History of Quebec For Dummies®

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Table of Contents


About This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: New France (1524–1754)

Part II: Conquered but Still Alive (1754–1867)

Part III: Survival (1867–1939)

Part IV: The Quiet Reconquest (1939–1967)

Part V: Province or Country? (1967 to Today)

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: New France (1524–1754)

Chapter 1: Looking for China — and Finding Quebec! (1524–1610)

Setting Out to Conquer the West

Why the Europeans wanted to explore

Who went where

What they found when they arrived: An inhabited New World

France gets into the race

Moving toward the Founding of Quebec

Focusing on the fur trade

Meeting Samuel de Champlain: A true visionary

Founding Quebec

Consolidating an alliance

Chapter 2: Founding a Colony (1611–1660)

Hesitant Beginnings

Moving into action

Luring settlers

A New Impetus

The Company of One Hundred Associates

The mystics’ adventure

The Iroquois threat

Chapter 3: Exploring a Continent (1661–1701)

The Decisive Move Forward

L’État, c’est moi! (The state, it is I!)

A big push

Toward the Great Peace of 1701

French America

War and peace

Chapter 4: A French Province (1701–1754)

The Weakening of New France

Clashes between England and France

The Treaty of Utrecht

An Ancien Régime Society

A diverse population

A struggling economy

Day-to-day beliefs

War again

Part II: Conquered but Still Alive (1754–1867)

Chapter 5: The Coming of the English (1754–1763)

Identifying the Appeal of New France for the English

The determination of the Anglo-Americans

The English go all out

English Conquest, or French Abandonment?

The siege of Quebec and the battle of the Plains of Abraham

The surrender of Montreal

The 1763 Treaty of Paris

Chapter 6: The American Temptation (1763–1790)

To Assimilate or to Woo?

The Royal Proclamation

The Quebec Act

The American Revolution

The Americans turn angry

The American invasion

The arrival of the Loyalists

Chapter 7: The Birth of Lower Canada and the Parti Canadien (1791–1822)

Setting Up a Government with the Constitutional Act

Their own parliament

Language: A hot topic

Dampening the Mood of Optimism with War and New Leadership

The shadow of the French Revolution

The emergence of the Parti Canadien

The crisis of 1810

Seeing the British Empire at War and at Peace

A second American invasion

Pax Britannica

Chapter 8: From the Repression of the Patriotes to the Act of Union (1823–1840)

Louis-Joseph Papineau, Republican Leader

The Old World and the New World

Papineau, man of destiny

The quarrel over government finances and the 1832 election

A delicate situation

The 92 Resolutions and the Russell Resolutions

The Parti Canadien’s grievances

Hostility to reform

The reaction in London

The Patriotes’ Defeat and Its Consequences

Popular assemblies

Brawls and battles

The Act of Union of 1840

Chapter 9: Responsible Government and Religious Awakening (1840–1860)

Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, Reformer

Avoiding the fate of the Acadians

Presenting a manifesto to the voters of Terrebonne

Discovering the great reform government of 1848

A Religious Revival

Signs of awakening

Ignace Bourget’s program

Heaven is blue, hell is red!

Chapter 10: Confederation (1860–1867)

Falling Apart in the Province of Canada

Political instability

Having to fend for themselves

The economy hits a roadblock

A Solution: Confederation

A draft constitution

Supporters and adversaries

The British North America Act

Part III: Survival (1867–1939)

Chapter 11: “Riel, Our Brother, Is Dead” (1867–1896)

The Church Grabs Hold of Education

Chauveau: Premier by default

The Catholic Program

Fighting for Autonomy

Influence peddling — and moderation

The rise of the Liberals

Fighting for an Economic Leg to Stand On

Quebec embarks on industrialization

Taking hold of the economy, but how?

Chapter 12: Conscription (1897–1928)

Opposing Imperialism

Laurier’s compromises

Henri Bourassa and the nationalist movement

The conscription crisis

Prosperity through Foreign Capital

Triumph of the free market

The emergence of a modern Quebec state

Chapter 13: The Depression (1929–1938)

The Effects of the Stock Market Crash

The defects of the liberal economy

Immediate government reactions

Whose fault is it?

The Union Nationale

The opposition gets organized

A new regime is installed

Part IV: The Quiet Reconquest (1939–1967)

Chapter 14: War (1939–1944)

The Shadow of Conscription

The election of 1939

General mobilization

The 1942 vote

Godbout the Reformer

Women get the vote!

