PRECARIOUS WORK IN Ireland is not new. In Dublin alone, the largest real estate brokers are reporting huge growth in this area in a very short period. By the …
How did Quebec keep its French culture?
A mix of luck and resistance. I shall probably repeat myself a little because I actually answered to this question in many instances on Quora in many different ways.
Right after the Conquest (1760) and the Treaty of Paris (1763), the situation was confused.
- The fate of the catholic religion was unclear. In the United Kingdom, catholics were officially forbidden from having any job in the government and in public institutions in general. They had to make the Test Oath and give up catholicism. Acadians knew that very well because since their conquest in 1713 and the advent of “Nova Scotia”, they were excluded from any public office. Québec was therefore a big problem. The only things governor Murray could promise was to allow the catholic cult “as long as the British law allows it”. They were forced to adapt. It wasn’t possible to manage such a big francophone population, with so little English, and exclude all and every francophone from juries in trials, from the management of the daily affairs. They had to break some rules and make exceptions. They found a convoluted way to make the exercice of the catholic religion possible. The diocese of Québec was considered a diocese of France. Of course that situation could not go on. They chose the submissive and collaborative priest Jean-Olivier Briand to go in England, and then secretly go to France (with the help of the famous , the transvestite spy) and there Briand was made officially a bishop. Later, the Pope erected the diocese of Québec as a new ecclesiastic province separated from France. The bishop was not really bishop in British Law, he was called officially “Superintendant of the Romish Church” (an obvious derogatory term, since the catholics called themselves Catholic Roman and Apostolic Church), and it was a way to content the untolerant protestants. The French population saw no difference, since Briand was simply called an évêque like usual. Realism made it so that the British government had to allow the catholic religion, which they did in 1774 with the Quebec Act, but it was a big scandal among the British Empire.
- The fate of law was unclear. It was not realistic to abolish all the French laws from the Custom of Paris. The authorities hoped to ally with the high classes of the French society like the lords and the nobles (these two categories overlap but are not the same). New France was an Ancien Régime, feudal society. All these lords had their own fiefdoms. All of their wealth depended on the Custom of Paris. If it was to be abolished, nothing would keep their value anymore. So the feudal system kept going on. The lords were now vassals to the King of the United Kingdom and had to pay their hommage to that monarch. Many English and Scots found a charm to this quaint and well-defined hierarchy that was so convenient and became lords of many fiefdoms in Québec, however they often did unlawful things because they were either very bad to handle the Custom of Paris or didn’t care. The population in general knew nothing about English Law, so it would have been unconvenient to abolish the old Law. The French modes of marriage and inheritance were kept but the freedom to choose the mode was added, so English people could escape the French customs. The only thing everyone could agree on was to use from now on the Common Law for criminal matters, because apparently it was more gentle (and when I mean more gentle that doesn’t mean there is no death sentence). Eventually, the laws regarding trade would be from the Common Law. Therefore, the law would become a patchwork of French and English Law, which explains why Québec law today is so different from Canada, which also explains why there must be in the Supreme Court people that are familiar with Québec’s Civil Code. This wasn’t an unique situation : Scotland had the very same kind of distinctiveness.
Therefore : governor Murray in short term was forced to be flexible with the British laws, because it was not realistic to apply them completely.
1763–1783 : An unattractive colony
What were they going to do? They had the colony, but the population was all French, if not for a few catholic indigenous villages (that still exist). The only English to come after 1763 were merchants, and perhaps the members of a regiment here and there. No one wanted to go there, just look how horrible it was:
- It was an evil papist place!! The Pope could impose his tyranny there!!! It was marred with people that would of course burn in Hell. And don’t forget : the 1774 Quebec Act !!
“We may see an inquisition erected in Canada, and priestly tyranny may hereafter find as propitious a soil, in America as it ever has in Spain or Portugal.” —Alexander Hamilton
- It was a manorial and feudal society, with fiefdoms all over the place!! Ewwww!!! Having to pay taxes to the lord!! Ewww!! Not being able to speculate on lands like you want!!! Ewww!! Having to do chores (la corvée) if the lord asks for it!!!
- The law was still in large part the Custom of Paris (written down in the 16th century), and it was quite different from the Common Law. It actually treated women with a little of agency and not as the husband’s property, so the regular type of marriage contract was to create a “community” of the goods of both spouses instead of just transfering all properties to the man, and the inheritors were not allowed to give nothing to the widow and had to give her a douaire coutumier by law. Ewwww!!! How antiquated!!! Of course, modern laws should not force a gentleman to have so much consideration for his wife!!! What barbarians those French are!!
