How has the French-Canadian identity persisted and struggled through to the contemporary time?

The Blue Thorn in the Four Red Roses 


Ever since an early age, I have always enjoyed reading and researching on many empires, particularly the French colonisation in the Americas, most notably in Nouvelle France and Louisiane, what is now Canada and parts of the modern United States. I have always been fascinated with how whilst the majority of Canada is Anglophone, the East was and is still predominantly Francophone and very keen to preserve their French roots. With this sort of notion, I hope that this interest can be reminiscent in my research here. There are obviously many events that happened that has stringed themselves to make Québec the special region of Canada that it is now, and as usual I hope to understand this better through this article, both historically and politically speaking. Thank you for reading.

I will cover many things as aforementioned, from the start of the French colonisation in Canada and Québec with Samuel de Champlain’s colonial ventures, the Seven Years War (1759-1763), the decisive Battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1763, the Treaty of Utrecht and the Treaty of Paris in 1713 and 1763 respectively, the Québec Act in 1774, the overall effect of the Revolutionary War, and then into the modern era with the Patriotes’ Rebellion of the 1830s, the role of the Parti Québecois (PQ) under Levesque, and modern Québecois identity in social and political terms.

Role of the colonial expenditions – the colonial impetus 
Before analysing the French identity in Québec as a whole, let us understand initially the early French attempts at navigating and settling within the American continent. Despite many efforts during the early 15th and 16th centuries by the French kings Henri II, François I and Henri IV to encourage French navigation and eventual settlement of the North and Latin American continent. There were many expeditions in Nouvelle France principally under Jacques Cartier, Giovanni da Verrazano, Pierre du Gua and Samuel de Champlain (called Champlain hereafter), whilst France Antartique or the contemporary Brazil was navigated by Nicolas de Villegagnon. However, these were all unsuccessful with many other countries namely the English, the Portuguese and Native American forces frequently intervening and destroying the settlements. Moreover, the cold weather in Nouvelle France was significant, as it prevented the sailors to find enough warmth and nutrients to survive the brutal freezing weather when it really mattered most.Fortunately, after much struggle and meditation of the most appropriate spot to create a new French settlement, Samuel de Champlain, known more commonly as the Founding Father of Canada established Québec City in 1608. Here, Champlain persevered as a key mediator, through countless returns between France and Nouvelle France. This was key, because this was an attempt to spur denser settlement in the newly found crown colony and to find suitable alliances from Native Americans. This was also key, because these alliances brought the French and Native Americans closer together and ensured bilateral trust amongst key leaders and Champlain himself, as the new Vice Roy of Nouvelle France, under Henri IV’s perpetual compassionate delight and agreement.
1) The French settlements and its policies
The first way in which the French identity was preserved was through the early settlements and its policies. Since the French nation was embedded in bloody Wars of Religion, mainly through the Catholic Bourbons and the Protestant Huguenots, Champlain envisaged and strived for integration and accord amongst many peoples, irrespective of their religious, racial or social backgrounds. Furthermore, as Vice-Roy of the region, Champlain introduced the seigneurial system and used many propagandist ways to lure the French middle class families, military servicemen, aristocrats and merchants to inhabit in the French crown colony with many lucrative business in the fur trade and maple syrup manufactures [2]. This was significant, as this meant a type of feudal or modern day classical Communist system, which helped Champlain to proportion and distribute plots of land to a seigneur or landlord and habitants or peasant, of whom lived and worked in communes called a seigneurie. In order to fully propel this type of agricultural sector, the seigneur needed many settlers of whom were recruited from France [2].
Effect of the Anglo-French wars over Québec 
Often called the first ever World War, the Seven Years War (1759-63) turned all the colonial superpowers in a bilateral conflict, with these two main alliances vying politically and militarily against each other. Out of all the battles in Europe and America, one of the biggest battles that took places was that of the Plains of Abraham in Québec, commanded by the French generals Marquis de Montcalm and Marquis de Vaudreuil against the infamous and young British general James Wolfe.With the French government believing Québec was not as lucrative of a colony in terms of wealth as Haiti with the coffee trade, this was significant as North American colony was abandoned by the young king Louis XIV under the great influence of Cardinal Richelieu. Moreover, it is often believed that if the French administration had been more forthcoming by sending around 1,000 troops to the region, then there would have been a significant chance to fend off the British challenge within the region. However, with the passivity and indifference shown, this was also key, as this ultimately ended in many treaties, namely the Treaty of Utrecht and Treaty of Paris, between the Franco-British governments, and was important because the French lost all their Canadian colonial outposts, as opposed to other more valuable West Indian colonies in the slave trade like Martinique and Guadeloupe, and was only permitted to retain the miniscule Franco-Canadian island ofSaint Pierre et Miquelon as a fishing outpost.To the great discontent of the Québecois or Franco-Canadians, they had to flee to other French colonies within the North American continent to other Canadian regions such as Acadia, New Brunswick or further south in the United States like Vermont, Missouri and in particular, Louisiana. However, for those who remained in Québec, felt they were greatly mistreated by the increasingly frustrated and aggressive British administration.
2) Québec Act 
