Linguistic History of Canada

British North America

Prelude to the Military Rule of 1760

The British quickly installed their generals James Murray, Ralph Burton, and Thomas Gage in the governments of Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montréal, respectively. During the ongoing military occupation of Canada, English general Jeffrey Amherst, successor to Wolfe, proceeded to organize a provisional administrative system; for as long as the Seven Years War continued in Europe, the fate of North America remained uncertain. Nevertheless, some 2,500 French soldiers and administrators immediately left the colony and returned to France; the following year, about a thousand other people anxious about the situation did the same.

Demolinguistic Situation
Population of North America in 1761

In 1761, the demographic situation was as follows: Canada's white population was 70,000 inhabitants (and more than 200,000 indigenous people), compared to 1.6 million in New England. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, there were 20,000 British subjects, divided about equally between the two colonies. The francophones of Canada in the St. Lawrence Valley formed 99.7% of the population. Obviously, these numbers made it impossible for the British to practice too radical a colonization policy. They had become masters of a French and Catholic country, but as the war was not yet over in Europe, it was possible that Great Britain would remain in Canada only temporarily. The number of anglophones was negligible and, until 1765, never exceeded 600 people, almost all military personnel having returned to Great Britain. In short, aside from a few civil servants, the country was comprised only of francophones and of Amerindians with scant knowledge of French. Subsequently, however, francophones would add almost no French immigrants to their numbers, while anglophones would see their population increase to the point that, around 1806, the two linguistic groups were about equal in number.

Use of Languages

Canada had become an English country and it is in English that the British meant to rule it. However, being pragmatic, they adopted the pre-war status quo in their dealings with the population. As the people could obey orders only if they understood them, English authorities published their edicts in French and allowed Canadians to fill numerous administrative and judicial posts. Moreover, the governors, commanding officers, and upper-level civil servants were generally bilingual and could communicate with Canadians directly in French. Notarized deeds continued to be drawn up in French, as well as the registers of births, marriages, and deaths maintained by parish priests. The military government decided to apply English criminal laws while retaining French civil laws (called the "Coutume de Paris," to which was added the French law of the home country—such as royal edicts, canon law for marriage, Roman law for obligations—as well as the orders of the Intendant and the decisions of the sovereign Counsel). Henceforth, the laws of the "Coutume de Paris," which continued to be applied, would be more conveniently called "laws of Canada." There were nonetheless a few instances where English civil law prevailed over the "Coutume de Paris": for instance, the age of majority went from 25 years (the legal age under the French Regime) to 21 years (to the Canadians' enormous satisfaction). British law was also applied during trials, for contrary to French law, the Crown must prove the guilt of the accused. A new career had opened for educated Canadians: lawyer.

Jeffery Amherst

General Amherst attempted to foster a climate of confidence between francophones and anglophones by outlawing pillaging and injustices, and by granting the same rights to everyone. On December 12, 1762, the British Secretary of State, Lord Charles, Count of Egremont, sent General Amherst the following recommendations on how best to deal with Canadians:

Please inform the above-named Governors [of Montréal, Trois-Rivières and Québec] to give very precise and express orders to prevent any soldier, sailor or another from insulting the French inhabitants who are now subjects of the same Prince, forbidding anyone to offend them by reminding them in a less than generous manner of this inferiority to which the fate of war has reduced them, or by making insulting remarks about their language, their clothing, their fashions, their customs and their country, or less than charitable and Christian reflections on the errors of the blind religion that they have had the misfortune to follow.

However, the governor modified part of the last sentence. He changed on the errors of the blind religion that they have the misfortune to follow to the religion they profess, so that the text, which was to be read in French and posted at church doors, might be better received. In any case, it was not possible to do otherwise; moreover, it was an effective way of winning over the population.

As far as retail businesses were concerned, they remained in the hands of Canadian tradesmen, who nonetheless had to obtain a permit from the governor and henceforth use English units of measure. However, the import business fell immediately into the hands of English merchants, in particular Protestants and Jews, who were already numerous in Montréal, hence their nickname, Montrealers. This mercantilistic practice was the outgrowth of British laws adopted a century earlier, such as the Navigation Act of 1660 (amended in 1662, 1663, 1670, and 1673). In keeping with the Navigation Act, all trade was required to pass by the home country on ships owned by the English (or Irish, Welsh, or Scots), commandeered by English captains and manned by a crew three-quarters English. The mercantilism and Navigation Acts were designed to protect the interests of the mother country. This system not only gave the Crown a monopoly on raw materials from the colonies, but also prevented them from competing with London. The French merchants either went bankrupt or they returned to France.

The Name "Province of Québec"

Canada quickly came to go by the name Province of Quebec. At the time, the word "province," in Great Britain as well as France, referred to a colony or even a "plantation" (in New England). Administration of the new colony was thus carried out in French. However, knowledge of the English language would henceforth be very useful in ensuring social and economic promotion; the Canadian elite of Quebec and Montreal slowly began to learn the new language. About this short period there is therefore little to say, as a kind of status quo reigned.

From this moment in Canadian history, the French term Canadians would designate the descendents of French colonists who settled in Canada—in any case, they had long ago ceased to be French—and who continued to speak the French language, as opposed to the new anglophone occupying forces and immigrants generally designated by Canadians as the English, and on more rare occasion the British. As for the latter, they preferred to speak of themselves as subjects (the Anglophones) or British subjects of His Majesty, as opposed to new subjects (the Francophones); sometimes, the terms British or Britons were used. From that time, the people of Canada and Acadia were no longer perceived as "French," but as "Canadians" or "Acadians."

