History of Quebec

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The history of Quebec stretches from the French explorers and settlers of the 17th century to a modern secular province of Canada in the 21st century that stresses a commitment to the French language and asks whether it should be independence of Canada. The official name is "Quebec" since Confederation in 1867; previous names include "New France," (1534 to 1763), "Province of Quebec" (1763-91), "Lower Canada" (1791-1841), and "Canada East" in the Province of Canada (1841-67). From 1783 to 1867 it was part of the British Empire informally called British North America.[1]

New France

For history prior to 1763 see New France

British Colonial rule

The Anglo-French imperial rivalry, particularly the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, (the Seven Years War) found France and Britain at war yet again. The key to control of North America was the fortress at Quebec, which the British were determined to capture. In 1759 Major General James Wolfe, exploiting Britain's superior navy, seized Quebec City after a long and destructive siege. Montreal surrendered in 1760, and three years later the Treaty of Paris transferred New France to British control.

The British renamed the colony the Province of Quebec as British officials replaced royal officials who returned to France. Otherwise there was little change. Merchants prospered in the towns, while the seigneurs as a class declined slightly. The habitants prospered for they had a hungry new market for their wheat in London. A few sent sent their sons to the seminaries in Quebec and Montreal or to the collèges classiques. These private schools, established after 1800, prepared young men for careers as priests, teachers, lawyers, and doctors, thereby creating for the first time an intellectual class that proved central to Quebec's political development. Some French Canadians took minor government posts; most remained in agriculture. Entrepreneurial immigrants from America and England came to monopolize trade and commerce, which centered in Quebec City and Montreal.

London's plan was to assimilate the 80,000 or so French-speaking Canadiens, attract English settlers from America, introduce English laws and procedures, create freehold tenure (by which farmers would own land not merely rent it), impose anti-Catholic oaths, and set up an elected legislature. But the Americans did not arrive and the French wanted no part of British legal or political forms. The first governor, Sir James Murray, recognized reality, allowed Mgr Jean-Olivier Briand to become the Catholic bishop (1766) and provided lower courts where Canadiens could be jurors and lawyers.

A central theme in French Canadian historiography, especially as developed by the scholar Abbe Lionel Groulx in the mid-20th century, was the British Conquest of 1759. France abandoned Quebec, and rejected its own past by its anti-Catholic French Revolution. The Quebeckers became victims of British oppression and were targeted for assimilation. The short and long range goals of the people became simply "La Survivance", the survival of the nation. Groulx argues the energies of the people had to be fully mobilized for this struggle, with the Church taking the lead as an anti-colonial and passive resistance movement dedicated to the preservation of the true religion in North America.[2]

Quebec Act, 1774

see also, Quebec Act

In 1774, the British Parliament, threatened by restless French in the Great Lakes area, sought to quell the growing dissent by passing the Quebec Act. It became the Magna Carta of French-Canadian liberties, for it guaranteed basic rights, with an oath of loyalty to the Crown replacing the anti-Catholic oaths. The Roman Catholic Church gained official recognition, and the the Act enabled it legally to collect the tithe (a 10% tax on farm produce). No representative government was established as legislative power was vested in a governor and a legislative council, which had full power of internal legislation and taxation. The French civil law was restored in place of English common law, although English criminal law was retained. In addition, the French language received official approval. Finally, the boundaries of Quebec were extended to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. British concessions strengthened conservative Canadians and made them loyal to the British Crown at the moment when American Revolution was sweeping the American colonies. Indeed, the Americans were especially angry with the Quebec Act because it gave Catholics generous new rights while Britain was cutting back on the rights of Americans; but the Americans also pointed to the lack of a representative assembly as proof of Parliament's tyrannical designs.