After countless revolts and violence used on the Québecois civilians, the Québec Act was finally passed on 22 June 1774 and came into play on 1 May 1775. The Québec Act extended the borders of the region, including the Labrador to the north, Ile d’Anticosti and Iles de la Madeleine to its eastern border, plus a small section of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to its south [3]. Moreover, the Québec Act recognised the Roman Catholic religion as one of the main theologies, apart from the Protestant religion that was encouraged by the the British colonists within the region itself [4]. More importantly, it preserved the French civil law, the early colonial usage of the seigneurial system established by Champlain and incorporated the British criminal law. This was significant, as this was the second way in which the French identity was preserved through to the present times.However, with many loyalists and Amerindians arriving from the contemporary United States after the end of the American Revolutionary Wars in 1783, there was a push for  another settlement, as they felt the Mississippi and Ohio territories belonged to them. Consequently, the Constitutional Act was signed in 1791 for two main reasons [6]. Firstly, this created and divided the Province of Québec into two regions completely, one being called Upper Canada or Ontario, and the Lower Canada or Québec. This was significant, as the appellation sparked many controversy among many Canadians, particularly of the geographical location, confusion and supposed bigotry that was imposed into which was the superior state at the time. Secondly, the Constitutional Act also aligned the administration of the region itself, with the introduction of a Legislative Council and Assembly [6]. This was significant, as this meant more stability to the region, with an proposed or apparent consideration of the intents of the Québecois people. However, to what extent was this considering the ‘lesser’ population or Franco-Canadian community?
3) Patriotes’ Rebellion 
This leads us coherently to the Patriotes’ Rebellion in 1837, where the Franco-Canadians were increasingly dissatisfied with the Seven Years War’s defeat and the creation of Lower Canada. This was key, as this created social disorder within the region. The French and Irish immigrants established the Patriotes led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, who opposed the para-military and British colonial authorities called the Doric Club [7]. Furthermore, Papineau’s role was significant, as he pressed for a more democratic government based on the American model. Moreover, as the undisputed leader of Québec by many Franco-Canadians, Papineau wanted to mobilise and organise as many types of people independently, without English interference. This was important, because this resulted in violence and trades of gunfire, which saw the British imperial forces decisively and significantly destroying the Patriotes’ cause for more independence [7].
4) Modern Québecois politics 
As Québec modernised into the late 20th century, there were many different movements that took place under different leaders from across the North Atlantic border. Firstly, the Parti Québecois under Rene Levesque, like the Quiet Revolution under the tutelage of Jean Lesage and Maurice Duplessis, the 1970’s was key in preserving strong French identity in Québec [8]. Levesque fought for sovereignty and founded the  Mouvement souverainté-association in November 1967. This was significant, as this meant Levesque was campigning for Québecois independence and a new political status within Canada. Despite initial defeats of obtaining sufficient seats and elections in 1970 and 1973, Levesque was victorious in 1976, winning in Taillon against the federal and Liberal party under Robert Bourassa [9]. Levesque pushed for referendums and the Québecois government under him established the Bill 101. This was significant as this meant that the French identity was preserved, where the French language was fully recognised as the official language in the region. However, the 1980 referendum was unsuccessful with only 40% supported Levesque in his quest for sovereignty [9]. To this date and after another unsuccessful referendum in 1995, the separatist region of Québec have continued to force referendums to enforce the main idea of sovereignty, with little avail.
Recently, there were many negotiations which have taken place between the Québecois government under Premier Pauline Marois and French President François Hollande. Under Hollande and similar to earlier presidents Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac, France has adopted a more participatory stance in Franco-Québecois political and economic ties, with claims of “fraternity and continuity”, rather than indifference employed by former French presidents François Mitterand and Nicolas Sarkozy [10]. Despite Hollande replicating Chirac’s supportive stance as saying “France will follow the same road as Quebec”, whether a separatist movement should be fully accepted and backed because of the Québecois minority government in Canada remains food for thought [10].

In conclusion, there were many different ways that the French identity was preserved through through time, whether it was the initial seigneurial system introduced by Champlain, the Québec Act of 1774 or the modern Québecois politics that still has its marks today in Franco-Canadian and between the Anglo-French Canadians within the country. Personally, the most important factor that fought for the preservation of the French identity within the region was the persistence of the Québecois civilians themselves. This was significant, because despite countless pivotal events, namely when Cardinal Richelieu influenced Louis XIV to not fully commit France to the Québecois cause during the Seven Years’ War, or the revolutions as we saw in the Patriotes Rebellion and the Quiet Revolution with the British imperial forces and administration try to quell the social uprising to a standstill, the Québecois never really gave up on their own cultures and customs. This is key, as this means that the fleur-de-lys flag flies proudly in any Québecois town, but the debate for another day perhaps is whether the nation should be anti-liberal with encouragement for a strongly Francophone region, imposing more aggressive policies on immigrants and autarky. Stayed tuned, as I hope to publish another interesting article soon enough. Till next time 🙂



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