Sharing its borders with the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, Québec is the largest province of Canada; one that is known for its French-speaking population, beautiful landscapes, fine dining and architecture reminiscent of Europe. In addition to be being a tourist hub and brimming with culture, Québec’s history and political referendums are also reasons why it may peak others’ interest.
Originally, it was inhabited by the Aboriginal peoples, the 3 main groups being the Algonquian, Inuit and Iroquoian. With the arrival of the French in 1534, colonization attempts began, expanding considerably in the 17th century. However, the French empire came to an end when the British took over Québec City and Montréal after what was called the Seven Years’ War. A significant event in Québec’s history is the passing of Quebec Act of 1774. An important provision of the Act was to recognize the freedom of the Catholic Church in the province in an attempt by the British to keep the French-Canadians on their side in the wake of the American Revolution. The next couple of centuries saw Québec improve its international commerce and focussed on boosting its economy and assimilating French culture, including the recognition of French as an official language.
Another crucial aspect of Quebec’s history includes the introduction of residential schools in Canada, which were established in New France (area in North America colonized by the French) in the 1800’s. Residential schools were first formed under the influence of the government and Christian missionaries in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society and teach them European culture and values. One doesn’t need to go too far back to learn about the devastating implications these schools had on Indigenous communities across Canada. The students were required to study half of the day and work the other half, often involving labour aimed at reducing operation costs paid by the government. Furthermore, the quality of education provided was sub-par with focus being on religious observances, which often involved demeaning of Indigenous culture and spiritual practices. Students were isolated from their families and were prevented from using their first language and communicating with their parents according to some reports. There was also physical and sexual abuse endured by the students at the hands of those in charge. This mistreatment was met with resistance and by 1986, most schools had been shut down. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called upon the Canadian government to bring about reform in policies to repair harm caused by residential schools and work on reconciliation. To learn more, click here.
In the 1940’s, the Quiet Revolution in Québec appeared to take a strong foot-hold. This was the time when Pierre Trudeau and other liberals started to form an opposition against the ruling conservative government. This period also saw a decrease in the influence of the Church as well as the prevailing Anglo-influence in the province. This period also saw an increase in nationalism in the province, wherein Parti Québécois was formed in 1968 and lobbied for Québec’s independence from the rest of the country.
In fact, Parti Québécois conducted 2 referendums, one of which took place in 1980, when the people of Québec voted whether to achieve sovereignty (independence from the country) and form a political and economic relationship between an independent state and Canada. This was voted against by majority of the Québec residents and the results are attributed to Québec being more culturally diverse at this time. Another referendum in 1995 showed similar results, with Quebec choosing to stay in the country. The referendums remain a controversial topic in the province’s history and there is still ongoing debate about the question of sovereignty. It remains to be seen if this question will be explored again with the general elections in Québec slated to happen in October, 2018.
Until then, enjoy this video of a young Justin Trudeau giving his opinion on a college referendum on Québec sovereignty in 1990.