Treaty of Paris (1763) and North America
Saint Pierre et Miquelon
©Jacques Leclerc 2018

With the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which officially put an end to the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) between France and Great Britain, New France (with the exception of Louisiana) officially became a British possession. The signatories of the Treaty were the Duke of Praslin for France and the Duke of Bedford for Great Britain. From its immense empire in North America, France now possessed only the tiny islands of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon south of Newfoundland. In the meantime, Louisiana had become a Spanish possession; in fact, on November 3, 1762, Spain had signed the Acte d'acceptation de la Louisiane par le roi d'Espagne at Fontainebleau.

Traité de Paris 1763

In the Antilles, France lost Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Tobago, as well as Guyana, but took over St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Maria-Galante, Desirade and Martinique. In India, France kept only five trading posts: Chandarnagar, Yanaon, Pondicherry, Karikal and Mahe, all of which it had been barred from fortifying. Great Britain got Minorca Island back and Spain recouped Cuba to compensate for losing Florida to Great Britain along with Canada. Finally, Great Britain obtained Senegal in Africa.

Thus the Seven Years' War was especially devastating for France: its military prestige was compromised in Europe, its navy much weakened, and its finances ruined. France retained mere scraps of its colonial empire in the making, most of it passing entirely into the hands of Great Britain. Although France was losing its first great colonial empire, few people at the time cared. Yet, for some historians, the loss of New France was, in the annals of France, "the greatest French defeat of all times." By comparison, the defeats of Napoleon appear as negligible.


Map of British North America
Carte de l’Amérique du Nord britannique

According to the provisions of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, Great Britain would henceforth control an immense territory covering the Rupert's Land, Hudson's Bay, Canada (present-day Québec, all the Great Lakes, and the Ohio Valley), the island of Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, Acadia (which would become Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), St. John's Island (Prince Edward Island), all of New England (the thirteen colonies) and Florida, taken from the Spanish.

Obviously, the Treaty of Paris served to confirm that Great Britain had become the greatest empire in the world and that henceforth North America would be English. The continent's new administrative framework was as follows:

The Province of Québec had been declared a colony (or "province") and its borders encompassed the Gaspé Peninsula (wrested from Acadia) and the St. Lawrence River Valley from Anticosti Island to the Ottawa River.

Nova Scotia included the region north of the Bay of Fundy (today's New Brunswick), St. John's Island, and Royal Island (today's Cape Breton).

The colony of Newfoundland included Labrador, the island of Newfoundland, and the Magdalen Islands, brought together so as to control the entire fisheries trade.

Rupert's Land remainded under the exclusive control of the Hudson's Bay Company as a "private colony".

There remained a huge triangle (the Great Lakes, the Appalachians, and Mississippi) designated as "Indian Territory", where it was forbidden to send colonists.

Despite everything, the French had managed to convince the British to let them keep their fishing rights off the Newfoundland coast (the "French Shore"). In agreeing to surrender the islands of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon to the French, Great Britain was allowing the little archipelago to serve as a refuge for the French fishing fleet on the Grand Banks. During its history, the small archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon was taken and retaken nine times alternately by the English and the French, and it was totally devastated with all its all inhabitants deported four times. It was not until 1816 that Great Britain finally ceded the archipelago to France.

Linguistic Situation

Interestingly enough, the word Canada disappeared from official legal documents, as if Great Britain wished to sever all ties with the country's past. Beginning with the Treaty of Paris, and until 1791, Canada, henceforth comprising only the St. Lawrence River Valley, would officially be called the Province of Québec, the word "province" designating a "colony." Furthermore, in official usage, British authorities now spoke of "new subjects"—instead of the term Canadians—as opposed to His Majesty's "old subjects." In the decades to follow, the term Canadian would come to refer exclusively to French descendents, while other descendents were designated as "the English."

The Treaty of Paris was composed in French, which was then the language of international diplomacy. It was therefore an official document written in French that turned Canada into a British colony. On the subject of language, a separate article (Article 2) has this to say:

Section 2

It has been agreed and determined, that the French language made use of in all the copies of the present treaty, shall not become an example which may be allegded, or made a precedent of, or prejudice, in any manner, any of the contracting powers; and that they shall conform themselves, for the future, to what has been observed, and ought to be observed, with regard to, and on the part of powers, who are used, and have a right, to give and to receive copies of like treaties in another language than French; the present treaty having still the same force and effect, as if the aforesaid custom had been therein observed.

As was the custom of the day, the Treaty declared that only the legal document was in French. It granted no linguistic rights to the inhabitants of the conquered colonies, but this was not a problem for anyone at the time. French was the preferred means of communication among European nations and was spoken by the entire English elite. Not only did General Jeffery Amherst speak French, but like everyone of their social class, so did James Murray, Thomas Gage, Ralph Burton, Frederik Haldimand (a Swiss francophone), etc. who would run the colony.

Freedom of Religion

Nobody worried about what language the Canadians would speak, for the point of contention was not language but religion.

George III

Under the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain guaranteed that all Canadians who decided to remain in the country could keep their properties and practice their Catholic faith "insofar as the laws of Great Britain permit," although in matters of religion the laws of Great Britain did not allow very much during this era.