Quebec in the American Revolution

When the Americans went to war with Britain in 1775, they called upon Canadians to revolt and sent small armies in 1775-76 to remove British power. Many habitants sympathized with the Americans and formed regiments that fought under George Washington. Others supported the British; most though remained neutral. The British repulsed the Americans, who retreated home. Quebec then became a base for the invasion of New York that was decisively defeated with the surrender of the main British army at Saratoga in 1777.

Eastern townships

After the victory of the American Revolution, 50,000 or so Loyalists (American colonists loyal to the British Crown), migrated north to Canada. They brought along several thousand black slaves, for slavery was legal until 1833. Most Loyalists went to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but about 6,000 arrived in Quebec, especially in the "Eastern townships" south of Montreal.[3] Their demands for a separate colony and English law led to the division of 1791, with Upper Canada" (later Ontario) separated from Quebec, which became Lower Canada.

The Anglican Church launched a well-funded initiative to build churches and support missionaries in the Eastern townships, thereby building loyalty to the Empire. The are enjoys abundant rainfall, numerous water mill sites, accessible conifer forests, plentiful supplies of fire wood, good grazing land, and rich mineral deposits. However, the growing season for crops is short, and much of the soil is also generally thin and rocky. Most of the best land fell into the hands of absentee proprietors by 1800, and they fought incessantly with squatters. Outside markets were relatively inaccessible before the arrival of the railway around 1850. The English-speaking agricultural and entrepreneurial elite began to transfer its capital and skills westward, replaced by French speaking farmers and Irish Catholics fleeing the Potato Famine in the 1840s. The "bonne entente theory" of sociologist Leon Gerin argues that the new Francophone arrivals were influenced by their enterprising and independent-minded Yankee neighbours. By 1870 they were a majority, and by the 21st century only 10% are Anglophone (and most of them are Irish). In the 1840s, school reforms required compromise with the strong localist traditions of the Eastern Townships region. The inhabitants displayed strong lingering American traditions. Local fund-raising for schools was a hotly contested issue throughout the 1840s, with many prominent citizens actively opposing levying taxes for that purpose. School taxes diminished the role of affluent individuals who supported local schools and made possible the subsidization of poorer, neighbouring schools. Educational control remained local despite legislation enacted in 1846, which repealed prior acts and required school commissioners to assess property.[4] In the late 1840s Yankees felt that union with the United States would end their economic isolation and stagnation as well as remove them from the growing threat of French-Canadian political domination. Leading proponents of this genuinely bipartisan movement were careful not to appear disloyal to Britain, however, and they actively discouraged popular protest at the local level. Fearful of American-style democracy, the local elite also expressed revulsion toward American slavery and militaristic expansionism. Consequently, the movement died out in the Eastern Townships as it did in Montreal after Britain expressed its official disapproval and trade with the United States began to increase thanks to the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway.[5]

Besides the Eastern townships, the western portions of Quebec (which later became Ontario) were attractive to many thousands of nonpolitical Yankees from New England. Most French habitants were content with their location along the St. Lawrence, and few moved west.

Catholic Church

Hardy (2007) examines the period from 1760 to 1840, showing the Catholic Church at all times exerted considerable influence in parishes and that Catholic habitants were respectful of the demands of their faith. By 1800 the Church adopted new ways to transform religious practice. It received the state's support, and after 1840 it benefited from the support of elites that emerged from the failed rebellions. From that date forward, the Church was given responsibility for the public education system. Consequently, the school became the most effective way to indoctrinate the populace, disseminate Catholic values, and transmit the Church's new directions in religious practices. The religious culture that gradually emerged from this vast acculturation offensive was a direct result of the continuation and outcome of actions undertaken by the clergy during the first half of the 19th century. The new religious culture was defined by the respect of mandatory religious practices; the enticement of indulgences used to soften the fires of purgatory; the wealth of devotion and religious ceremonies, which now covered the entire year and dictated a rhythm to the social calendar; and the manifestation of faith through processions, pilgrimages, actions, postures, and behaviors, which were visible testimonies of faith. This behavioral model quickly became the norm during the second half of the 19th century, and any deviation from it brought the community's sharp disapproval.[6]