Compulsory education

Economic achievements and federal incursions

Chapter 15: Le Chef (1944–1959)

Defending the Established Order

A regime in control

The cold war era

The miners of Asbestos

Striving for Autonomy and Development

Income tax

Developing Quebec

Seeing Impatience Grow

Exasperated moralists

Divided nationalists

The Liberals

Chapter 16: The “Quiet Revolution” (1959–1962)

Regime Change

Mourning and succession

A Liberal victory

Equal Opportunity

Emphasizing the state over the church

Educating the masses

Healthcare for all

Masters in Our Own House

Breaking through the glass ceiling

Completing the nationalization of hydroelectricity

Chapter 17: The Reforms Continue (1963–1967)

Fighting Social Exclusion

Women’s rights

The very poor

The Caisse de Dépôt et Placement

Fighting for the Independence of Quebec

Special status

Birth of the independence movement

Seeing the Union Nationale Back in Power

Choosing continuity

Equality or independence

Part V: Province or Country? (1967 to Today)

Chapter 18: Revolt (1967–1972)

The Founding of the Parti Québécois


The Saint-Léonard crisis

Violence and Radicalization

The October Crisis

Social radicalization

Chapter 19: The Opening of James Bay and the Election of the Parti Québécois (1973–1979)

From Robert Bourassa to René Lévesque

The James Bay development

French: Quebec’s official language

The Election of the Parti Québécois

A new step-by-step strategy

The first sovereignist government

The charter of the French language

A blizzard of reforms

Chapter 20: Federalism: A Risk Worth Taking (1980–1987)

The Parti Québécois’s Ordeal

The defeat of the “yes” side

Repatriation of the Canadian constitution

Recovery from Recession and Political Impasse

Confrontation and cooperation

A changing of the guard in Ottawa and Quebec

The Meech Lake Accord

Chapter 21: Almost a Country (1987–1995)

Canada in Crisis

A looming failure

Repairing the damage

The Second Quebec Sovereignty Referendum

Creation of the camp for change

1995, when everything seemed possible

Chapter 22: Balanced Budget and Reasonable Accommodation (1996–2012)

The Bouchard Years

The return of “good government”

The constitution: A lull followed by an impasse

Quebec in Search of Itself

Which way for the Quebec model?

The crisis of reasonable accommodation

Right, left, right, left . . .

A woman premier

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 23: Ten Mythical Personalities

Maurice Richard and the Riot of 1955

Louis Cyr: Strong Man

Albani: The Great Singer

Céline Dion: International Star

Leonard Cohen: The Soothing Voice

Émile Nelligan: The Accursed Poet

Michel Tremblay: Putting “Joual” on Stage

Gratien Gélinas

Olivier Guimond: A True Comedian

Guy Laliberté: A Clown in Space

Chapter 24: Ten Quebec Symbols

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day: French Canadian or Québécois Celebration?

“Gens du pays”: The Unofficial Anthem

L’homme rapaillé: “I Have Never Traveled Anywhere but to You, My Country”

The Plouffe Family: A True Québécois Saga

Swearing in Quebec: A Throwback to an Earlier Era?

The Arrow Sash: Patriote Symbol

Square Dancing: “And Swing Your Partner!”

The Sugar Shack: An Indigenous Heritage

The Bombardier Ski-Doo

The Montreal Canadiens: A Hockey Dynasty

Chapter 25: Ten Quebec Landmarks

The Plains of Abraham and the Battle of Memory

Mount Royal: An Extinct Volcano?

The Saguenay Fjord and Its “Incredible Depth”

Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré: Sanctuary for the Faithful

Île d’Orléans: Birthplace of French America

The Magdalen Islands: Acadian Refuge after the Deportation

The Quebec Citadel: Remains of a Fortified City

Percé Rock: Gateway to the St. Lawrence

Wendake: Last “Reserve” of the Hurons

Manic-5: The Pride of a Conquering People

About the Author


Author’s Acknowledgments

Cheat Sheet

Title page image


Historian Éric Bédard is an academic who knows how to make his subject accessible to everyone, an ability he demonstrates in History of Quebec For Dummies. By telling the story chronologically rather than using a thematic approach, he allows readers to “see” the evolution of Quebec, from the French regime to the present. All aspects of Quebec’s history are covered. Intended for a mass audience, the book aims for a better understanding of this part of the country that is always in search of itself and that, one day, through experience, will no doubt find its place in the world.