- There were rumours those French were actually living like the dreadful Savages, and they were even in war, just like the Savages!!! They wore Savage clothes and were suspiciously too friendly to the Savages. Ewwwww!!! (There was some thruth in that information, but it’s full of misunderstandings about what was actually going on.) Benedict Arnold was quite surprised when he found that people in Québec were just peaceful farmers, and not bloodthirsty savages.
In fact, the authorities expected that Québec would know the fate of New Netherland and New Sweden (even then it is surprising how long New Netherland managed to have some surviving attributes in New York). They really believed it would not be a big deal to integrate the French locals… That is, North America would have needed to stay united for that to be possible…
The Quebec Act (1774)
- The ordonnances promulgated by the governor of Quebec (Murray) and the Quebec Council are cancelled, because they overstepped the powers they had (no choice, the system had to be made functional). The commissions of the civil servants are cancelled to. The judiciary system is suspended until it is reformated.
- The catholic faith obtains new rights. Priorly, the catholic faith was allowed for the British subjects of French origin (Canadiens and Acadians) but only whereas British law allowed it, which meant that the catholics were forbidden from being part of the administration or the tribunals. In order to do so, they had to make the Test Oath, which was a declaration in which you abandonned the catholic faith in front of God, so for religious people at the time, it mattered. However, this was very unconvenient for the daily administration of the province of Quebec because there were very little English population in that colony, and they were not spread everywhere, so the administration and the tribunals could not work properly and fairly. This is why compromises had to be made, which were not acceptable under regular British Law.
- Catholics are allowed in the administration and tribunals without any Test Oath. This was replaced by another oath to defend the British monarch.
- The issue of the bishop was already settled before this Act. By definition, a catholic bishop is appointed by the Pope. The British made a compromise : they asked Jean-Olivier Briand to go secretly in France to be consecrated by a French bishop to be able to name priests. For the French population he was a bishop, but officially, he was made “Superintendent of the Romish Church in Quebec” under British Law. Later the Pope would create a separate ecclesiastic province for Quebec, so it would not depend on France anymore. This was a way to not make the British Crown dependent on the Pope again.
- The Custom of Paris (and other laws specific to French colonies like the Edicts of Marly or the Code Noir) were restored regarding wedding customs, land tenure, inheritances, etc. This means the seigneurs (lords) of the colony (because it was based on Ancien Régime in France) could enjoy the same rights and priviledges they had under the French Crown. It was necessary to do that because otherwise properties would be meaningless and worthless. An exception to that were the religious orders, because the Crown hated the Jesuits (that had considerable possessions in the colony). However, regarding all criminal matters, the Common Law applies. It is interesting to know that the Custom of Paris would survive in current-day Québec until late in the XXth century because the Civil Code of Lower Canada of 1866 only put the same laws into an unique text.
- There is a provision to convert French fiefs into English townships. This was rarely used but there exist at least one example : the sieur Ellice in the seignory of Beauharnois.
- The Crown does not thrust the French colonists enough to give them an elected Assembly like other provinces. The French subjects never had anything of the sort because it didn’t really exist in France anymore (the États généraux in France were powerless compared to the English Parliament), and so they exploited this situation to simply continue to rule them the authoritarian way they were accustomed to. Besides, the colonists in the future 13 colonies are rowdy, they are being revolted, and so it give them all the more reasons to postpone any elected Assembly in Quebec. Instead, they create an appointed Assembly called Legislative Council with 17 to 23 members. This council cannot issue taxes because it is not elected.
Obviously this happened because the Crown needed to be ensured to have the support of the upper classes (lords, clergy) just in case there might be trouble in the Old Colonies in the south.
The US War of Independence and the Campaign of Canada
The results were mitigated. The French population had no clear opinion. They were just waiting who would win and side with the winner. We were crass opportunists and we would extort money from the Bostonians at every opportunity since we were recently ruined by France’s decision to never pay back the debts it had from the card money. The Bostonians must have spent all their money just on getting services from the inhabitants. It was a war between English people after all and so neither of their had a cause that necessarily passioned the locals. The population was often obedient but there also numerous cases of people siding with the Americans reported.
I’ll tell you some of these incidents because they are NEVER told about. It’s very rare to come across something that talks of them despite it’s not so difficult to find in books.