Nevertheless, the difference between English and French society was not dramatic, and thus moving from one to the other was not overly traumatizing for Canadian society as a whole. This was because traditional Canadian society was built upon a Catholic monarchy, with the king bearing the title His Very Christian Majesty, with all its attendant duties, and acting as the head of a Gallican Church. Great Britain was also a Christian monarchy, the king holding the title Defender of the Faith and performing religious duties. It should also be noted that in the ceremonial expressions found in treaties, the English king referred to himself as "King of Great Britain and France," no doubt as a reminder of the era when the English Crown owned half of France. In both countries, the Church was subject to the state and the king named the bishops. Canadian society therefore remained in a system both monarchical and Christian, which kept it in a familiar "cultural habitat" of sorts.

The only apparent difficulty for the English was indeed religion. In this era, a good "subject" of His Majesty owed it to himself, above all else, to be an Anglican. Yet the war had left Great Britain not only with an enormous national debt, but with a complicated colonial empire to manage, in the sense that the colony had to integrate Roman Catholic francophones into a protestant anglophone population.

Treaty of Paris: A French Diplomatic Success?

It should be emphasized that for many of the French, the loss of New France and of Canada was not a national tragedy. For some, trade with the Antilles seemed preferable. For Étienne-François de Choiseul (1719-1785), then secretary of State for War and the Navy, the Treaty of Paris of 1763 even constituted a "diplomatic success." It was all the easier to console himself because, for him, the transfer of Canada was a genuine "time bomb" for the British Empire. At the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Choiseul, speaking about the English, declared to his entourage, "We've got them!" Playing the prophet, he exclaimed, "The only revolution that will occur will be the American one, but in all likelihood we will not see it, a revolution that will once again reduce England to a weakened state so that Europe will no longer need fear her." For Choiseul, it was the fear of the Franco-Canadian military strength that kept the Thirteen American Colonies in the British fold. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 could blow apart the English colonial empire. As for James Murray, one of the key English players in the Conquest, in June 1760 he replied to a French officer (Malartic) who asked him if the English were going to keep Canada:

If we are wise, we will not keep it. New England must have a distraction and, by not keeping this country, we will give it one that will keep it busy.

Traité de Paris 1763

But Benjamin Franklin's opposite advice prevailed. In 1760, he convinced the British ministers that the Thirteen Colonies would never unite against "their own nation," and that the mother country would have to behave in a very hostile manner—for example, returning Canada to France—ever to contemplate such an improbable scenario. Nonetheless, the American Revolution broke out in 1775, only fifteen years later.

Royal Proclamation of 1763 and Language Use

In order to provide an administrative framework for the newly acquired territories in North America, the Parliament of Westminster adopted George III's Royal Proclamation on October 7, 1763. Like all English laws, the royal proclamation was passed and promulgated in English. The French version had no legal value; it was merely a text translated for Francophones.

The Royal Proclamation demarcated the boundaries of the new colony, the "Province of Quebec":

Section 1

The Government of Quebec bounded on the Labrador Coast by the River St. John, and from thence by a Line drawn from the Head of that River through the Lake St. John, to the South end of the Lake Nipissim; from thence the said Line, crossing the River St. Lawrence, and the Lake Champlain, in 45 Degrees of North Latitude, passes along the High Lands which divide the Rivers that empty themselves into the said River St. Lawrence by the West End of the Island of Anticosti, terminates at the aforesaid River of St. John.

The borders of French Canada formerly extended from Acadia all the way to the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley. With the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the entire Great Lakes region was parcelled off and established as "Indian Territory." Although the British had "abandoned" the greater part of the conquered territory to the indigenous peoples, in actual fact it was because they could not ensure its defence. Better to temporarily leave territories they could not control to the indigenous peoples.

In any case, the colonial authorities were well aware that the situation was only temporary and that with the eventual immigration of English colonists, they could always dislodge allies who had become a nuisance. They also had to limit the westward expansion of the Thirteen American Colonies in order to encourage surplus populations to settle to the north in Quebec and Nova Scotia (which at that time included New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island).

The "Province" of Québec

The first English governor of the new "Province of Québec" was James Murray and, like everyone in that position, he spoke French well. Murray was to apply the British government's policy: turn Canada into a new colony by promoting English immigration and the assimilation of Francophones, by establishing the official state religion—Anglicanism—and by introducing new political and administrative structures in keeping with British tradition. At the time, such a policy was considered quite normal, and the French, Spanish, and Portuguese were not loath to use it in their various colonies, albeit with some difficulty at times. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 made provisions for the governor to convene a general assembly of the people's representatives when circumstances allowed (which was never done).

British Linguistic Policy

James Murray

As early as 1764, James Murray established the first judicial institutions and decreed that henceforth "all civil and criminal cases" would be judged "in accordance with the laws of England and with the edicts of this Province." In addition, every employee of the state had to swear the Test Oath. In order to hold public office within the English system, one first had to swear an oath in order to prove that one was a practising Anglican. The Test Oath included four oaths: allegiance to the British Crown; repudiation of (Catholic) James II, pretender to the throne of England; rejection of the authority of the Pope; and renunciation of the dogma of transubstantiation (the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) in the celebration of mass. Although a Catholic might easily take the first two oaths, it was not the same for the other two, unless one could secure dispensations to permit the running of the country.

