Tutoring social studies, questions come to mind that aren’t necessarily discussed every day. The tutor focuses on a central question about the Canadian identity.
To a Canadian anglophone, the “other world” of Quebec is intriguing. Anyone who’s been there knows it’s like a different country.
The French language and culture that exist in Quebec have done so from the 1600s – before English settlement in much of Canada. Without necessarily knowing the details, most Canadians are conscious that after a conflict between English and French, the English culture came to dominate the rest of the country, while Quebec remains French to this day. So, why is the rest of the country (generally) not French? How did French prevail in Quebec?
The French began settling what is now Quebec – calling it “New France” – while the English focused on the Thirteen Colonies (New England). Life in New France – with its available farmland, its harsh winters, and its absolute necessity of self-reliance – was totally different from what the settlers had left behind in France. In the fertile land along the St. Lawrence, covered in snow as much as five months a year, a new identity sprouted – the Canadien. While they still spoke French, the Canadiens perceived themselves as distinct.
From 1756 to 1763, England and France clashed in the Seven Years’ War, which was a worldwide conflict. By the Treaty of Paris, 1763, England gained possession of New France; its 65 000 French – the Canadiens – became British subjects. In King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, he stated intention to allow the French language and Catholic religion to continue, while promising, as quickly as possible, an elected assembly to guide an English government. New France became the Quebec Colony.
The Quebec Colony’s first governor was James Murray. He perceived that the elected Assembly – which, possibly, the majority French would be barred from – could put the Quebec Colony under the control of a tiny English minority. Murray sensed the potential problems that might result. Furthermore, he came to doubt the intentions of the English merchants as they grew impatient for the Assembly’s formation. In fact, the English merchants eventually petitioned Britain for Murray’s recall, and won – though in England, his side was upheld.
As Governor of Quebec, Murray had come to prefer the peaceful, law-abiding Canadiens over the critical, demanding English merchants. His replacement, Governor Guy Carleton, took Murray’s side: The French would never assimilate to English culture – but why should they? The Candiens were content, hard-working people who were easy to govern. Carleton petitioned Britain for more protection for the Canadien way of life – and won. In 1774, the Quebec Act recognized the Canadiens as having distinct status within the British Empire (Bowers and Garrod). It protected their Roman Catholic religion, their French language, and even their civil laws. Officially, the Canadien identity was upheld – 93 years before the country Canada even existed.
So, perhaps ironically, two Englishmen safeguarded the French Canadian – the Canadien – identity. Morevover, they did so against the wishes of their English-speaking subjects. We know they were motivated by a preference they both developed towards the Canadien over the English merchant.
Probably, what prevailed above all, was the British resistance to change. Both James Murray and Guy Carleton saw the Canadien way of life as entrenched and self-sustaining. The English merchants, in contrast, wanted to change life in the Quebec Colony – and expected royal assistance to do so. Both Murray and Carleton, while they must have realized change would come in some form, believed it had to be spontaneous in order to be valid. In the meantime, no change at all was fine with them.
Bowers, Vivien and Stan Garrod. Our Land: Building the West. Toronto: Gage, 1987.
Thank-you to all my sources for this article:)
Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.