- 400 milicians from the parishes of Saint-Louis de Terrebonne, Saint-Charles de Lachenaie, Saint-Henri de Mascouche and L’Assomption de Repentigny actually read the letters in French sent by the Continental Congress, were super hyped and decided to go further in the east to block the passage to the British army, all of this despite the son of the deseaced lord, Louis II de La Corne, vehemently protested. However, governor Carleton sent the 15th Regiment, they got afraid and got back to home.
- At some point the British authorities were so disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm of the French colonists to defend British interests the governor Carleton complained:
Possesing strenght, the rebels have on their side the Canadian peasants, that neither the zealed efforts of their nobility, of the clergy or the bourgeoisie would convince to fulfill their duties. We could not either persuade them or force them to. Two battalions, this spring, could have saved the province. I doubt that twenty of them could take it back.
- After the “Bostonian” defeat, the British made a general inquiry about the bahaviour of the inhabitants all over Québec and you can find examples of collaboration with the Bostonians everywhere. I even remember of a specific incident which I found funny : a woman that did some pro-rebel propaganda, if I remember well, and she was nicknamed “la reine de Hongrie” (the Queen of Hungary) by pro-British elements, and apparently this was an insult at the time. I wonder what was wrong with the Queen of Hungary in the 18th century.
- There were two Canadian regiments in the Continental army.
The Bostonian didn’t help themselves when in the end they started to get more and more coercitive. The Bostonians basically had a very small understanding of Québec. Benedict Arnold was amazed to discover they were just peaceful farmers and not the bloodthirsty brutes of legends (it’s true we’ve been quite violent with the southern English colonies in the past, you know, like stabbing pregnant women and terrorizing frontier villages with a few indigenous friends…). Had the Bostonians been much better diplomats and much less anti-catholic bigots, they could have won.
1783–1791 : A colonial system to reboot from scratch
The Bostonian defeat created a very awkward situation. When the United States were created but the northern colonies kept, then England was in an even more precarious situation. There were few colonies left :
- Province of Québec, large population, all French and a few catholic indigenous villages, few English yet (the great numbers were the loyalists that are going to come soon)
- Saint John island (cognate of the old French name île Saint-Jean), colonization (re)started recently. Will be renamed Prince Edward island eventually.
- Nova Scotia (big one), the colonisation was restarted all over again since all the Acadians were removed starting in 1755. There were still very few English there. They only started to have some population with the refugees of the US that first settled the south of the peninsula and then were given two new provinces, New Brunswick and Cape Breton (more gaelic-speaking people there).
- Newfoundland was still unofficial colony (it was acknowledged in the mid-19th century I think), and it was just fishermen. Low population.
- East and West Florida were given by the rebels to Spain to thank her for siding with them.
So in fact the only large population in the northern colonies was all French-speaking. The capital of British North America was now a French-speaking city.
So they had to be patient. I must admit governors like Murray, Carleton, Prévost (Swiss protestant) were the right persons at the right place. The English knew how to choose their personnel. They had the delicate task to make the French population just content enough so they would not rebel too, and at the same time satisfy the English merchants fanatics that wanted all the French dead.
XIXth century : It’s aboot time we make Englishmen of them
Does that mean they gave up? Of course not! They had all sorts of plots to try.
One of the least subtle of them all was their idea of “free public schools” in 1801. You already can see where it is going… People were not that stupid and these schools never were a success.
“School teachers should be English if we are to make these Canadians English […]. We could completely Anglicize the people by introducing the English language. This will be done through free schooling…”
Hugh FINLAY, member of the Legislative Council, 1789
The impatient anglos were quite vocal, even as soon as the end of the 18th century :
“An Assembly should not be set up for “if such an assembly were erected, carry on the business of it in the French language, which would tend to perpetuate that language, […] and postpone to a very distant time, perhaps for ever, that coalition of the two nations, or the melting down the French nation into the English in point of language, affections, religion, and laws.”
Francis MASERES, Attorney-General for the colony, 1769.