These measures were to automatically exclude almost all French Canadians (with the exception of a few protestant Huguenots who had stayed in the country) from public careers such as civil servants, clerks, lawyers, apothecaries, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, etc. According to the Attorney-General of the Province of Québec, Francis Maseres (descendant of a French Huguenot), the Canadians had to be assimilated:

It is a question of maintaining peace and harmony and of merging, so to speak, into a single one, two races which at the moment practise two different religions, speak languages which are reciprocally foreign, and are led by their instincts to utter different laws. The mass of inhabitants is comprised of Frenchmen originally from old France or of Canadians born in the colony, speaking the French language only, and making up a population estimated at ninety thousand souls or, as the French would have it from memory, at ten thousand heads of household. The remainder of the inhabitants is composed of natives of Great Britain or Ireland or of British possessions in North America, which at the moment reach the number of 600 souls. Nevertheless, if the province is managed in a manner pleasing to the inhabitants, this number will increase daily with the arrival of new colonists, who will come with the intention of taking up business or agriculture, so that in time it might become equal, even superior, to that of the French population.

The problem was that the much-desired English immigration did not occur (it happened only after 1783) because the new colonists made their way instead to Nova Scotia (formerly Acadia), while the Francophone population was growing quickly as a result of a very high birth rate. From the beginning, the British authorities expected soldiers to settle in the "Province of Québec" in large numbers and eventually assimilate the French Canadian population. But that did not happen! Moreover, history shows that, on the contrary, an all-male occupation army generally brings about the disappearance of the conqueror's language because language is transmitted by the mother (hence "mother tongue"), and mothers speak the language of the conquered. This is how the Normans (formerly Vikings) lost their language when they invaded France. In the case of Canada, almost all members of the military returned home, with the exception of troops stationed in the country, although a few Canadian women did, in fact, marry English soldiers.

Inevitable Pragmatism

As to be expected, it proved impossible for James Murray to apply the letter of English civil law in the "Province of Québec." Everything went wrong! Even the fur trade—the most thriving sector of the economy—was collapsing because it was no longer possible to obtain enough pelts from supplies in the Great Lakes and from the North. The institution of English civil laws threatened the French language and undermined French Canadian society. The Test Oath had excluded Francophones from the public service and subjugated them to the authority of a small Protestant and English-speaking minority (Montrealers). The requirement to renounce the authority of the Pope made it impossible to name a successor to the Bishop of Québec (who had died in 1760), dooming the Catholic clergy to extinction since it could not ordain new priests.

The situation in the courts soon became ludicrous. The population was governed by laws of which it understood not a word and, at trial, judges and juries were far too few in number to make any sense of the testimony of French-speaking parties. As a result, Canadians systematically refused to have anything to do with the courts or the civil service, thus leaving the door wide open for Anglophones to take the place of Francophone in the fields of communication, trade, economics, industry, and administration.

Contrary to the expectations of the authorities, assimilating Francophones proved impossible, the 500 or so English families being unable to assimilate the vast majority of the population. In addition, the Francophone trappers ("coureurs de bois") scattered throughout the Great Lakes region remained beyond the reach of the authorities, who considered them a "pack of vagabonds without faith or law." What's more, the governor noticed that the New England colonists were showing their displeasure more and more aggressively and demanding radical change. It was obvious that The English colonists of the Thirteen Colonies were very disappointed at not being able to help themselves to the newly acquired territories, especially since they had hoped to expand westward. In fact, this is precisely what the British authorities did not want. Rather, they wanted surplus populations to settle to the north—in Québec and Nova Scotia—thus enabling the assimilation of His Majesty's "new subjects" (Francophones). To agree for New England colonists to pursue their expansion west would be to concede that Canada would remain French indefinitely.

To make the Canadians a minority in their country, the British authorities had to be patient; Governor James Murray understood this and showed tolerance. Ignoring London's initial orders, he allowed the Catholic hierarchy to fulfill its priestly duties, exempted from the Test Oath those Canadians he needed for public office, and authorized defendants to plead their case in French by means of pre-Conquest civil laws. Murray's successor, Governor Guy Carleton, continued to practice an equally conciliatory policy with respect to Francophones and to seek their support, despite the indignation of the English population, comprised essentially of London merchants newly arrived in the "province."

Meanwhile, English merchants were beginning to run the colony's economy. In 1765, a petition addressed to the king by a group of such merchants demanded: "the establishment of a House of Representatives in this Province as in all the other colonies" under British dominion. According to the petitioners, only "His Majesty's old subjects"—Britons established in Canada—would be eligible. After all, the colony of Nova Scotia had had its own assembly since 1758! However, Canadians, designated "His Majesty's new subjects," took little interest in these demands, which would have barred them from Parliament. In any case, British authorities refused the merchants' demands. Instead, British companies set up shop in the province and behaved like new masters. The French merchants had left the country or been driven into bankruptcy by the requirement under the laws of Great Britain that trade be carried out within British companies. Thus after 1763, English would progressively become the lingua franca of "universal civilization" in Montréal and Québec City. English did not replace French in the daily life of French-speaking Canadians, but the French language of Canada slowly began to absorb new words introduced by His Majesty's "old subjects" (the British).