Province within Canada

Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal from 1840 to 1876, played a central role in strengthening French Canadian culture once Quebec became part of the English-dominated Canadian Federation, at the same time assuring the Catholic Church a dominant position in French Canadian cultural identity.[7] Deliberately drawing on Rome rather than France for inspiration, he presided over the expansion of the Church's activities in Quebec, seeking to make religion more accessible to the people through an emotional appeal. By helping to create a network of religious, social, and even economic institutions for the Quebecois, Bourget contributed to the emergence of a traditional culture in a modern, urban space which would define French Canadian identity until the Quiet Revolution at the end of the 1960s.[8]

Political culture

From 1840 to 1873 Montreal politics were dominated by wealthy English Protestants who also participated in provincial and federal politics. From 1873 to 1914 was a transition period with French Canadians generally in the majority in the city council, and with the mayors drawn from a wider variety of backgrounds. A new political type emerged after 1914, his power based on popularity rather than wealth, on social appeal rather than status, who views politics as a career.[9]

From 1867 to 1940, the Catholic Church played the primary role in Quebec in the development of both public education and family assistance, and the church actively promoted a virulent form of antistatism that opposed any government involvement in social affairs. A theological justification for antistatism explained that only the father, as head of his family, should be directly concerned with his family's welfare and with his children's education, which was controlled by the Catholic Church. Conservative politicians were content to ally themselves with the Church against any forms of liberal social interventionism. While there were some exceptions to the rule - primarily the social legislation passed by the Liberal government of Adélard Godbout during World War II - the role of the state did not really begin to change until 1945, when the national government of William Lyon Mackenzie King passed family assistance legislation.[10]

While scholars often emphasize traditionalism, ruralism, and antistatism as the dominant factors of Quebec's political culture prior to the 1960s, some Quebecois embraced progressivism early in the 20th century. Municipal government reform, one of the hallmarks of the progressive movement, cropped up in Canada's largest city, Montreal. It was led by Anglophones and remnants of Quebec's Parti Rouges, but support for reform came from a wide section of Montreal's French-speaking population.[11]

The first decades of the 20th century saw an accelerated urbanization, which made anonymity possible and facilitated an escape from social constraints for those individuals who so wished. Emigration to New England also offered a safety valve, as hundreds of thousands moved there permanently, finding work in the textile factories. This freedom from religious retribution and constraints played an important role and became a mitigating factor in the decline of the religious culture, a culture that slowly unraveled before being swept away by the Quiet Revolution.

Duplessis era

Maurice Duplessis[12] was premier of Quebec during 1936-39 and 1944-59 and leader of the National Union Party (UN). Until his death in 1959 he ran an authoritarianism government, with antilabor policies. He feared communism, cared little for industry, and promoted agriculture, which he considered a panacea for industrial evils. A Catholic and a French Canadian nationalist, he was a provincial conservative.

The most prominent nationalist spokesman in the era was Lionel Groulx (1878-1967), a Catholic priest whose histories of Quebec presented a conservative mission for the province.[13] As professor of Canadian history at the Université de Montréal (1915-1949) he directly influenced the intellectual leaders of the era. The true Quebec, he argued, was based on the supremacy of the Church and family that challenged liberalism at all points. His organicist concept of the nation, in which the nation is understood as a "collective individual" with structured thought, brought Groulx to treat the individual as subordinate to the societal group. From this outlook, Groulx defended tradition and promoted a conception of education that aimed to foster the development of the national feeling of belonging. His conception of the state was also antiliberal, particularly because it rejected the distinction between the political and religious spheres. Groulx found Duplessis distasteful, and welcomed the economic developments of the Quiet Revolution, realizing too late that it would destroy the Church's central role.