“Some people affect to call the King’s Natural born subjects, new Canadians. He who chose, say they, to make Canada his place of residence lost the name of Englishman. The Old Canadians are those we conquer’d in 1760 and their descendants, the new Canadians are composed of emigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Colonies now the United States. By the Act of the 14th year of his present Majesty [Quebec Act] they are converted into Canadians, and Canadians they must ever remain. This doctrine is pleasing to the Noblesse or gentry of the Country, who will not easily get rid of French prejudices; but to cherish a predilection for everything that is french, is not, in my opinion, the most likely means to make Englishmen of the Canadians. It is held here by some of His Majesty’s natural born subjects, that the natives of this Province ought, as much as is possible, to be kept unmixed and unconnected with the other Colonists, to serve as a strong barrier, between our Settlements and the United States”
Hugh Finlay, letter to Evan Nepean, February 13th, 1787
One of the plan was to unite some colonies. They wondered what was best between an union of Lower Canada and Upper Canada (what happened in 1840) or a Federation(what happened in 1867). People often don’t realize the idea of a federation emerged so soon. These discussions started with the 1822 Canada Trade Act and kept going on ever since.
“We suggest establishing a closer union between the two colonies by incorporating their two legislatures into one so that the English language and the spirit of the British constitution are more powerfully distributed among all classes of the population.”
Robert WILMOT, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1822.
One unexpected effect from the Constitutionnal Act of 1791 was that the electoral cens was quite low, so the participation in Lower Canada to the elections was broader than in England. The elected members of the Parliament were therefore “populist” in the good meaning. They were often the notary from the village, that was in direct contact with the local population, and that shared the very same interests. The French population dreamed to really assert power trough the Legislative Assembly it was given. They were quite naive. For a moment they forgot they were just a colony and that they never had a say.
These populist Parliaments would be untolerable for the first “angryphones”, if I dare say call them like that. You can for example read the Anti-Gallic Letters from Adam Thom to have an idea of the racism. The French were supposed to disappear and now they were trying to use the Parliament they had to serve their own interests! Outrageous!
Over the decades, the political positions would harden and Montréal Anglos would create for themselves paramilitaries such as the Doric Club.
Francos would get more and more disillusioned with the regime and the ideas of republicanism and independence would slowly gain traction. That US regime in the south apparently managed to survive and not collapse and it was quite alluring, and apparently more fair that the utter arbitrary of a governor that could veto anything that was good for the French colonists.
I really suggest you read Alexis de Tocqueville,. Almost everything he said happened just like he expected it. He was certain the English and the French nation would not merge, contrary to many people at his time, and he was right against all of them.
I went today in a lecture cabinet. Almost all the printed newspapers of Canada are in English. They have about the same dimension as of those of London. I did not yet read them. In Quebec City a newspaper called the Gazette, half-English, half-French ; and a newspaper absolutely French called the Canadien. This newspapers have more or less the dimension of our French newspapers. I have carefully read some issues: they offer a violent opposition to the government and even to all that is English. The epigraph of the Canadien is: Our Religion, Our Language, Our Laws. It is difficult to be more frank. The contents answers the title. All that can inflame both great and small popular passions against the English are carefully reported upon in this newspaper. I have seen an article in which it was said that Canada would never be happy until it had an administration that would be Canadian by birth, by principle, ideas, prejudice even, and that if Canada escaped England, it would not be to remain English. In this same newspaper one could find pieces of French verses that were quite nice. Was reported upon a distribution of prizes where the students had played Athalie, Zaïre, la Mort de César. In general the style of this newspaper is common, mixed with anglicisms and strange expressions. It resembles a lot the newspapers in the Vaud canton in Switzerland. I have not yet seen in Canada a single man of talent, nor read a production proving it. The one who must awaken the French population, and rise it against the English is not yet born.
The English and the French merge so little that the latter exclusively keep the name of Canadiens, the others continuing to call themselves English. […]
Their jealousy is vividly excited by the daily arrival of newcomers from Europe. They feel they will end up being absorbed. We can see that all that is being said on this subject animate their passions, but they do not clearly see the remedy. The Canadians fear leaving the sight of their church, they are not astute. – “Oh! you are very right, but what can you do?” These are their answers. They clearly feel their position as a conquered people, not counting on the goodwill, I would not say of the government, but of the English. All their hopes are fixed on their representatives. They seem to have that exaggerated attachment to them, and especially to Mr. Neilson -“But he is English”, they said to us, as if in astonishment or regret- which oppressed people generally have for their protector. Several of them seemed perfectly to understand the need for education, and to take lively pleasure in what had just been done to help it on. All in all we felt that this population could be led, although still incapable of leading itself. We are coming to the moment of crisis. […]
All in all, this people prodigiously resembles the French people. Or rather they are still French, trait for trait, and consequently perfectly different from the English populations surrounding them.