No one who has read History of Quebec For Dummies will be able to plead ignorance of the history of this Canadian province, which Canadian Prime Minister Louis Stephen Saint-Laurent described as similar to other provinces. “They say,” he declared in September 1954, “that the province of Quebec is not a province like the others. I do not share this opinion.” Needless to say, Premier Maurice Duplessis of Quebec did not agree with this statement.

The way Éric Bédard has divided Quebec history into periods will surprise those who are used to thinking of the 1960s and the election of the Liberals under Jean Lesage as the beginning of what is called the “Quiet Revolution.” Instead, the author highlights the coming to power of Adélard Godbout, the Liberal premier who held office during World War II and whose achievements, although more or less forgotten today, were notable. The innovative nature of this interpretation is expressed in the title of this part of the book, “The Quiet Reconquest.” I agree with Éric Bédard on this point — and, indeed, on his interpretation of Quebec’s past as a whole. In my view, as in Bédard’s, the stage was set for rapid change to take place starting in 1960. Otherwise, the changes that Quebec would both enact and witness cannot be understood. In the traditional interpretation, it seems that everything changed overnight and Quebec suddenly entered into a new mode of civilization: Education took on a new face and the Catholic religion lost its importance. But these profound changes were in the making for a long time.

The book does not seek to present a sanitized history. You can see that especially in Part V, which asks the question “Province or country?” Here Bédard sets aside his political orientation, knowing full well that historians who openly take a position on the future of Quebec in their work will see their writings discredited. A historian is a prophet — but a prophet who looks to the past! Bédard has taken the wise precaution of avoiding prognostication on the future of Quebec.

Part VI focuses primarily on Quebec’s cultural life. Too often in a work of this kind, this aspect is skimmed over or even ignored. But not in History of Quebec For Dummies. Bédard looks at a variety of aspects of Quebec culture — including Michel Tremblay’s play Les belles-sœurs, which caused a scandal in Quebec in the late 1960s, and which continues to resonate with audiences, as the success of its 2012 revival in Paris demonstrates.

Few historians in recent years have ventured to write a comprehensive overview of the history of Quebec. Éric Bédard should be commended for having undertaken this task. He was certainly well prepared to do it. His presence in the media — television, radio, and newspapers — has made him a first-class communicator. You can read his History of Quebec For Dummies without running to the dictionary. The absence of footnotes makes the narrative easier to understand — everything is in the text. It follows the usual formula for history books in this series. The text is interspersed with inserts devoted to anecdotes and other specific points. Summaries further enhance the reader’s understanding of events.

Congratulations to historian Éric Bédard for bringing Quebec’s past to life, a colorful past where hope and despair followed each other in rapid succession. Quebec’s motto is “Je me souviens” (“I remember”). Reading History of Quebec For Dummies, you will find out why it is important to remember, and just what is it that you are remembering.

— Jacques Lacoursière

Historian and member of the Royal Society of Canada


“Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver!” (“My country is not a country, it’s winter”), sang the poet Gilles Vigneault.

Yes, Quebec is winter, snow, cold, piercing January winds. It’s the majestic St. Lawrence River and its many tributaries, crisscrossing the American continent. It’s the vast forests, the countless lakes, the beautiful countryside of Témiscamingue, Charlevoix, the North Shore, and the Gaspé Peninsula.

It’s also Quebec City, the vieille capitale, perched above the river on Cap Diamant, its face turned to the shores of Europe. And, of course, Montreal, Quebec’s inventive, creative metropolis, the leading French city of the New World, a meeting place and a crossroads of cultures, the nerve center of a young nation.

But most of all, Quebec is a people — brave, stubborn, and determined. A people that, from its first days in the New World, had to be strong-willed, hardy, and courageous to face the rigors of the Quebec winter, clear the land by moonlight, raise large families, explore a vast continent, survive Iroquois attacks and the hostility of the American colonies, and later withstand the greed of wealthy merchants and the turmoils of the Industrial Revolution and the Depression of the 1930s.

This great adventure is the story that’s told in the pages that follow. It’s a story of resistance and affirmation, marked by resilience and yet haunted by the frustration of having to start over. The story of a people that came through trials and tribulations and overcame dejection and resignation. The story of a dream, the dream of French America, and of the crucible of the British Conquest. Most of all, it’s the story of a long and patient reconquest through which Quebecers took back their territory, their economy, and their political life.