Fréderik Haldimand

The English Conquest also brought Canadians the printing press and newspapers, which had been outlawed under the old French regime, but now contributed to the spread of the written French language. American printers Brown and Gilmore arrived in Québec City in 1764 and published the first newspaper, the Gazette de Québec / The Québec Gazette, a four-page bilingual newspaper supported by 143 subscribers. More than ten years later in June 1778 in Montréal, Frenchman Fleury Mesplet would publish the forerunner to today's The Gazette: La Gazette littéraire pour la ville et district de Montréal. Furthermore, Governor Frederik Haldimand (1778–1784), a Swiss Francophone (originally from the Vaud canton), founded the first public library in the country, which he set up in the former Episcopal Palace in Québec City, leased by the government; the library was bilingual.

Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia

By virtue of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Nova Scotia was an autonomous colony, but also included St. John's Island (later renamed Prince Edward Island) and Cape Breton Island, as well as today's New Brunswick:

Section 4

We have also, with the advice of our Privy Council thought fit to annex the Islands of St. John's and Cape Breton, or Isle Royale, with the lesser Islands adjacent thereto, to our Government of Nova Scotia.

Overwhelmingly English-speaking since the departure of the Acadians, the colony had no trouble making English its only language. After 1760, the New England colonists had begun to make their way to Nova Scotia. They laid claim to the well-irrigated, fertile lands that once belonged to the Acadians, in particular, those around Baie Française, which had come to be known as the Bay of Fundy. Numbering around 9,000 (but probably 12,000), these immigrants radically changed the ethnic makeup of the Nova Scotian colony. For the first time since 1713, the colony was comprised of a British and Scottish majority that spoke English and practiced the Protestant religion (Anglicanism). Of course, the colony of Nova Scotia did not have the same linguistic problems as the new "Province of Québec" with its strong French-speaking majority. If one could simply ignore the Acadians, perhaps it would be possible to do the same with French-speaking Canadians.

In 1764, the deported Acadians received the authorization to return to Nova Scotia on condition that they swear allegiance to Great Britain. Some Acadians returned from New England, notably from Georgia and South Carolina; others came from the province of Québec. At first, they congregated around the towns of Yarmouth and Digby and continued to speak French. But by 1771, there were only 2,000 Acadians in Nova Scotia, less than one-fifth of the original population. A majority prior to 1755, they were now irremediably a minority. At the time, there was no question of linguistic rights. English was the only official language, although in private homes people continued to speak their mother tongues—English among the British, Scottish among the Scots, and French among the Acadians.

On St. John's Island immediately following the Conquest, 67 British landowners divided their territory into 67 municipalities of 20,000 acres each. They would always remain absentee landlords, only taking an interest in their land just long enough to collect rent money. As the colonists living on these properties were tenants only, there was little incentive to improve the land. In 1767, the city of Charlottetown was founded, named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III; Charlottetown would become the capital of the province of Prince Edward Island in 1769.

The Other Territories

If the Royal Proclamation of 1763 made no mention of cold and inhospitable Newfoundland, it was because the British government did nothing to promote either the populating or the colonization of the island. It considered it "a large English ship moored near the Grand Banks," intended only to facilitate fishing while at the same time protect the lucrative market controlled by British merchants. Overpopulation of the island might affect the profitability of this immense commercial enterprise. Nonetheless, in the years after 1760, between 8,000 and 9,000 people spent the winter in Newfoundland, and the population doubled during the summer. During the 18th century, the population remained concentrated between Bonavista and the Avalon Peninsula, that is to say where fishing was most plentiful. Although the English language of London became the medium of communication, the fishermen spoke the English of working-class southwest England, a far cry from London English.

Rupert's Land remained under the exclusive control of the Hudson's Bay Company, which had no settlement policy. The Royal Proclamation stipulated that the lands granted to the Indians should not include the "Territory granted to the Hudson's Bay Company." The Hudson's Bay Company used English to communicate with the indigenous peoples or had recourse to French-speaking interpreters from the "pays d'en haut" (upper country).

Many of the provisions of the Royal Proclamation also affected indigenous peoples. It excluded not only the lands granted to the Hudson's Bay Company, but also the colonized regions of Québec, Newfoundland, Florida, and the 13 New England colonies. The Proclamation formally prohibited any potential buyer, other than the Crown, from purchasing lands belonging to indigenous peoples: "And We do hereby strictly forbid, on Pain of our Displeasure, all our loving Subjects from making any Purchases or Settlements whatever, or taking possession of any of the lands above reserved, without our especial leave and Licence for that Purpose first obtained." The peoples of the First Nations continued to use their ancestral languages in their respective communities.

Setbacks of the Conquest

Every victory comes with a cost, and the British Conquest of Canada was no exception. The setbacks of the Conquest were not linguistic, but rather economic and administrative; they would nonetheless have decisive consequences for the future of Canada.

Great Britain was forced to borrow enormous sums of money to pay for its costly military operations in North America. Since then, the national debt had doubled and was now 147 million pounds sterling, while taxes had risen by 20%. Certain English ministers were dumbfounded to learn that interest on the debt alone was costing the public treasury five million pounds a year, a huge amount for the time. The king and the government needed to find ways to collect higher revenues in America. Short of money, the British government decided unilaterally to have the Thirteen Colonies pay a part of its expenses through direct taxes on such goods as tea, wine, sugar, molasses, newspapers, etc. It seemed perfectly normal for the British government to make the colonies pay a portion of the expenses incurred on their behalf. However, the British colonies refused to lend a hand and reimburse the mother country's debts; they claimed that London had waged war out of personal interest, and that the conflict had nothing to do with them.

