History of Quebec

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Quebec has played a special role in Canada, and its history has taken a somewhat different path to the rest of Canada.


Pre-Columbian (Prehistory–1533)

Main article: Aboriginal peoples in Quebec

Paleoindian Era (11000–8000)

Existing archeological evidence attests to a human presence on the current territory of Quebec some time around 10,000 BC. Paleo-Amerindian populations preceded the arrival of the Algonquian and Iroquoian people in southern Quebec about 8,000 years ago.

Archaic Era (8000–3000)

Woodland Era (3000–500)

Agriculture appeared experimentally towards the 8th century. It was only in 14th century that it is fully mastered in the St. Lawrence river valley. The Iroquoians cultivated corn, marrow, sunflowers, and beans.

Early French Exploration (1524–1607)

The history of the French exploration in America could be said to have started before 1524. Indeed, in 1508, only 16 years after the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, Thomas Aubert who was probably part of a fishing trip near Newfoundland, brought back a few Amerindians to France. This indicates that in the early 16th century, French navigators ventured in the gulf of the St. Lawrence, along with the Basques and the Spaniards who did the same.

Also, Jacques Cartier wrote in his journal that when he made his first contacts with the Amerindians, who were probably Micmacs, that they came before him in their boats to offer him furs. All these facts and several other details encourage us to believe that the Amerindians and Europeans were not at their first meeting.

Verrazzano's Voyage

Main article: Giovanni da Verrazzano

In 1524 an official voyage, financed by merchants and the King of France, was organized. Like several other European nations, the French put their trust in an Italian navigator. Indeed, Spain had hired Cristoforo Columbo (Christopher Columbus), Amerigo Vespucci, England paid Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), and France called upon Giovanni da Verrazano. Seeking a shorter passage towards Asia, Verrazano ventured in an area which had not really been visited by the other European travellers. He thoroughly skirted the Atlantic coast of North America between Florida and Nova Scotia, seeking the coveted passage to the Sea of China. He came back empty handed, but not without taking note of the beauty of the landscape which he compared to a region of Greece which he probably knew, Arcadia.

Jacques Cartier's Voyages

Main article: Jacques Cartier

On July 24, 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier planted a cross on the Gaspé Peninsula and took possession of the territory in the name of King Francis I of France. Then Jacques Cartier moved up along the St. Lawrence River up to Stadacona (modern day Québec City).

On his second voyage on May 26 of 1535, Cartier sailed upriver to the Huron village of Stadacona and Iroquois Hochelaga (Montreal).

In 1541, Jean-Francois de la Roque de Roberval became lieutenant of New France and had the responsibility to build a new colony in America. It was Cartier who established the first French settlement on American soil, Charlesbourg Royal.

France was disappointed after the three voyages of Cartier and did not want to invest further large sums in an adventure with such uncertain outcome. A period of uninterest in the new world on behalf of the French authorities followed. Only at the very end of the 16th century interest in these northern territories was renewed.

Still, even during the time when France did not send official explorers, Breton and Basque fishermen came to the new territories to stock up on codfish and whale oil. Since they were forced to stay for a longer period of time, they started to trade their metal objects for fur provided by the indigenous people. This commerce became profitable and thus the interest in the territory was revived.

Fur commerce made a permanent residence in the country worthwhile. Good relations with the Indian providers were necessary. For some fishermen however, a seasonal presence was sufficient. Commercial companies were founded which tried to further the interest of the crown in colonizing the territory. They demanded that France grant a monopoly to one single company. In return, this company would also take over the colonization of the French American territory. Thus it would not cost the king a lot of money to build the colony. On the other hand, other merchants wanted commerce to stay unregulated. This controversy was a big issue at the turn of the 17th century.

New France (1534–1759)

Main article: History of New France

Quebec was part of the territory of New France, the general name for the North American possessions of France until 1763. At its largest extent, before the Treaty of Utrecht, this territory included five colonies, each with its own administration: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Terre-Neuve, and Louisiana.

The borders of these colonies were not precisely defined, and were open on the western side.

Acadia (1604–1759)

Main article: Acadia

Acadia was first established as a settlement on Saint Croix Island, in the Saint Croix River between modern day Maine and New Brunswick, in 1604 by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts and his navigator Samuel de Champlain. The settlement at Saint Croix failed due to the harsh winter and lack of fresh water, over half of the settlers died in the winter of 1605 and it was moved to the opposite side of the Bay of Fundy at Port Royal. The settlement was again disbanded in 1608 and Champlain sailed to modern day Quebec City where he began the settlement that would become New France. Though settlers returned to and re-established Acadia in 1611 and it remained a de facto French colony until 1713 it was largely left to its own governance and its people became known as the neutral French.

French Canada (1608–1759)

Three quarters of a century after being explored by Jacques Cartier and unsuccessfully colonized by Roberval, Samuel de Champlain laid out the foundation of French Canada, the most important and historically most successful French colony in North America.

Founding of Quebec

Québec City was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. Some other towns were founded before, most famously Tadoussac in 1604 which still exists today, but Québec was the first to be meant as a permanent settlement and not a simple trade post. Overtime, it became the capital of French Canada and all of New France.

Map of New France made by Samuel de Champlain on 1612
Map of New France made by Samuel de Champlain on 1612

The first version of the town was a single large walled building, called the Abitation. This arrangement was made for protection against perceived indian threats. The difficulty of supplying the city from France and the lack of knowledge of the area meant that life was difficult. A significant fraction of the population died of hunger and diseases during the first winter. However agriculture soon expanded and a continuous flow of immigrants, mostly men in search of adventure, increased the population. Between 1663 and 1673, orphaned girls from France, known as Filles du roy emigrated and restored the balance of population, helping to stabilize the population and fix the people to their lands.

