During the most recent census, French was the mother tongue of 80% of residents of Québec, with over 90% able to speak French on a day-to-day basis. The French language remains strong in Québec due to a mixture of its historical founding combined with the passionate work of present day cultural and legislative advocates.
Why is Québec predominately French today? Well, because her forefathers, the very first Europeans to explore the land, were also French. While there were First Nations peoples already living in the area, a few wars and other things that could have made Québec English-speaking, her modern-day roots are that of France and this can be seen in her founding fathers.
Jacques Cartier was the first French explorer to claim Canada on behalf of France. He mapped the Gulf of St. Lawrence and attempted to start the first settlement there. However, due to hostile winter conditions (for which they were ill prepared), disease and natives that were aggressive and unfriendly, the settlement was eventually abandoned.
Despite not being able to establish a permanent settlement (which never really was his goal in the first place), Cartier left his mark on Canada as a land that was proclaimed for France. Whether the natives concurred, in France's mind, the coast along the St. Lawrence river was now a French colony.
Samuel de Champlain
If Jacques Cartier was unsuccessful in establishing a permanent colony, Champlain was a great success. He founded modern day Québec City and stayed there to administrate it for the rest of his life. In Québec history, he is considered to having fully established the new colony and dedicated his life to its betterment. It's worthy to note as well, that it was Champlain that was instrumental in establishing Québec as a popular fur trading post and thus bringing the first economic development to the land.
How the Americans Helped Québec Stay French
While it can be said that Québec's roots are certainly French, it was perhaps the French and Indian War, along with the Seven Years' War, that helped Québec stay French.
The French and Indian War
It is odd that the French and Indian War actually had to do much more about relations between the French and the British. In the battle on the Plains of Abraham (part of the French and Indian war), it was the English that finally won and took control of Québec City. While it might seem odd that the English winning a battle could actually secure Québec's future as French, that is exactly what happened.
Treaty of 1763
It was the Treaty of 1763 that ended the French and Indian War. Since this war had ended, and the Brits had won the battle in Québec, France had to sign all of "New France" over to Britain.
The Québec Act
Ironically, although Britain had won the Québecois territories, they were none too eager to colonize there. They were afraid, due to the proximity and already well-formed alliance that the Americans would now help the inhabitants of New France rebel against British rule. Rather than engage in another costly war, Britain put into effect the Québec Act, which officially recognized:
- French law in New France
- Roman Catholicism as the official religion
- French as the official language
Ironically, while the Québec Act was appeasing to the inhabitants of Québec, it was among the list of Intolerable Acts among the colonists who thought that they should have part of the fur trading post.
The State of French in Québec Today
Since the 1960s, several laws have been put in place to ensure that Québec remains a predominantly French-speaking province.
Official Languages Act
The use of French was strengthened with the 1969 Official Languages Act which mandated all federally provided services must be available to citizens in both French and English. This law is the cornerstone of the "official bilingualism" in Canada and it gives French the same status as English throughout the country.
Charter of the French Language
The Charte de la Langue Française was enacted in 1977 and made French Québec's official language. It enforced the use of French in every part of a resident's life, including signs, documents and marketing for businesses, labor laws, public service agencies, legislatures, the courts, and schools.
There have been efforts to make Québec its own sovereign nation in order to preserve the language and culture, although independence referendums in 1980 and 1995 did not receive enough votes to pass. The push to make Québec a separate, French-speaking nation was spearheaded by the nationalist Le Mouvement Souverainiste du Québec and their efforts continue to this day.
While many of the issues related to the desire to separate are based on division of powers and varying views on the efficacy of federalism, the desire to preserve the French speaking majority and their language and culture is a key tenet of the movement. Despite the failure of the referenda to pass, many French citizens of Québec remain passionately dedicated to preserving French as the official language of their province and resisting the absorption of words and phrases from other languages into their mother tongue.
Why Is Québec Predominately French
Like all countries, there are a variety of events that all served to shape the identity of Québec. Pointing to any single factor would be too simple. Rather it's the combination of factors that led to Québec remaining a predominantly French-speaking province with a strong cultural affiliation for French Canadian culture and history.