Carte de l’Amérique du Nord britannique

©Jacques Leclerc 2018

At the time, Great Britain had 17 colonies and one private territory (the "Indian Territory"): the Thirteen Colonies of New England, Newfoundland (and Labrador), Nova Scotia, the Province of Québec, and Florida. Yet of all these colonies, only those of New England, thanks to its larger population, could really contribute to repaying the British debt.

At the same time, the Thirteen Colonies saw little point in anteing up for this costly British military defence system, which they believed they no longer needed since the fall of New France. The New England colonists had been waiting for a British victory to finally pursue their westward expansion. But they had not reckoned with the policy of the new king, George III (whose reign had just begun in 1760). He had decided to closely administer the colonies of North America and call them to order. No sooner was he on the throne than George III made known his intention to strengthen royal prerogatives.

In the first place, rather than deal with the expansionist aspirations of its colonies, Great Britain set aside the "Indian Territory" for indigenous peoples and even prohibited colonists from settling there, entry to the territory being guarded by British garrisons. One can read in the Royal Proclamation of 1763,

And We do hereby strictly forbid, on Pain of our Displeasure, all our loving Subjects from making any Purchases or Settlements whatever, or taking Possession of any of the Lands above reserved, without our especial leave and Licence for that Purpose first obtained.

And We do further strictly enjoin and require all Persons whatever who have either wilfully or inadvertently seated themselves upon any Lands within the Countries above described or upon any other Lands which, not having been having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are still reserved to the said Indians as aforesaid, forthwith to remove themselves from such Settlements.

Thus, although Great Britain had increased its possessions on the North American continent, it had not altered the borders to the advantage of English colonists. Instead, it was openly showing opposition to its colonists' expansionist dreams. This was the first great disappointment after the Seven Years War.

The second disappointment concerned the Quartering Act of March 24, 1765, which ordered the colonial authorities to ensure housing for soldiers of the British Crown. The maintenance of the English army during peace time, around 10,000 men, on colonial territories provoked numerous recriminations, especially since the Quartering Act allowed for the requisition of private homes to house soldiers. The London Parliament also adopted the Money Act, the Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, etc., all designed to help eliminate the enormous debt accumulated during the Seven Years War. For example, the revenue from the Stamp Act (which stated that a revenue stamp must figure on a multitude of documents such as permits, contracts, insurance policies, newspapers, playing cards, etc.) was to finance a third of the cost of the army of 10,000 British soldiers that Prime Minister William Wyndham Grenville wanted to maintain in North America. Moreover, in order to demonstrate its firm intention to collect these taxes, the British government sent its own customs officers, protected by its army, with special powers such as the authorization to penetrate any locality (private or public) to verify goods and seize all those that would be deemed illegal. To do so, the customs officers were armed with permanent search warrants (Writs of Assistance). All of these taxes were added to the Currency Act of September 1, 1763, which formally prohibited the printing of paper money in the colonies and deprived them of liquid assets.

If these measures aroused deep resentment in Canada, they caused a profound anger among the colonies of New England. Twelve of the thirteen colonies (missing was Georgia) met at the Stamp Act Congress, while Benjamin Franklin defended the cause of the colonists in London. In the eyes of the New England colonists, these acts violated the right of British subjects not to be taxed without the consent of their representatives by virtue of the principle of No taxation without representation, because the colonies were not represented in British Parliament. These acts thus diminished the independence of their colonial assemblies and were the first stage of a "plot" aimed at depriving them of their freedoms. As if by chance, at the same time, the Gazette of Québec, the only newspaper in the province published in a bilingual edition, suddenly ceased publication. The Stamp Act provoked such discontent that the following year the British Parliament had to repeal the law (on May 1, 1766). In reality, Parliament had not revoked the Stamp Act because it agreed with the colonists, but because it was in no position to have it enforced by His Majesty's army.

In repealing the Stamp Act, the British government thought it wise to replace it with the Declaratory Act of March 18, 1766. With this act, Parliament gave itself complete power to legislate with regard to British possessions beyond the Atlantic and "to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever." In fact, the British Parliament took offense, and in no way accepted the colonialist argument that their assemblies were legitimate and representative. In May of 1766, the Gazette of Québec resumed publication.

In 1767, Great Britain imposed new taxes (glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea) with the Townshend Acts (named for the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Minister of Finance, Charles Townshend), which only served to fuel the fire. As most of the new taxes were used almost exclusively to pay the tax collectors' salaries and to ensure their security, rather than pay down the debt, the New England colonists decided to boycott goods exported by Great Britain and pay no more taxes until they had expressed their opinions on the question of the absence of colonial representation in the London Parliament. In 1770, London abolished taxes on all goods, with the exception of tea, but British soldiers were sent to Boston to protect the tax collectors. These measures were well received in America and calm was restored, which led one to believe that the point of view of the "Patriots" had triumphed. However, the Tea Act of 1773 revived the dispute in all of New England and led to the final confrontation; by way of protest, the colonists stopped drinking tea. If the question of taxation had taught them anything, the events that were to follow led the colonists of New England to band together against the mother country, and especially against the King of England, George III, perceived at the time as a tyrant.

