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1885 photo of Robert Harris‘ 1884 painting, Conference at Quebec in 1864, to settle the basics of a union of the British North American Provinces, also known as The Fathers of Confederation. The original painting was destroyed in the 1916 Parliament Buildings Centre Block fire. The scene is an amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Quebec City conference sites and attendees. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

French-speaking population

1663: 3,000
1712: 20,000
1760: 70,000
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.)

General Sir Guy Carleton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

General Sir Guy Carleton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


British soldiers and Provincial militiamen repulse the American assault at Sault-au-Matelot, Canada, December 1775, by William Jefferys (Photo credit: 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 KBmay 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.”[1]  

According to Wikipedia, the following are the principal components of the Quebec Act:

“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.”[2]

Quebec was one of the four provinces that entered into the Canadian Confederation in 1867. It did so under the leadership of Sir George-Étienne Cartier, PC.


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

Sources and Resources

My kindest regards to all of you.♥

[1] Foulds, Nancy Brown, “Quebec Act”, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada, 2013. Web. 13 August 2013.

[2] Ibid.


“Ô Canada! mon pays, mes amours” (press on the link to see the lyrics)
Sir George-Étienne Cartier PC, a Father of Confederation

clip_image002_033© Micheline Walker
20 April 2015

(Photo credit: Marianopolis College)