Quebec is Canada’s largest province with a landmass covering one-sixth of Canada, but it is also its most unique – home to a huge French-speaking enclave with a distinct culture not found anywhere else. Known as “La Belle Province”, its bastion of French culture in an Anglo-dominated continent has survived to this day because of the sheer pride of French Canadians or Quebecois who have been vigilant in protecting it, resisting every effort by others to interfere with their way of life. From the 16th to 17th centuries, the Indians tried to drive them out. In the 18th century, it was the British. And nowadays, Canadians continually try to buy them out. The Quebecois, however, have been and remain determined not to cede any trace of the heritage left by their ancestors – a determination captured in the province’s license plate motto: “Je me souviens” which means “I remember”.
Quebecois are not merely Anglophobic Frenchmen but 10% of them are actually of British ancestry, most of whom live in Montreal. Another 10% are immigrants from Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia.
Of course, French is the official language of Quebec while English is the widely understood second language. The immigrant population and the ethnic diversity in the province are substantial, home to 35 other languages.
The people in Quebec are often described as warm, hospitable, affectionate, and they live with a joie de vivre that evidences their Norman and Breton ancestry. They are above all else proud of their French heritage and aren’t ashamed to show it.
Magnificent cities and beautiful scenery grace this province and reflect the dominating role played by the Roman Catholic Church until the 1960s. Wherever one looks there are innumerable church steeples nestled primarily around the central nerve system of the province, the mighty St. Lawrence River. The most popular destinations in Quebec are Montreal, Quebec City, and the Gaspé Peninsula.
Whether Quebec decides to choose continued status as a Canadian province, enhanced autonomy, or outright independence, it is certain that Quebec will be a formidable economic power. The province’s natural resources alone guarantee that. Quebec has 16% of the world’s freshwater resources and is able to generate vast amount of hydroelectric power. Its gigantic forests give way to a thriving lumber industry. Not only is it a top producer of paper in North America, Quebec also has more than its fair share of ancient rocks and minerals such as gold, copper, silver, iron, lead, nickel, and zinc. It is also a major producer of aluminum. And its fertile rich St. Lawrence flood plains support a successful agriculture industry.
Quebec’s history dates back to 1534 when Jacques Cartier landed at Gaspé and claimed the region for France. But it was not until 1608 with the arrival of Samuel de Champlain somewhere along the St. Lawrence River at a place the Indians called Kebec, which means “narrowing of the waters”, when the French-speaking history of the province began. Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post and years later another post on the river at the spot now occupied by Montreal. Permanent settlements were established at Trois Rivières in 1634 and Ville Marie in 1642. The settlements were constantly raided by the Iroqois Indians, but grew steadily nevertheless. More were founded along the St. Lawrence in the years after. By the early 18th century, some 25,000 French colonists lived along the St. Lawrence, with “New France” stretching from the St. Lawrence River to the Rockies and from the Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.
The French continued its dominion over Quebec undisturbed for the next 50 years until the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1756. The war was triggered by a battle on the Plains of Abraham, where the British forces commanded by Wolfe routed the French under Montcalm – an event that broke France’s hold over Quebec. After the French lost the war, the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763 ceded all of its Canadian possessions including Quebec to England.
In 1774, however, Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which recognized the right of the French Canadians in Quebec to keep their language, property, religion, and legal system. The American colonists were angered by these concessions given to the French Canadians, and especially over the special advantages in the fur trade they gained. Incensed, the Americans sent an army commanded by General Richard Montgomery to attack Montreal and Quebec City. While Montreal fell, Quebec City held out, and one year afterwards, the British recaptured Montreal.
In 1791, Parliament passed the Constitutional Act, which divided Quebec into the English-speaking Upper Canada, the present-day Ontario, and the French-speaking Lower Canada, the present-day Quebec. This arrangement worked for forty years despite resentment among the people in Lower Canada over being governed by a British lieutenant-governor and his handpicked legislative council and over the swarm of English-speaking immigrants. In 1837, however, the French Canadians rebelled. The insurrection was promptly put down, but the desire among the Quebecois for more control and independence would linger.
In 1867, the newly created provinces of Quebec and Ontario were joined by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to form Canada. Quebec City was named the provincial capital. For the next century, Quebec’s economy remained primarily dependent on trade and agriculture, and Quebec City consolidated its position as the center of government and chief custodian of French Canadian culture and heritage, while Montreal emerged as the province’s financial and industrial port center with its population doubling and tripling into the 20th century.
In the early 20th century, the suspicions and enmities that had long bedeviled Quebec’s relations with the other Canadian provinces resurfaced again with virulence. In 1917, the French Quebecois revolted against conscription when Canada was forced to replace its soldiers in WWI. The French Canadians saw it as a ploy to use them as fodder in Britain’s war with Germany. The rift caused by this event would never really heal. The Union Nationale, led by Maurice Duplessis took control of Quebec in the 1930s and fought over the conscription issue once again in WWII. When the Union National lost its power to the Liberals in 1960, Quebec was not only politically adrift from the rest of Canada but also financially. The province had sacrificed industrial expansion in order to preserve its traditional agrarian economy. Its science and economy had been woefully neglected and its Church-run schools and progressive ideas for rejuvenating the province largely ignored.
In 1960, however, the Liberals led by Jean Lesage gained power and launched the “Quiet Revolution”, an ambitious program of economic and social reform geared to transform Quebec into a modern society with a progressive economy. However, many of the French Canadians lacked training in managerial responsibilities, and Anglos had to be hired. With Anglo bosses, the situation led to further discord. In the late 1960s, the separatist Parti Quebecois rose to prominence under the leadership Rene Levesque. Levesque’s radicalism, tinged with Anglophobia, frightened many Anglo-run businesses out of the province. With many jobs lost, the voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of declaring independence in a 1980 referendum. In 1985, the Parti Quebecois were driven out of office by the Liberals, but only lasted for a decade. The Parti Quebecois returned to power in 1994 and held another referendum on sovereignty, which was rejected by a slim majority. While the Liberals returned to power in 2003, separatist sentiments continue to shroud the province with the Parti Qebecois promising to hold another referendum if and when they return to government.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
 Simpkins, 137
 Carroll, 240
 Id. at 242
 Id. at 241-42
 Id. at 241