1837–1838 : A war sooner than expected
Of course this ended up in a war… The government attempted to arrest patriot leaders because they have been making a lot of popular gatherings everywhere in the parishes of the colony to protest against the arbitrary of the regime. And the patriots were not prepared. They decided that they had had enough of the continual persecution from the regime (veto, censorship, arrests) and decided to refuse to let themselves be caught. Of course it went very wrong.
Large regions were burned, raped, destroyed. The fanatics from the English paramilitaries (militias) even destroyed the village of Saint-Benoît despite it surrendered. They spread terror everywhere. The Richelieu valley region was at that time the economical center, it had the best agricultural yield of Lower Canada, had the richest population and were at the right spot to trade with the United States trough the Richelieu and Lake Champlain. That region was durably devastated.
The legal precedents to repress and declare Martial Law were directly taken from the laws used to repress the Irish. These laws were themselves of a questionable legality had these Irish been English… However, what the legal experts said very clearly was that : non-ethnic English did not have the same rights as the ethnic English. It was crystal clear. Being in the British Empire and being a British subject did not mean that British subjects were equals AT ALL. In the case of Quebec, they really went to outright tyranny as the English did not even respect their own laws.
From now on it was very clear that the legal system in fact did not really grant rights to Francos. These rights could be suppressed at any moment and in any manner deemed convenient. The last of the naïves among the legal practitioners were explicitly shown that their good knowledge of English Law and procedures was all for nothing. ()
From 1838 to 1840 the ruling body in Lower Canada was the Special Council of Lower Canada. It’s not well known. They basically ruled trough dictature.
The American Henry David Thoreau in 1850
Our first question would be, Parlez vous Anglais? but the invariable answer was, Non Monsieur; and we soon found that the inhabitants were exclusively French Canadian, and nobody spoke English at all any more than in France; that in fact we were in a foreign country, where the inhabitants uttered not one familiar sound to us. […]
At the Rivigere du Sault ga [à] la Puce, which, I suppose, means the River of the Fall of the Flea, was advertised in English, as the sportsmen are English, “the best snipe-shooting grounds,” over the door of a small public-house. These words being English affected me as if I had been absent now ten years from my country, and for so long had not heard the sound of my native language, and every one of them was as interesting to me as if I had been a snipe-shooter, and they had been snipes.
No more Mr Nice guy
I’ll skip 1840–1867 because we’ll never finish otherwise. Let’s just say that that idea of a federation that floated around since 1822 was finally achieved. Since 1851, Francos became at last a minority. There were no more reasons for the English to be lenient anymore and in fact the suppression of French became systematical :
1871 : New Brunswick promulgates a new school law that abolishes the system of French separated schools. Acadian schools become private, not funded by the state, and thus are more costly despite it is a poorer population. Because of taxes, the Acadians paid the English school but had to pay again for French school.
1877 : Prince Edward Island abolished separated schools.
1889 : D’Alton McCarthy makes an anti-French campaign in Manitoba
1890 : Manitoba becomes unilingual English under the liberal government of Thomas Greenway, which is illegal under the 1870 Manitoba Act (Manitoba was born bilingual) and the article 93 of the 1867 Constitutionnal Act. Separated French Schools did not receive any funding. As usual, double price : you pay the English school trough taxes and pay again for a French education. Despite it was an illegal move, prime minister John A. Macdonald at the time used his federal power to break 68 provincial laws but did nothing to counter this blatantly illegal law. A most “strange” thing because under the article 93, he should have made a law to repair the damages.
1896 : A bill to overthrown the 1890 act in Manitoba (Mackenzie Bowell act) was never voted, so the article 93 of the Constitution was still not applied. The legal battle went up all up to the Privy Council in London and they said everything was okay because they were on the English’ side. Much, much later, as usual, the Supreme Court of Canada would acknowledged it was illegal way too late as always, but the damage was done.
1905 : Prime minister Wilfrid Laurier, instead of just repealling the act in Manitoba like he was entitled to do, decided to “negociate” with the Greenway government in Manitoba. The same year, Laurier tried to acertain the North West territories enabled bilingualism but was betrayed by his own minister Sifton regarding that issue. The end result in Manitoba was ridiculous : you could be taugh in French for a very short time AFTER the regular English classes, so it wasn’t really a compromise that much. Laurier wanted to prevent the conflict instead of just doing his job and therefore the injustice could continue unpunished.