Quebec Act of 1774 and Linguistic Duality
Guy Carleton

In the face of ever-worsening difficulties within the English colonies of New England, the British government needed to take measures to prevent the spread of autonomist tendencies in its Northern colonies. But the governor of the "Province of Québec," Guy Carleton, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, seemed to have no great confidence in Canadians, at least judging from these remarks: "I like to believe that, if we could count on the population, we could hold the place. But we have so many enemies among this foolish people deceived by traitors."

Despite his lukewarm enthusiasm, Governor Carleton recommended to London that it take steps to ensure the loyalty of Canadians in the event of a clash with the Thirteen Colonies. Thus political pragmatism prevailed, and Governor Carleton judged it preferable to back Canadians rather than English merchants. In certain respects, he even became sympathetic to the Canadians' cause. He eventually acquiesced to judicial affairs implicating Canadians being judged under French law and Catholics being allowed to hold official positions.

British Political Realism

On May 20, 1774, in the interest of political realism, the British government had the Parliament of Westminster adopt the Québec Act, a constitutional law designed to modify the status of the "Province of Québec." The law's full title was An Act for making more effectual Provision for the Government of the Province of Québec in North America. This law attested eloquently to the concessions made by London in its administration of the colony, in order to win the support of Canadians in the face of New England's increasing restlessness.

Section IV of the Québec Act decreed the revocation of both the Royal Proclamation of 1763 on French law and all the powers exercised by governors from 1760 to 1774. It marked the reinstatement of the "Coutume de Paris," that is, of French civil law. Faced with the difficulties of running the "Province of Québec" according to the laws and language of Britain, the British authorities finally relented, or a some might say, retreated. The Québec Act certainly represents one of the most decisive laws in Canadian history.

British Political Realism
©Jacques Leclerc 2018

The new Constitution governing the "Province of Québec" significantly enlarged the colony's territory with the addition of the Amerindian zone created in 1763, a region in the north of the province stretching from Labrador to the Great Lakes area. Extending Québec's borders was a way for British authorities to assert control of the area from Labrador all the way to the Ohio Valley, including the hydrographic system of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Valley. In short, Great Britain was restored to the "Province of Québec" the old borders of New France, minus Louisiana.

The constitutional act also reorganized the judicial system. French civil law was restored throughout the new territory, but in criminal matters, English law continued to apply. The Catholic religion was now officially recognized, allowing Canadians to accede to the magistrature and to other civil service positions. The Québec Act also abolished the famous "serment du test" (Test Oath) and authorized the Catholic clergy to collect the tithe. Moreover, the law recognized as legal the "régime seigneurial" (seigniorial regime) in use in the colony since the French regime. Nonetheless, London had not granted an elected assembly, fearing its control by the Francophone majority.

Since French as yet posed no problem, the Québec Act, following the custom of the time, remained silent on the subject of language. French was still the language of international communications and the Court of London sometimes utilized it. Moreover, high-ranking civil servants in the province were bilingual, as were all the English belonging to the upper classes of society. For many decades, all governors general were bilingual.

In other words, one might say that the Québec Act implicitly assured an almost official use of French, especially in restoring French civil laws (which were of course written in French). It was not deemed necessary to devote a specific clause to language in the constitutional document. In fact, it was primarily by means of this very ambiguous legal text that the defenders of the French language would later defend their acquired rights in Canada:

Section 8

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all his Majesty's Canadian Subjects within the Province of Québec (the religious orders and Communities only excepted) may also hold and enjoy their Property and Possessions, together with all Customs and Usages relative thereto, and all other their Civil Rights in as large, ample, and beneficial Manner as if the said Proclamation, Commissions, Ordinances, and other Acts and Instruments had not been made, and as may consist with their Allegiance to his Majesty, and Subjection to the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain; and that in all Matters of Controversy, relative to Property and Civil Rights, Resort shall be had to the Laws of Canada, as the Rule for the Decision of the same; and all Causes that shall hereafter be instituted in any of the Courts of Justice, to be appointed within and for the said Province by his Majesty, his Heirs and Successors shall, with respect to such Property and Rights, be determined agreeably to the said Laws and Customs of Canada, until they shall be varied or altered by any Ordinances that shall, from Time to Time, be passed in the said Province by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Commander in Chief, for the Time being, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Legislative Council of the same, to be appointed in Manner herein-after mentioned.

In Canada, the constitutional law was well received by Canadians generally, especially by the seigniorial aristocracy, which saw its rights recognized, and by the Catholic clergy whose status was elevated. But it incurred the indignation of English merchants to whom London refused representation in the province while reinstating French civil law. On May 1, 1775, a bust of George III was unveiled to mark the coming into force of the new Constitution (the Québec Act). But to the astonishment of the crowd gathered for the event, it bore the inscription "Pope of Canada, Sot of England." It seems that some Anglo-Protestant merchants, angry with the sovereign, were to blame for this act of vandalism.

In any case, the anger of Montréal's English appeared a mere "irritation" compared to that of the New England colonists, whose discontent would culminate in armed rebellion. On May 8, the governor of Québec issued a proclamation promising "200 piastres" (500 guineas) to anyone denouncing the culprits, these "malicious and ill-intentioned people [...] having impudently disfigured the Bust of His Majesty, in the City of Montréal, in this Province." The culprits were never found, despite the promise of a monetary reward by authorities. The disappearance of this symbol of the monarchy was attributed to American troops that took Montréal in 1775.

