The Long Struggle of Quebec to Maintain Its Cultural Identity in Canada

Last Updated: 31 May 2023
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Quebec has always been trying to maintain its cultural identity. The path that led to separatism is long and winding one. The French saw Confederation as the only solution in 1867. They needed Confederation to remain in control of their own language, religion and way of life. The paradox of the situation was that they also fully understood that they would always be the minority in Canada and that as more regions joined Confederation, the situation would be compounded. This was however preferable to a slow assimilation by the English, now they could have laws passed that could protect their society.

As a minority in a country, Quebec s point of view was often disregarded in favor of that of the English speaking majority. The First example of this could be seen from they the Riel Rebellions were handled. In 1885, What became known as the Saskatchewan Rebellion took place. This was led by Louis Riel who went to Batoche to once more setup a provisional government and prepare the Metis for battle to protect their homes. Needless to say, the revolution was quelled and Louis Riel was arrested and taken to Regina for a trial. Disregarding the juries express recommendation of mercy, on November 16 1885, Riel was hung for treason. The execution was in direct response to political pressure from English speaking Canadians. To the French, it seemed Riel was hung because he was French and he was fighting to protect the interests of French people.

Also in the 1880s, the Manitoba School Question which was another issue of contention for the French speaking Canadians. In the 1880s, the population of Manitoba became a majority of English speaking people, and so, the Manitoba government abolished the separate (catholic) school system. Though only a minority now, the French people still had considerable numbers in Manitoba and so appealed their case to the Federal Government. It was only settled in 1896 by the Laurier - Greenway compromise.

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In it, schools now had to give instruction in French if their were enough students requiring it (10 in rural schools, 40 in a town). This wasn t just happening in Manitoba unfortunately, in other provinces such as Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, protection and the rights of the French speaking minority were slowly stripped away. This just reinforced the attitude that the English were trying to phase out the French culture and language and assimilate them.

Another issue of bitter contention among French and English Canada was the conscription issue. This was the forcing of people into military service near the end of W.W.I and II. The French opposed conscription and the English supported it. The French saw the wars as English wars that shouldn t involve Canada at all. Pointing out that Canada was no longer a British colony during debates of that time period. The conscription issue, maybe more then others highlighted for Quebec that in a parliamentary system, their desires would be sacrificed for those of the majority if they weren t in total agreement.

This reinforced what a growing number of people in Quebec believed regarding the future of what they saw as a unique culture. Many saw separation as the only solution, the only way for La Survivance (survival). The period from 1917 to 1960 was marked politically by the withdrawal of French Canadians from participation in national affairs and by the development of a suspicious, defensive policy of protecting provincial rights.

Not everyone however was willing to see Canada be divided and so political means to work within the existing or a modified federal system. One of these people was Henri Bourassa who wrote these words following the Riel crisis, For us the fatherland is all Canada. The nation we wish to see develop is the Canadian nation, composed of English Canadians and French Canadians, that is, of two elements separated by language and religion, but united in a feeling of brotherhood, in a common attachment to the common fatherland..

These remarks did much to encourage a united Quebec given the wide circulation of Le Devoir and his position. Also, George-Etienne Cartier was a Quebec minister who served the Federal Cabinet and was very much in favor of a unified Canada. Symbolic of a rising equality among the French and English of Canada was Sir Wilfrid Laurier who was the first French-Canadian Prime Minister and who, hailed from Quebec. These three individuals did much to aid Quebec in working within the confines of the British North America Act and the Federal government through public policy or through speech.

Another cause of disparity between Quebec and the rest of Canada was the fact that Quebec was much less industrialized then any of the other province by 1912. During this time, much of Quebec culture lived on farms and most individuals followed an agricultural way of life. By the 1920s though, the effects of the modern world began to take effect in Quebec as greater and greater numbers of people moved into the cities and larger businesses and industries began to creep into the once agriculture dominated economy. Though Quebec made great progress, they were unable to attain the same level of modernization as the rest of Canada until around the 1960s. The relative backwardness of Quebec prompted these words by Hugh McLennan, Canada is a nation of two solitudes, neither of which knows much about the other..

We can attribute some of Quebec s backwardness (for lack of a better word) to the Roman Catholic Church which had far reaching implications on all aspects of Quebec society. Thanks to an Education Act that was passed into law in 1875, all Bishops of that province had a seat on the provincial education commission. Said Bishops would therefore have control over the curriculum of school classrooms and the text books that were issued to students. The Church controlled the plays and other arts that were for public display, having complete veto power over what a person could see.

The Catholic church recommended agriculture as the way to happiness and few people disagreed. This level of control by one body that does not necessarily have the best interests of all the people in mind (non-Catholic people; Jewish, Protestant, etc.,) is quite dangerous. The saying about power corrupting seems fitting enough. Restrictions on books and control of classrooms limited new thoughts and ideas and hampered Quebec s development. One beneficial effect the church controlled state had was that in it s absolute control, it was able to help preserve Quebec s culture and postpone fierce nationalist sentiment that would inevitably come.

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The Long Struggle of Quebec to Maintain Its Cultural Identity in Canada. (2023, May 30). Retrieved from

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