (1840-1841), as the loss of their predominantly French-language country: Lower Canada.


John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham GCB, PC
(12 April 1792 – 28 July 1840)

The Constitutional Act of 1791 had therefore been a mirage for French-speaking Canadians.  It had created a Lower Canada where French was spoken by a majority of the population, but this did not mean that the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, had been revoked. 

The Union Act: The Birth of the Patriote  

When the two Canadas were joined, Lower Canada Rebels were quickly transformed into French-speaking patriotes.  French-speaking Canadians were to be

  • assimilated (Lord Durham) and
  • a minority.

At this point, the Rebellions of both Canadas took on a new dimension.   French-speaking Canadians started to look upon its dead soldiers, the persons who were executed and those who had been sent to Australia as martyrs.  French-speaking Canadians saw the Act of Union as an attempt to take away from them

  • their language and
  • their territory. 

Henceforth, there would be a language problem in an expanding Canada.  So two stories were about to begin: that of Canada and the long tale of grievances on the part of French-speaking Canadians.   

Canada: from the Act of Union to Confederation

Under the able leadership of Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, the clauses of the Act of Union were not read literally.  The constitution was quickly restored and Parliament convened under Baldwin (in the west) and Lafontaine (in the east).  As we have seen, it was a fruitful alliance because it offered a solution to flaws in the Act of Union.  It would be for Parliament to determine the fate of the nation.

By 1848, responsible government was achieved.  Lord Elgin, the Governor General, asked Lafontaine to be prime minister.  From that moment on, Canada was engaged into stretching itself from sea to sea and, in 1867, Confederation was achieved under the condition that a railroad link the provinces from coast to coast, a feat that would not have been possible before the invention of dynamite by Alfred Nobel of Sweden. 

The Seeds of Dissent had been sown

So Canada was on its way to becoming the country I know and love.  But the Rebels of 1837, who had become patriotes wanted to live in a country of their own, a version of their lost Lower Canada.  Over the years, these patriotes, today’s indépendantistes would be nationalistes, séparatistes, souverainistes and now indépendantistes.  The various names are synonyms. 

This takes us to the last Federal Election, held on May 2, 2011 

The Last Federal Election : the Spring of 2011

Quebec has a Liberal government headed by Jean Charest.  As for Canada, during the last Federal election, Ottawa seats occupied by Québécois were lost to other parties, the New Democratic Party being the Québécois’s favourite.  Monsieur Charest’s government did not suffer from these events, but Madame Pauline Marois‘s Parti Québécois found itself losing popularity.  Madame Marois’s personal ratings plunged to approximately 18%, except that the students went on strike three months ago. 

The students’ strike gave her an opportunity to breathe new life into the Parti Québécois.  She, mainly, and members of her party started to support the students, most of whom could not tell what was happening and were rebels without a cause, which constitutes shameless behaviour on the part of Madame Marois’s party.  The students think she is on their side.  But that could be another mirage

* * *

Here is a short history of the Indépendantistes

Refus Global & the Duplessis Era

Iin 1948, a Manifesto entitled Refus Global, [i] was written by sixteen young Québécois artists and intellectuals that included Paul-Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle.  It could be said that to a large extent this Manifesto led to the rebirth of patriote sentiment.  The Manifesto painted a sorry picture of Quebec, which was often referred to as a priest-ridden province and was indeed both priest ridden and saddled with the corrupt government Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis. Duplessis literally bought votes.  Moreover, this manifesto coincided with the Asbestos StrikeMaurice Le Noblet Duplessis remained Premier until his death on September 7, 1959.  Maurice Duplessis was Premier of the current province of Quebec from August 17, 1936 until October 25, 1939 and from August 8, 1944 until September 7, 1959.

The Quiet Revolution / la Révolution tranquille

Health and Education

Everything started to change when Jean Lesage‘s Liberal Party won the June 22, 1960 Quebec general election.  Monsieur Lesage was Premier of Quebec for six years during which the Province underwent profound changes.  He ushered in the Révolution tranquille / Quiet Revolution [ii].  During those six years, Quebec ceased to be a priest-ridden province. 

