Quebec – An Overview
The Canadian Province of Québec borders the Provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick, Labrador and the United States. With an area of about 154,000 sq. km, it is the largest Canadian Province.
Its territory is shaped by the St. Lawrence River that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes.
The capital of the province is Québec City (645,000). The largest city is Montréal with about 3 million people in the metropolitan area. Montreal is also the second largest French speaking city in the world. About 80% of the province’s population lives in the urban centers along the St. Lawrence River.
Algonquin and Iroquois Indians have lived in the area that is Québec today for about 10,000 years. The name Québec derives from the Algonquin word “Kebec” meaning “where the river narrows”. It refers to the narrow bed of the St. Lawrence River where today is Québec City.
European settlement began in 1534 when the French explorer Jacques Cartier landed at the coast of Gaspé. In 1608 Québec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain and became the capital of New France. In 1617, the first French settlers arrived and fur trade became their major economic activity. In 1642 Paul Maisonneuve founded Ville-Marie, which is Montréal today.
This era was shaped by a constant rivalry between French and British settlers, which culminated in a seven year long war. In 1759, Québec City was conquered by the British. Only in 1774, the British would accept civil rights for the French population, grant religious freedom and allow the use of the French language.
In 1792, the colony was split into two parts: Upper Canada (which today is Ontario), and Lower Canada (which is today Québec), which were again reunited in 1840. In 1867, Québec was among the founding members of the new Canadian Dominion.
Traditionally, Québec’s society and economy were based on agriculture. In the 1920s-1940s however, the industrial revolution gave rise to growing urbanization and increased standards of living.
The 1960s are known as a time of transition – a quiet revolution: The province experienced a significant economic upturn and modernization of society, politics, government and the education system. This resulted in a stronger awareness of the province’s cultural origin and heritage, as well.
In 1980 and 1995 referenda were held on the question if Québec should be given sovereignty in Canada. Both times, the Québec population refused this proposal.
In 1995, the Canadian Parliament adopted a resolution which acknowledged Québec as a distinct society and the province strives to preserve its French character.
There are about 7 million people in Québec (23% of the Canadian population) of which 5 million are of French ancestry.
The largest immigrant communities are Italians and Eastern Europeans. Since the 1960s, there has been a huge influx of immigrants from Portugal, Haiti, Lebanon, Latin America, and South East Asia, of which a large proportion has settled in Montréal.
83% of Quebecers have French as their mother tongue. About 10% are Anglophone.
In Québec, there have been major attempts to preserve the French language and the cultural heritage. Since 1974, French has been the only official language in the province. However, government services and education are provided in English, as well.
It is regulated by law that all children residing in Québec attend French language schools.
Only those, whose parents were educated in English in Canada, can claim to receive education in English.