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The French-Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900

The French-Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 288
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    The French-Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900
    Book Description:

    At Confederation, most French Canadians felt their homeland was Quebec; they supported the new arrangement because it separated Quebec from Ontario, creating an autonomous French-Canadian province loosely associated with the others.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5724-3
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  4. PREFACE (pp. xiii-2)
  5. I INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-32)

    In 1864, when the fathers of Confederation sat down to their conference table, there were about a million people of French origin in British North America, and more than 85 per cent of them lived in what would become the province of Quebec. In all other places they lived in small and scattered groups surrounded by great majorities of strangers; in Lower Canada they were a compact and organized society comprising more than three-quarters of the population. Everywhere else they were weak and without influence; in Lower Canada their language was heard daily in public life, and their values and...


    When French Lower Canadians were called on to judge the proposed confederation of British North American provinces, the first thing they wanted to know was what effect it would have on their own nationality. Before deciding whether or not they approved, they wanted to hear ‘what guarantees will be offered for the future of the French-Canadian nationality, to which we are attached above all else.’¹ From Richelieu’s Rouge mpp to Quebec’s Catholic-ConservativeCourrier du Canada, everyone promised to judge the work of the Great Coalition according to the same criterion.² Even Montreal’sLa Minerve, known to be George-Etienne Cartier’s own...


    If we have been correct so far in our interpretation of French-Canadian opinion on the question of Confederation, then our readers have a right to be somewhat surprised. For in what we have seen of French-Canadian reasons for approving the new régime, there was nothing at all of bilingualism, biculturalism, or the establishment of French-Canadian rights outside the province of Quebec. Everything, on the contrary, seemed to indicate that Quebec alone was to be the arena of French-Canadian national life, that within the federal alliance, Quebec was to be the French-Canadian country. Even the action of French Canada’s federal mps...


    During the winter of 1868–9, George-Etienne Cartier and William McDougall, by lengthy negotiations at London, arranged for the transfer of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories north and west of Canada to the authority of the new dominion government. This transfer would have a double significance to the French Canadians. It would open up the prairie regions to Canadian settlement, and hence to their own; and it would bring them into contact with the French-Catholic Métis already living in those regions.

    French-Quebec opinion was not well prepared for either of these effects. Certainly, it was not disposed to look on...


    The 1871 New Brunswick school law attracted very little attention, at first, in Quebec. Fewer than half of Quebec papers even mentioned it before the following year, and of those which did, most did so not in the spring, when the act was passed, but in July, when New Brunswick Catholics petitioned Ottawa for disallowance.¹ Even after that, the matter seemed of little account; in its year-end review of 1871, theCourrier de St-Hyacintheobserved that the year had brought French Canadians ‘no great misfortunes to deplore’, aside from the fact that Roman Catholics were being harassed by common school...


    The identification of French Canada with Lower Canada, which so much influenced French-Canadian attitudes toward Confederation, continued to shape opinions under the new régime. The Province of Quebec was seen as the geographical and political expression of the French-Canadian nationality, as a French-Catholic province and the French-Canadian homeland. The expressionFrench Canadawas still used to mean a geographic area, because that area, Quebec, was seen as essentially French-Canadian.¹ Thus: ‘Lower Canada wants to remain French and Catholic, and will resist any attempt at fusion.’² Her French-Canadian character made Quebec unique in the confederation: ‘Our national institutions, our customs, our...

  11. VII FRENCH CANADA IN THE WEST (pp. 131-149)

    In toward the annexation of Rupert’s Land, and in the patriotic identification of French Canada with the province of Quebec, there has been nothing at all that would lead us to expect a French-Canadian movement to settle the prairies. And, as it happens, Quebeckers showed far less readiness than Ontarians to move to other parts of Canada in the first decades of Confederation. During the 1870s, the increase in the proportion of the Ontario-born who were living in other provinces was twice as great as for Quebec-born. In the 1880s and 1890s, the proportion for Ontarians was three times what...

  12. VIII THE RIEL AFFAIR (pp. 150-179)

    The future-foreshadowing phrases let drop byLa MinerveorLe Nouveau Mondein the excitement of the Manitoba language crisis made no particular impression at the time. French Canadians continued reluctant to move or encourage each other to move to the West. Their attitudes toward Quebec and the place of their nationality inside and outside of it did not suddenly change.

    These attitudes had the chance to express themselves in June of 1880, when the Quebec City St-Jean-Baptiste Society organized a national convention in imitation of the one Montreal had held in 1874. Though this reunion was smaller than the...


    The Riel agitation did not end with the 1886 provincial elections. During the 1887 federal campaign Liberals and Nationals again stressed the Kiel affair, looking forward to ‘the hour of national revenge’,¹ and reminding voters that Macdonald had authorized ‘the plundering of our compatriots and co-religionists of the North-West’² and sacrificed Riel ‘to the Orange lodges’.³ Conservatives, for their part, put some considerable effort into arguing that Riel had not been worthy of Quebec’s sympathy, that he had pushed the Métis into unjustified rebellion for his own selfish purposes,⁴ had been responsible for the murders of priests and the deaths...


    We are accustomed to thinking of Confederation as a national unification transforming a scattered collection of colonies into a single people under a strong national government. From the foregoing chapters, however, it appears that French Canadians in the 1860s did not share this point of view.

    By 1864 French Canadians had long been accustomed to thinking of themselves as a nation and of Lower Canada as their country. They were scarcely aware of the existence of French-Catholic groups elsewhere in British North America. French Canada and Lower Canada were, in their eyes, equivalent terms. Consequently, what they sought in Confederation...

  15. EPILOGUE (pp. 244-270)

    The bicultural idea of Confederation arose in circumstances that were bound to frustrate its adherents. It was precisely the events that were making it more and more difficult for French Canadians to be at home outside Quebec that were leading them to claim therightto be at home. The speeches, pamphlets, and editorials in which people like Henri Bourassa proclaimed French-Canadian rights ‘throughout the entire confederation’ were produced in reaction to the loss of those rights in one region after another.

    The emergence of the bicultural theory was in fact part of an evolution in which French and English...

  16. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES (pp. 271-276)
  17. INDEX (pp. 277-283)
  18. Back Matter (pp. 284-284)