The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s

The Quiet Revolution (Révolution Tranquille) of the 1960s saw a radical nonviolent transformation in the politics, society and economy of Quebec. A traditional people modernized the economy and the social structure, threw off Church control, rejected Anglo control of Quebec's economy, and finally sought, but failed, to gain independence from Canada. The Revolution was strongly promoted by the governments of Liberal Premier Jean Lesage (1960-66) and Premier Daniel Johnson (1966-68) of the opposition Union Nationale party. The government nationalized hydroelectric utilities, created crown corporations, and undertook to provide the educational, health care, and social services formerly under Church control. The Quiet Revolution has resulted in the ascendency of an enormous civil service in Quebec that is directed by a middle class technocracy allied with business interests to insure control of the state.

Political upheaval

In the 1950s Duplessis came under attack from a small but influential group of well-educated young French Canadian reformers, who took over and revived the Quebec Liberal Party.

In 1960 reformers defeated the Union Nationale and formed a government under Liberal Jean Lesage[14] with the slogan "Maitres chez nous" (Masters in Our Own Home). Reelected in 1962 by promising to nationalize the giant hydro-electricity industry, the Quebec Liberals initiated the Quiet Revolution--a program of economic, political, and educational reforms aimed at both modernizing the province and intensifying its French characteristics. In response to their demands for greater autonomy, Ottawa conceded an "opting-out" formula whereby Quebec was not required to participate in such federal welfare programs as the Canada Pension Plan,[15] but could instead receive an amount of federal money equal to that which would have been spent in the province under the Pension Plan. This "special status" for Quebec irritated many English-speaking Canadians, although it fell far short of satisfying the rapidly growing French Canadian separatist movement, which advocated complete independence for Quebec. Some separatist leaders began to resort to terrorism, and in 1963 there was a series of bombings in the English-speaking districts of Montreal.

Faced with a serious crisis, the national government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson appointed a royal commission to investigate the problems of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada. The commission's report documented the economic disadvantages suffered by French Canadians and recommended full recognition of both French and English as equal official languages at the federal level and in the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario. In administrative policy the Pearson government favored "cooperative federalism," meaning continuous consultation between federal and provincial departments of government, as well as fairly frequent full-scale federal-provincial conferences.

In 1966 the Lesage government in Quebec was defeated by the Union Nationale under Daniel Johnson,[16] which claimed to be even more vigorously nationalist than its opponents.[17] Meanwhile, the Liberal government in Ottawa, which had been reelected in 1965, secured the final adoption of a distinctive national flag featuring the maple leaf as the nation's symbol. Another important piece of legislation was the National Medicare Act, which provided for joint federal-provincial financing of universal health care insurance.

Quebec's "psychological secession" from Canada came in five stages: the Quiet Revolution of 1960, the 1980 sovereignty-association vote, the constitutional process of 1980-82, the Meech Lake Accord process of 1987-90, and the 1992 Charlottetown Accord referendum. The 1995 referendum for independence, saw the narrow victory for the "no" side. Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien[18] announced three policy initiatives that promised to change unemployment insurance, to recognize Quebec as a distinct society, and to empower Quebec and certain other Canadian regions to veto changes to the federal constitution. French-speaking Quebecois gradually replaced ethnic consciousness by allegiance to a "national state" on the territory of the province of Quebec. The Parti Québécois (PQ) emerged as a dominant nationalist party, formed in 1968.[19] PQ succeeded in passing two important charters, the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975)[20], and Bill 101, Charte de la langue française (1977)[21], marked this significant evolution of Quebecois collective identity. Bill 101 made French the official language of the government and of the courts in Quebec; more controversially it made French the normal language of the workplace, of instruction, of communications, of commerce and of business. Education in French became compulsory for immigrants, even those from other Canadian provinces. The failure of the 1980 referendum on independence, and the 1982 economic crisis, led to the return to power of Robert Bourassa's Liberals in 1986.