1910 : The Franco-Ontarians are now 10 % of the Ontarian population. This causes a massive stir amongst the Orange Lodge and are victim of a lot of racism.
1912 : Due to an intense lobbying in Ontario triggered after the hysteria about the 10 % French population, the Regulation 17 is passed. The point was to limit education in French to only the first two years of school. The catholic bishop of the time was an Irish and he approved the law.
1917 : The separated classes were restored by Ferguson in Ontario.
1920 : in the Prairies, the French bishops are replaced by Irish bishops and the French schools disappear at that moment.
The Austrian Stefan Zweig visited Québec in 1911 and made several fascinating remarks.
The text in German and in French translation :
(Translated from the French translation of Véronica Dylle)
Philadelphia, in march.
In Boston, the winter evening was grey. In these american industrial cities, one does not notice the passing of the day; the thick cloud of smoke and steams, that thousands of chimneys and ships endlessly supply, is always more dense, always more blurry, always more oppressing. […]
Outside of this stifling city, let’s go to the north! The train moves forward quickly and the grey days passed in these boiling cities turn your limbs into leaden, to make you dive into a deep sleep, heavy and restorative. […]
In the railway stations, we catch sight of the first Canadians: fresh faces, tanned, high statures in multicolored shirts or bushy furs. We hear for the first time the singular French of these people. Pulled by small horses, some sledges, almost like those of Russia, with the tinkling chimes are passing under our eyes. […]
Finally Québec city, the old capital of New France. To get there, one must cross the Saint Lawrence river from Lévis. Magnificent spectacle to see this immense flozen river, that has becomed an immense ice block, from a shore to the other. […]
On the other shore, Québec city waits. I know nothing more moving in our current understanding of the world than these lonely linguistic islets that, after having maintained themselves trough the centuries, are silently crumbling, run to their ruin, rebelling, but without hope. All this germanity in America is an island in deliquescence, but its decline is, under the eyes, less tragic, less manifest that the one that knew other French possessions. From India, that Dupleix formerly conquered, the French only kept Pondichéry – another of these small loyal and moving cities -, of Canada, that was French under three kings, nothing else excepted these few cities that keep bravely defending themselves against the English tidal wave. Two hundreds, three hundreds soldiers sent from France could have saved India and Canada against the English : there, like here, these last French, the descendants of heroes that Cooper or Thackeray celebrated in their novels, sadly repeat it to themselves. Champlain and Dupleix, these two historical figures from France – to which only the durable success of their exploits went missing – are the true spiritual inheritors of Napoléon. Without these valiant adventurers, one would not be able to understand it (like one cannot explain Shakespeare without the playwrights of the pre-elizabetan period). Both have forgotten graves, and one must browse rare books or go to faraway countries to understand the scope of their exploits.
Québec city, that was formerly the most important city of America, the place from which France extended its domination on the American states up to the Great lakes, – she who, formerly overflew from quixotic adventures and indians – seems today like a gentle French provincial village. Straight away, we forget we are in America. The people here do not have this irritating haste; they are polite and delighted when a foreigner speaks to them in French. For the first time in weeks, I heared genuine laughers, frank and nonchalant and I percieved, in the narrow alleys, a deep sentiment of well-being.
Afar, in the bottom of the port, we see in the streets the posters and advertisement signs in English hanged on the buildings made of cheap American bricks (one did not embed an ounce of good taste): people pass in front of it without taking notice. we exclusively hear French spoken in the streets, but also in the countryside, far towards the east.
How can we not be admirative in front of this remarquable tenacity that desmonstrated these few thousands of French for roughly one hundred and fifty years to defend their language? Six millions of Germans, if not more, were absorbed in America, without leaving a single trace. They did not ensure the survival of their language in a single city, in a single province. And there, these few thousands of French, without the help of the motherland, without help from anybody, preserved their language and their customs. Here is a most singular tour de force, almost without any other in modern history, for a so-called decadent race.
A stroll trough the city gives some explanations. From the right to the left, we see nuns and priests. In reality, it’s them who ensured the resistance. Finally, nothing protected better the latin races – the French in Canada just like the weak and corrupted Spanish states of Central America – from assimilation to English than the defensive attitude of catholicism that would always see in the English the heretical and the hereditary enemy. Meanwhile the German protestantism would merge quickly into the Free American Church, that most of the pastors would preach soon in english rather than in German, the priests, on their side, taught catholicism to the children in French in their schools. Omnia instaurare in Christo [order everything according to the spirit of Jesus], so is the motto of the French newspapers here (that, incidentally, kept their national identity meanwhile the German press apes the journalistic style of the American newspapers). The intransigence of catholicism, like the great number of children of the Canadian French – a phenomenon constantly quoted as an example in France, without ever being equaled – erected in this country a rempart, a monument to the glory of a national fervor without precedent in our time.