Reaction of the New England Colonists
George III

In the English colonies of New England, already in a state of exasperation for nearly ten years, the Québec Act provoked indignation and revolt. For the colonists, the Québec Act was the straw that broke the camel's back. This law of the British Parliament was part of the four so-called "Intolerable Acts" adopted more or less at the same time:

1.The Boston Port Act of June 1, 1774, which sealed off the port of Boston until such time as the cost of the tea destroyed by the colonists was reimbursed, threatening the very existence of the city of Boston

2.The Administration of Justice Act of May 20, 1774, which stated that British civil servants could not be tried in provincial (colonial) courts for crimes committed and that they must be extradited to Great Britain to be tried there

3.The Massachusetts Government Act of May 20, 1774, which allowed the Crown to name councillors in Massachusetts, whereas they had been previously chosen by inhabitants of the colony. Moreover, municipal meetings were subject to preapproval by the governor, upon whom also depended the appointment or dismissal of judges and sheriffs

4.The Québec Act of May 20, 1774, which modified the Canadian borders in favour of Canadians, Francophone and Roman Catholics, and did so at the expense of the Thirteen Colonies.

The English colonists could not accept that London would grant territorial rights to their former enemies of New France against whom they had fought some 15 years earlier, not to mention would acknowledge the presence of "Canadian papists on British soil." The merchants of New York and Albany were incensed to see their westward expansion blocked and to forfeit the Great Lakes fur trade to Montréal, just as prior to the Conquest of 1760. The English colonists could not tolerate that the Québec Act appeared not only to set aside any plans to assimilate the French Canadians but to legally assert the existence of a French civilization in America. They immediately denounced the "Anglo-Canadian collusion." A Boston lawyer wrote at the time: "Well now! We Americans, have we spent our blood and wealth in the service of Great Britain in the conquest of Canada so that the British and the Canadians might now subjugate us?"

This is why the Québec Act, like the other so-called intolerable acts, seemed completely unacceptable to the colonists of the Thirteen Colonies, who perceived it as a maneuver aimed expressly against them. This was not entirely false when one considers how the British authorities had decided to favour Canadians at the expense of the New England colonists. Still, the British had not abandoned their plan to assimilate the Canadians; they were merely adopting temporarily to circumstances. As British strategists came to realize that the Anglo-Saxon world was ineluctably moving toward war, they began to see Canadians as potential allies, the colony having at its disposal but a few hundred anglophone merchants and civil servants, the vast majority being French-speaking and Roman Catholic. Up until now, the British had failed in their attempts to bring immigrants into the "Province of Québec." And tellingly, the main provisions of the Québec Act were in part the work of Guy Carleton, Governor of the Province of Québec from 1766 to 1778 and from 1786 to 1796 (returning as Lord Dorchester).

In reality, having, at last, rid themselves of the French rival "who left one not a moment's rest" (in the words of Benjamin Franklin), the New England colonists refused to let the mother country prevent them from protecting their own commercial interests and fully enjoying freedoms they believed they had finally acquired. In other words, the New France of old, now British, still blocked the westward expansion of the Thirteen Colonies, and even served as a military base to a mother country that had become the enemy. Clearly, one had to put an end to this menace.

The Thirteen Colonies Break Away
Thirteen Colonies

In the conflict opposing the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain, George III had decided to raise taxes despite much sensible advice from his ministers. For many historians, the king's inflexible policies were largely responsible for the War of Independence waged by the Americans. Moreover, the catastrophic outcome put an end to the king's political power and handed it to all-powerful prime ministers.

Then in October 1774, representatives of the Thirteen Colonies met in congress in Philadelphia and addressed an official letter to the Canadians of the province of Québec requesting them to unite with the Americans; they wished to "enlighten their ignorance and to teach them the benefits of liberty" and denounced the Québec Act as "a snare and a treachery." Written in French (actually translated by Fleury Mesplet, then French-speaking printer for the American Congress) in order to invite them to form the 14th state of the future United States, the letter was addressed to "Our Canadian friends and fellow citizens":

Take the opportunity that Providence herself offers to you, your conquest has won you freedom as long as you behave as you should [...]. You are but a very small number compared to those who invite you with open arms to join them; a moment's thought must convince you that it suits both your interest and your happiness to obtain for yourselves the continual friendship of the people of Northern America, rather than to make them your implacable enemies. [...] Your province is the only missing link to the strong and shining chain of the union. Your country is naturally joined to theirs; join yourselves in your political interests as well; their own well-being will never allow them to abandon or betray you.

Certain Anglophone merchants from Montréal who could not swallow the Québec Act liked the idea, but the Canadians, distrusting this "war among the English," had no wish to take part.

Then, in the Thirteen Colonies to the south, a second Congress was held in May of 1775. The situation grew acrimonious and a state of war was declared, while George Washington was entrusted with the command of the rebel army. The ensuing rupture between Canada and the Thirteen Colonies led to the formation of two Anglophone nations in North America: the United States of America and British Canada. Thus the Québec Act of 1774 was very short-lived, on account of the War of American Independence that broke out the following year. More precisely, the Québec Act really only had force of law for a single year!

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