The national government in Ottawa refused to countenance independence. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau[22], himself a leader in the Quiet Revolution, Ottawa countered with the concept of a single Canadian nation. Trudeau's actions culminated with the 1982 Constitution and the national Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which Quebec never endorsed and still is considered illegitimate by many Quebecers. The root problem is that Canada, as it is conceived by Anglophone Canadians, does not seem compatible with an enduring Quebec identity.[23]

Social upheaval

In social terms, the Quiet Revolution undercut the authority of the Church in taking away the schools and indeed the unquestioned authority of parish priests. The Union Nationale, the political party of Duplessis, together with the Catholic clergy, had actively propagated an ideology of conservatism: the Quebecois were destined to be peasants, to guarantee the survival of the Catholic religion and of the French language in North America. Gauvreau (2005) however reveals also a positive role that minority elements of the Church played in the origins of Quebec's Quiet Revolution. He argues that Catholic youth movements played a major positive role in the origin of the most profound of Quebec's multiple "quiet revolutions," beginning with the Catholic youth movements in the 1930s. They introduced "personalism", a philosophical movement from France that was a kind of neo-Thomism. In creating an active youth movement reformers inside the Church in effect repudiated much of the historic traditionalism of a peasant society, such as patriarchal families and sexuality focused solely on producing large families rather than companionate marriages.[24]

The exodus from Catholicism began by 1960, with church attendance in Montreal plunging in half in the decade of the 1960s, with even faster declines in rural parishes. Young couple rejected the Church's renewed opposition to birth control. The Quebec independence movement focused on language and culture, and no longer saw Quebec as the stronghold of Catholicism.

The Parent Report on education in the province of Quebec (1963-66) was a key part of the Quiet Revolution that modernized and democratized education in Quebec. The report's attempt at democratizing manifested itself through its recommendations to open access to all levels of education; to create the Ministry of Education as a central authority responsible for all aspects of education; to replace local, religion-based educational authorities with local and regional authorities whose members would be elected directly by the parents rather than the general public; and to reorganize education finance in order to make it more equal. The article assesses the degree to which these recommendations were implemented.

The Quiet Revolution moved the socialization of youth from private and social milieus, primarily the Church and family, to the public sphere, shaped by government policy, resulting in a more self-conscious socialization process. This process includes an emphasis on a shared francophone history and culture and on the importance of the French language to that culture. With new challenges to the institutionalization of the société distincte the state increasingly operates as a key agent of socialization.


In the 1993 national elections the Progressive Conservative Party collapsed and the official opposition became the avowedly separatist Bloc Québécois, a new party formed in 1991 for the national parliament.[25] Inside Quebec the PQ regained power in 1994 under the resolutely nationalist leader Jacques Parizeau, and called for a referendum in 1995 it was convinced would lead to immediate independence. Preparations were made for diplomatic recognition and an army, but the "no" votes prevailed by 1%, largely because of the intense opposition of non-Francophones.[26]

The separatists were narrowly defeated in the 30 October 1995 referendum by 53,500 votes. Anglophones (English-speakers) and immigrants voted "no" as they vigorously sought to maintain Quebec's allegiance to the Canadian government. Francophones, using language with racial undertones, continue to foster the cause of an independent Quebec. Led by charismatic Lucien Bouchard, the separatists displayed an insensitivity toward those outside their ethnic group and ignored the difficulties independence would place on the debt-ridden, economically depressed province.[27]

For recent politics since 2000 see Quebec


Before the 1960s the business and banking of Montreal and smaller cites was Anglophones; but by 2000 the business community was largely Francophone, particularly in management and the elite. Some large corporations relocated their headquarters to Toronto and retained their Anglophone character. Globalization strengthened the use of French. Foreign investment in new business increased, but the majority of foreign investment was in existing businesses. The provincial government implemented policies that supported successful exporting as well as other measures to stimulate an entrepreneurial business class. The Quebec government established offices across the U.S. to promote trade, direct investment and tourism. The Parti Québécois has always experienced a lack of American support in its struggle for sovereignty, especially during the Bill Clinton administration in the 1990s. Agriculture, mining, and forestry declined, however.[28]