It is true this heroic struggle against an infinite supremacy all around them seems to be ending. The French already lost Montréal due to the speed to which a foreign population came to settle there. This city, that in the latest decades became gigantic due to development, also became the converging point of a growing European invasion year after year. However, the internationality of these masses require a common language, a lingua franca, that is necessarily English. Any reasonable being would be tempted to advise to the French from here to abandon their resistance (more than ever in danger, they redouble their obstinacy), but the unreasonable here is so marvelously heroic that we only have one desire: to encourage all these descendants of adventurers to stay valiant.
The now share after one hundred and fifty years, the fate of the Indians that they were the first to expell from their houses, to push them away from their sacred forests to the plains until they were crushed, diluted in the foreign nations, assimilated and divided up.
Now, tasting their own medecine, they see themselves stripped of a French culture (certainly superior) to fall into the American orbit. To save them from oblivion, it would need a poet that, like did Cooper with The Last of the Mohicans, would tell the future generations the tale of this painful transition, the secret heroism of this ultimate setback. Their destiny would have been nothing but an episode. With them ends a chapter of History; a new one will start, bearing, this time, the power of this gigantic Canadian state and to which the upcoming decades will reveal the undergoing history.
A northern version of a civil rights movement?
In Québec, like everywhere else, people may have been a little more sheltered from these laws from outside, since at least Québec could benefit some constitutional protections other Francos could not have, but economical opportunities were not possible in French. The economical exclusion was systematical everywhere on the continent. In Louisiana, they had it better for a long time but in 1921 French was made a foreign language in Louisiana and classes could not occur any longer in that language. Locals would be so afraid to let people be aware they were francophone some would rather prefer to pass for Jews to explain their accent, and the actual Jews would understand and keep quiet about it. In New England, the Francos were anglicized by the world wars and eventually moved out of their ghettos as they got richer and eventually became entirely assimilated in the new American suburbs in the 1950’s. In Manitoba you had to be careful to not speak French in the bus.
In Québec, French condemned you to do unskilled work in manufactures or to be among the exploited fishermen that were made prey a long time ago to crooks from the island of Jersey in Europe. Any skilled work at all was necessarily in English.
(This is an actualthat spread in 1930! I kid you not!!)
For the case of Québec it eventually led to riots, to bombs and in general to a sort of Canadian equivalent to the US civil rights movement, of course whenever that comparison can be relevant. Independentism was on the rise. This made the federal government so afraid they first made a Royal Commission to tell them the obvious (that French-speakers that were here for centuries were at the very very bottom of all the ethnic groups, excepted the Italians if I remember well). And then they declared federal bilingualism in 1969 to attempt to kill off independentism by saying : see? you’re at home everywhere in Canada, there is even French in Manitoba! The Acadians also revolted.
In Québec, immigrants were of course choosing English over French all the time. Yeah yeah catholic schools excluded most of them, that’s very right, but come on,, don’t take me for an imbecile. The situation was dire, as immigrants were anglicizing Québec and since Québec had an acute consciousness that the Franco-Americans disappeared in only 100 years so they knew they had not much time left.
It was very urgent to do something regarding the linguistic issue in Québec. The clock was ticking.
It ended up in the current language laws in Québec, that some imbeciles call ethnic cleansing, because they consider having to put French along any other language of their choosing is a terrible violation of human rights. (I hope they never attempt to immigrate to Iceland or Japan, there they would even need to find themselves a local name !) Some more details about the context of Québec’s language laws:
What’s quite insulting however is when we are told we were gallantly given rights, either in 1774 or in 1969. We had to riot for more than 200 years for these. We have to keep pushing every single day of our lives, because it would be very easy to be.
Even today we must fight against impossible odds:
“the unreasonable here is so marvelously heroic that we only have one desire: to encourage all these descendants of adventurers to stay valiant”
—Stefan Zweig, Austrian visitor, 1911
« Parler français en Amérique du Nord est un acte de résistance. »
(Speaking French in North America is an act of resistance.)
—Zachary Richard, famous Franco-Louisianian singer