Let me quote Wikipedia:

The provincial government took over the fields of health care and education, which had been in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. It created ministries of Education and Health, expanded the public service, and made massive investments in the public education system and provincial infrastructure. The government allowed unionization of the civil service. It took measures to increase Québécois control over the province’s economy and nationalized electricity production and distribution. (Wikipedia: Quiet Revolution)



The Separatist Movement is, officially, a product of the 1960s and a Quebec movement.  However, it can be linked to worldwide changes and events: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the War in Vietnam, protest against the War in Vietnam, the Woman’s Liberation Movement, etc.  Pictures of Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung were on every wall. 

La Révolution tranquille / The Quiet Revolution

The Language Debate

There was nothing particularly tranquille about the Quiet Revolution. Its programme soon grew to include the preservation of the French language.  Quebecers remembered their Lower Canada and many became nationalists.  In fact, many became séparatistes who wanted to turn the Province of Quebec into a separate country where French would be spoken by a majority of the population.

The Trudeau Era

In 1968, Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau CC, CH, PC, QC, FRSC (Liberal Party) rose to power and, a year later, on September 9, 1969, the Official Languages Act became law. The Act gave and still gives “English and French equal status in the government of Canada.” (Wikipedia)

The Parti québécois is elected into power: 1976

The Official Languages Act, signed into law on September 9, 1969, did not go far enough for the séparatistes.  In 1976, the Parti Québécois was elected into power in Quebec, under the leadership of René Lévesque.  René Lévesque was in office from 1976 until 1985.  Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly English-speaking, left Quebec, which caused a degree of impoverishment in the now séparatiste province.  Many companies and banks moved their head office to Toronto. Moreover, drastic laws were enacted to protect the French language in Quebec

Charter of the French Language: Bill 101

In 1974, Bill 22 made French into the official language of Quebec under Premier Robert Bourassa.  There had been and would be other bills, but Bill 101, [iii], enacted in 1977, was a radical version of Bill 22 and was in contravention of the

The Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ)

As the Province of Quebec was doing away with Church-run institutions (health and education), a terrorist group was organized and it supported the Quebec sovereignty movement until the October Crisis of 1970.  Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the then Prime Minister of Canada, invoked the War Measures Act to suppress the FLQ:  Front de Libération du Québec whose members had kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross.  The following is a quotation from Wikipedia.

“It [the FLQ] was responsible for over 160 violent incidents which killed eight people and injured many more, including the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969. These attacks culminated in 1970 with what is known as the October Crisis, in which British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was murdered by strangulation.” (Wikipedia)


The Front de Libération du Québec has not been active since 1970, but the public remembers and it fears it may resurface.  I doubt it.  As for the Parti Québécois, it still has seats in the Quebec government.  It is the official opposition. 

At the moment, the students are asking for a free education, but Pauline Marois was not as supportive of them today as she had been previously.  First, yesterday, May 14, Line Beauchamp, Monsieur Jean Charest‘s Minister of Education, resigned.  She has been replaced by Michelle Courchesne.  Second, the students who have been ordered back into their classroom were maligned by the more rebellious students.  They were called strike breakers or scabs.  In short, the drama continues and Quebec may have new martyrs.

This is an imperfect blog, but it gives an overview of nationalism in Quebec and point to a few key moments.  I will therefore post it because it sheds a little light on Canada’s long language debate.  Nothing and no one prevents French-speaking Canadians from surviving and thriving.  

Maîtres chez nous

CTV News 
CBC News
National Post
Micheline Walker©
May 15, 2012

[i] See also: François-Marc Gagnon, “Refus Global,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/refus-global

[ii] See also: René Durocher, “Quiet Revolution,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/quiet-revolution

[iii] R. Hudon, “Bill 101,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/bill-101