for recent developments see Quebec


  1. Along with Nova Scotia, Cape Breton (annexed to Nova Scotia in 1820), Upper Canada (Ontario), St John's Island (Prince Edward Island), Newfoundland, the Hudson's Bay Company Territories, and some land belonging directly to the Crown.
  2. See Ronald Rudin, Making History in Twentieth-Century Quebec. (1997). ch 1
  3. See article in Canadian Encyclopedia (2008)
  4. J. I. Little, State and Society in Transition: The Politics of Institutional Reform in the Eastern Townships 1832-1852. (1997)
  5. J. I. Little, "The Short Life of a Local Protest Movement: the Annexation Crisis of 1849-50 in the Eastern Townships." Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 1992 3: 45-67. Issn: 0847-4478 online edition
  6. René Hardy, "Regards sur la Construction de la Culture Catholique Quebecoise au XIX Siecle," Canadian Historical Review 2007 88(1): 7-40. Issn: 0008-3755 Fulltext: Ebsco
  7. See Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  8. Roberto Perin, "L'eglise et L'edification D'une Culture Publique au Quebec," Etudes D'histoire Religieuse: Société Canadienne D'histoire De L'eglise Catholique 2001 67: 261-270. Issn: 0318-6172
  9. Guy Bourassa, "Les Elites Politiques de Montreal: De L'Aristocratie a la Democratie," The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science Vol. 31, No. 1. (Feb., 1965), pp. 35-51. in JSTOR
  10. Ralph Heintzman, "The Political Culture of Quebec, 1840-1960," Canadian Journal of Political Science Vol. 16, No. 1. (Mar., 1983), pp. 3-59.
  11. Alan Gordon, "Ward Heelers and Honest Men: Urban Quebecois Political Culture and the Montreal Reform of 1909." Urban History Review 1995 23(2): 20-32. Issn: 0703-0428
  12. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)]
  13. See Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, "Lionel Groulx," in Canadian Encyclopedia (2008)
  14. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)]
  15. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)]
  16. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  17. Lesage's party won 47% of the vote to Johnson's 41%, but the Union Nationale won 56 seats vs 51 because its vote was concentrated in rural constituencies which were overrepresented. Claude Ryan, "Quebec Changes Governments". Foreign Affairs 1966 45(1): 148-161. Issn: 0015-7120 Fulltext: Ebsco
  18. See biography at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  19. See article in Canada Encyclopedia (2000)
  20. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  21. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  22. See Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  23. Louis Balthazar, "Canada in the Setting of the New Nationalism Quebec and the Ideal of Federalism," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 538, Being and Becoming Canada. (Mar., 1995), pp. 40-53. in JSTOR
  24. Michael Gauvreau, "From Rechristianization to Contestation: Catholic Values and Quebec Society, 1931-1970," Church History, Vol. 69, No. 4. (Dec., 2000), pp. 803-833 in JSTOR;
  25. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000)
  26. See article at Canadian Encyclopedia (2000), and Gregory S. Mahler, "Canadian Federalism and the 1995 Referendum: a Perspective from Outside of Quebec." American Review of Canadian Studies 1995 25(4): 449-476. Issn: 0272-2011
  27. J. A. S. Evans, "The Present State of Canada." Virginia Quarterly Review 1996 72(2): 213-225. Issn: 0042-675x Fulltext: Ebsco
  28. Joseph Lemay, "The Impact of the Quiet Revolution: the Business Environment of Smaller Cities and Regions of Quebec 1960-2000." Québec Studies 2002-03 (34): 19-30. Issn: 0737-3759; William F. Averyt, "Quebec's Economic Development Policies, 1960-1987: Between Étatisme and Privatisation." American Review of Canadian Studies 1989 19(2): 159-175. Issn: 0272-2011