The French Language in Canada
My next post is about the controversial language laws passed in the Province of Quebec in the 1970s: Bill 22, the Official Language Act, Quebec (1974), and Bill 101, or Charter of the French Language (1977). However, it would be useful to know how many citizens spoke French in the years that followed what many Quebecers still call the “conquest” until the last census.
2011: 7.3 million
According to Wikipedia, the population of New France was 3,000 in 1663. It grew to 20,000 in 1712 and then jumped to 70,000 in 1760, the year the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1760) was fought. (The plains belonged to an individual named Abraham.) At the moment. At the moment, “French is the mother tongue of about 7.3 million Canadians (22% of the Canadian population, second to English at 58.4%) according to Census Canada 2011.” (See French language in Canada, Wikipedia.)
This information takes us to and beyond the Official Languages Act (Canada), which recognized Canada as an officially bilingual country. The Official Languages Act became effective on 9 September 1969.
The Treaty of Paris, 1763
At the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, also referred to as the French and Indian War, France chose to cede New France (Canada and Acadie) to Britain. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763), France kept its sugar-rich Caribbean Colonies and the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland. French fishermen had been fishing in that area for centuries. (See Seigneurial system of New France, Wikipedia.)
Although it ceded New France to Britain, by virtue of the Treaty of Paris (1763), France did not do so unconditionally. The inhabitants of New France would continue to speak French and practice their religion (Roman Catholicism). Moreover, they would retain their Seigneurial System, which was not abolished until 1854. (See The Royal Proclamation of 1763, Wikipedia.)
The Quebec Act of 1774
Benefits to Quebec
England could have reneged on its promises, but its Thirteen Colonies, running down the east coast of the current United States, were threatening to become independent of their motherland, Britain. The Declaration of Independence was promulgated on 4 July 1776 and, in 1783, the Thirteen Colonies won the American Revolutionary War, with the support of France.
General Sir Guy Carleton, 1st baron Dorchester
Guy Carleton, 1st baron Dorchester KB, may have felt Britain could need the help of Quebecers and their Amerindian allies in order to fight rebellious “Americans.” This could be the case, but the status the “Quebec Act” gave French-speaking Canadians tends to outweigh other considerations. Moreover, the Act was unsolicited.
Be that as it may, in 1774, the “Quebec Act” was proclaimed. The “Quebec Act” was a British statute which “received royal assent 22 June 1774 and became effective 1 May 1775.” As defined in the Canadian Encyclopedia, the “Quebec Act:”
- expanded the territory of the Province of Quebec;
- guaranteed religious freedom;
- provided a “simplified Test Oath, which omitted references to religion, enabl[ing] them to enter public office conscientiously;”
- “restored French civil law;”
- “provided for the continued use of the Seigneurial system.”
According to Wikipedia, the following are the principal components of the Quebec Act:
- The province’s territory was expanded to take over part of the Indian Reserve, including much of what is now southern Ontario, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota.
- Reference to the Protestant faith was removed from the oath of allegiance.
- It guaranteed free practice of the Catholic faith.
- It restored the use of the French civil law for matters of private law, except that in accordance with the English common law, it granted unlimited freedom of testation. It maintained English common law for matters of public law, including administrative appeals, court procedure, and criminal prosecution.
- It restored the Catholic Church’s right to impose tithes.
“It would be easier to buy Canada than to try to conquer it.” Benjamin Franklin
Rebellious “Americans” did attack in 1775, but “the francophone upper classes allied themselves with the British. As a result, despite the capitulation of Montreal, the siege of Québec failed, prompting Benjamin Franklin’s famous statement that it would be easier to buy Canada than to try to conquer it.”
It would be my opinion that the Quebec Act of 1774 probably ensured the survival of French in Canada. As noted above, we owe the “Quebec Act” to Guy Carleton, 1st baron Dorchester KB. It was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain, which replaced The Royal Proclamation of 1763, temporary governance.
Until the Révolution tranquille, the 1960s, a very high birthrate, the revenge of the cradle(s) (la revanche des berceaux), and “colonisation,” settling north, also ensured the survival of French in Canada. But it is unlikely that a vibrant French Canada would have developed had it not been for the “Quebec Act” of 1774.
* = fiction
- Colonization & the Revenge of the Cradles (11 January 2014)
- Alexis de Tocqueville on Lower Canada (1 Jan 2014)
- Maria Chapdelaine (26 Jan 2012) (colonisation)*
Sources and Resources
- Canada in the Making
- The Province of Quebec, Marianopolis College
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: the Seigneurial System, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Treaty of Paris 1763, the Quebec Act, Guy Carleton, Bill 22, Bill 101
My kindest regards to all of you.♥
 Foulds, Nancy Brown, “Quebec Act”, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada, 2013. Web. 13 August 2013.
© Micheline Walker
20 April 2015
(Photo credit: Marianopolis College)