Quebec’s motto is “Je me souviens” (“I remember”). Unfortunately, too many Quebecers seem to look at their past as a demoralizing “Grande noirceur” (“great darkness”) that holds little of interest for the present and the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. Quebec history is rich, fascinating, and often inspiring, filled with surprising turns and larger-than-life personalities.

This is the story that will unfold as you read this book.

About This Book

In this book, I follow the thread of Quebec’s development, identifying the turning points and explaining the underlying forces at work. I tell the story in strict chronological order and provide profiles of the most important personalities. The history of Quebec was made by men and women, people whose ideas were shaped by their time. Did these people, with their passions and their dreams, sometimes make mistakes? Maybe. But my goal is to avoid being too cynical or making hasty moral judgments; instead, I try to understand their actions and explain their decisions.

The history of Quebec is one piece of the history of the world. Its key moments can be explained only in relation to the great discoveries of the 16th century, the Catholic Counterreformation of the 17th century, the geopolitical tensions of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, and the world wars of the 20th century, along with the development of the welfare state in the West and the decolonization movement of the 1960s. You can’t understand what was happening in Quebec without keeping an eye out for major events taking place in France, Britain, the United States, and other parts of the world.

What You’re Not to Read

You can safely skip anything marked by a Technical Stuff icon. (For more on icons, see Icons Used in This Book, later in this Introduction.)

You can also skip sidebars, which are the gray boxes of text. The information in sidebars is interesting, but not absolutely critical to your understanding of the topic at hand.

Foolish Assumptions

I don’t make a tremendous amount of assumptions about you, the reader of this book, but I do make a few:

check.png You aren’t a historical researcher. You’re just someone with an interest in the history of Quebec.

check.png You may have grown up in Quebec but feel you have a poor knowledge of its history, either because you’ve forgotten large chunks of what you learned in high school or because you never learned it in the first place.

check.png You may have recently moved to Quebec, and you’re looking for a better understanding of your new home.

check.png You may be traveling to Quebec and want to know the history of what you’ll see when you get there.

How This Book Is Organized

History of Quebec For Dummies is divided into seven parts, comprising 25 chapters. Here’s an overview of what each part covers.

Part I: New France (1524–1754)

In the earliest part of its history, Quebec was called New France. The young colony sometimes inspired extravagant dreams — dreams of a French and Catholic America. The impressive figures who walked across the stage of New France gave flesh to those dreams: Samuel de Champlain, Marie Guyart, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. In Part I, I explain why France wanted to explore the New World in the 16th century. Before the arrival of the French, what is now Quebec was inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, either nomadic or semi-sedentary. A number of these peoples made alliances with the first French settlers who founded the towns of Quebec and Montreal. I introduce the most important explorers, describe the institutions of New France, and seek to understand why this vast colony was so sparsely populated.

Part II: Conquered but Still Alive (1754–1867)

The Anglo-American colonies had larger populations than New France, and they looked covetously at the Mississippi Valley and France’s possessions in North America. In Part II, I recount the main events of the war in which British and American armies conquered New France. After the conquest, the Canadiens of the St. Lawrence Valley were confined to a small reserve called the “Province of Quebec.” A few years later, the American colonies, now in revolt against Britain, again cast their eyes on this territory. After the American War of Independence, Quebec became host to the “Loyalists,” immigrants from the south who wanted to remain faithful to the British crown and demanded real British institutions, which came into being in 1791. But the domination of these institutions by English merchants was a source of discontent among the French-speaking majority, which established a party that rebelled against the British metropolis in 1837–1838. Repression of these rebellions was followed by the Act of Union and a major religious revival in the mid-19th century.

Part III: Survival (1867–1939)

In 1867, Quebec became a Canadian province. Why did Quebecers agree to this new confederation? What would be the powers of the new province of Quebec? What would be the place of francophones in the new country called Canada? In Part III, I answer these complex questions as simply as possible.

A fundamental event in bringing to light the place of francophones in Canada was the hanging of the Métis leader Louis Riel in 1885. Two important political figures, Honoré Mercier and Wilfrid Laurier, came to power as a result of this event. This was also the period of the Industrial Revolution, which for French Canadians was a time of economic inferiority and large-scale emigration to the United States. This economic inferiority was accentuated by the Depression of the 1930s. While the Quebec government made efforts to bring the Depression to an end, reform movements brought a new party into being.

Part IV: The Quiet Reconquest (1939–1967)

The reform program instituted by the government of Adélard Godbout (1940–1944) and postwar prosperity helped Quebecers regain their confidence and emerge from the long period when their main focus was survival. However, in 1944, they elected a conservative government headed by Maurice Duplessis. Returned to power repeatedly, Duplessis ruled Quebec with an iron hand, fiercely resisted federal intrusion into provincial fields of jurisdiction, brutally repressed strikes, and praised the virtues of rural, traditional Quebec. The election of the “équipe du tonnerre” (“hell of a team”) in June 1960 was a turning point. A new political generation gave Quebec a healthcare system that provided free medical care and an education system that better prepared Quebecers to meet the challenges of postindustrial society. Above all, it endowed Quebec with a modern state that would make it possible for the French-speaking majority to catch up economically.

Part V: Province or Country? (1967 to Today)

The late 20th century was completely dominated by the debate over Quebec’s political status. Some people demanded a thorough reform of Canadian federalism leading to Quebec’s recognition as an “associated state” or a “distinct society.” Others, who sometimes compared Quebec with Algeria, Cuba, or Vietnam, dreamed of building a sovereign, independent country. A series of political movements and parties took up the cause of Quebec independence. Among these was the Parti Québécois, which came to power in 1976 and held an initial referendum in May 1980, in which Quebecers rejected “sovereignty association.” In the wake of the referendum, negotiations began in an effort to achieve greater recognition and respect for Quebecers within Canada. This constitutional saga culminated in the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in June 1990. With English Canadians having rejected Quebec’s minimum demands, Quebecers founded a new federal party, the Bloc Québécois, and once again elected the Parti Québécois to form the Quebec government in 1994. The new Parti Québécois government called a second referendum for October 30, 1995, which the No side won by a razor-thin margin. This close call sent a shockwave through the rest of Canada. The question remains unresolved.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

In Part VI, we look in turn at ten personalities, ten symbols, and ten landmarks, all of them expressive of the history of Quebec. Quebec comes alive through some of the dimensions of its popular heroes, its culture, and its geography. Why do Quebecers swear the way they do? What’s the origin of the arrow sash? When did Percé Rock lose its second arch? Where did the first inhabitants of the Magdalen Islands come from? And what about Louis Cyr, Rocket Richard, and Leonard Cohen? These sketches, brief though they are, cast light on additional layers of Quebec history.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout the book, icons appear in the margins. Each icon helps you see at a glance what kind of information is presented in the passage beside it. Using the icons, you can focus on the kind of material you’re especially interested in or come back to a point you’re looking for. Here’s what the icons in this book mean:

anecdote.eps The broad sweep of history is peppered with seemingly insignificant incidents and idiosyncrasies that reveal something about a person, event, or phenomenon. Anecdotes remind us that this is “human” history!

keydate_quebec.eps Paragraphs marked by this icon are moments that imprinted themselves in Quebecers’ consciousness. Those who were there have never forgotten these moments. In the history of any society, key dates are hooks that give us entry points into the flow of time.

portrait_quebec.eps This icon marks places where I focus on one of the many personalities who have left their mark on Quebec. What were their family origins and social background? What ideas did they hold dear? What motivated their political and social actions?

remember.eps This icon points out an event or element in Quebec history that is especially important and should be remembered.

technicalstuff.eps This icon marks information that’s interesting, but not essential to your understanding of the subject at hand.

Where to Go from Here

If you want a full picture of the history of Quebec, you can always start at the very beginning and read through to the end. But you can dip into whichever parts interest you most. Use the Table of Contents and Index to find the subjects that fascinate you. Or just open the book at random and start reading. You’re sure to find fascinating stories of impressive men and women who made Quebec what it is today.

Want to read further about Quebec? Head to where I list a number of other resources you can dive into, including a chronology of important events and a map of the province.

Part I

New France (1524–1754)


In this part . . .

A painful birth and difficult beginnings. . . . France got off to a late start in exploring the New World. Like the other European powers, it initially sought a route to Asia. After some hesitation, Quebec was chosen as the capital of New France. This early settlement was established by Samuel de Champlain, who forged links of trust and friendship with the Montagnais, Algonquians, and Hurons. But it wasn’t until the time of Louis XIV, his minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and the intendant Jean Talon that the colony truly began to develop.

In the late 17th century, a new people made its appearance. These “Canadiens” never gave up on their homeland, despite repeated attacks by the Iroquois and the growing appetite of the Anglo-American colonies. In addition to clearing new land, they explored the Great Lakes, paddled down the Mississippi, founded Louisiana, and went as far west as the Rockies.