Down the Saint Lawrence River, the next two towns to be founded were Trois-Rivières in 1634 and Montréal in 1642.

Company Rule (1627–1662)

In 1627, after meeting with Samuel de Champlain, Cardinal Richelieu granted a charter to the Compagnie des Cent-Associés (or Company of One Hundred Associates). This gave the company control over the booming fur trade and land rights across the terrority in exchange for the company supporting and expanding settlement in New France (at the time encompassing Acadia, Quebec, Newfoundland, and Louisiana). Specific clauses in the charter included a requirement to bring 4000 settlers into New France over the next 15 years. The company largely ignored the settlement requirements of their charter and focused on the lucrative fur trade, only 300 settlers arriving before 1640.

The early years of their rule were disastrous for Quebec. The first two convoys of ships and settlers bound for the colony were waylaid near Gaspé by British privateers under the command of three French Huguenot brothers, David, Louis and Thomas Kirke. Quebec was effectively cut off. On 19th July 1629, with Quebec completely out of supplies and no hope of relief, de Champlain surrendered Quebec to the Kirkes without a fight. De Champlain was taken to England as a prisoner of war and released in 1632.

In 1632, under the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Quebec and all other former french possesions in North America were returned to New France. De Champlain was restored as governor but died three years later.

On the verge of bankruptcy, the company lost it fur trade monopoly in 1641 and was finally dissolved in 1662.

Sovereign Council (1663–1759)

The establishement of the Conseil souverain, political restructuring which turned New France into a province of France, ended the period of company rule and marked a new beginning in the colonization effort.

British Conquest (1756–1760)

Main articles: French and Indian War and Seven Years' War

In the middle of the 17th century, the British North America had grown to be close to a full-fledged independent country, something they would actually become a few decades later, with more than 1 million inhabitants. Meanwhile New France was still seen mostly as a cheap source of natural resources for the metropolis, and had only 60,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, New France was territorially larger than New England. When the Seven Years' war started, it was an obvious and easy target for the English.

The first battles were fought inland, in present day Upstate New York. However the French could still retain the advantage in this region due to rough terrains, already built fortresses and alliances with local native tribes. The battle of Fort Carillon (nowadays Fort Ticonderoga) is well-known as one of the few French victories of the time. The present-day flag of Québec is based on the flag carried by the militia at this battle.

However the next phase of the battle aimed directly at the heart of New France. General James Wolfe lead a fleet of 49 ships holding 8640 British troops from the fortress of Louisbourg. They disembarked on île d'Orléans and on the south shore of the river; the french forces under Marquis de Montcalm held the walled city and the north shore. Wolfe lead siege to the city for more than two months, exchanging cannon fire over the river, but neither sides could expect resupply during the winter. On September 5th, 1759, after successfully convincing Montcalm he would attack by the Baie de Beauport east of the city, the British troops crossed close to Cap-Rouge, west of the city, and succesfullly climbed the steep Cap-Diamant undetected. Montcalm, for disputed reasons, did not use the protection of the city walls and fought on open terrains, in what would be known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The battle was short and bloody. Both leaders died in battle, but the British easily won.

Now in possession of the main city and capital, and furthermore isolating the inner cities of Trois-Rivières and Montréal from France, the rest of the campaign was only a matter of slowly taking control of the land. The last battle was fought in Montréal in 1760.

British Rule (1760–1931)

Following the capitulation of the government of New France in Montréal on September 8, 1760, Canada was put under British military rule and was divided into three districts: Quebec City, administered by General James Murray; Trois-Rivières, administered by Ralph Burton, and Montréal, administered by Thomas Gage. Each of them were responsible to the commander-in-chief, General Jeffery Amherst, in New York City. The regime ended with the arrival of James Murray, the first British governor of the new Province of Quebec, a few months after the signing ofthe Peace Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. The treaty contained a French renunciation of their claim to Quebec in exchange for the right to retain possession of Guadaloupe.

Royal Proclamation (1763–1774)

Issued on October 7, 1763, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 laid out the policy of Great Britain regarding its newly acquired colonies of America. The three Quebec districts were united into the Province of Quebec.

Quebec Act (1774–1791)

The Quebec Act of 1774 was enacted to assure the loyalty of the newly acquired Quebec, through assuring the existence of the Catholic faith and the re-enactment of French civil law. The boundaries of Quebec were expanded to include the Ohio Country and Illinois Country, from the Appalachian Mountains on the east, south to the Ohio River, west to the Mississippi River and north to the southern boundary of lands owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, or Rupert's Land.

Constitutional Act (1791–1840)

The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Quebec into Upper Canada (the part of present-day Ontario south of Lake Nipissing plus the current Ontario shoreline of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior) and Lower Canada (the southern part of present-day Quebec). Upper Canada's first capital was Newark (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake); in 1796, it was moved to York, now Toronto.

The new constitution, primarily passed to answer the demands of the Loyalists, created a unique situation in Lower Canada. The Legislative Assembly, the only elected body in the colonial government, was continually at odds with the Legislative and Executive branches appointed by the governor. When, in the early 1800s, the Parti canadien rose as a nationalist, liberal and reformist party, a long political struggle started between the majority of the elected representatives of Lower Canada and the colonial government.

Patriotes uprisings (1837–1838)

From 1791 Upper and Lower Canada were ruled by governors directly named by the British parliament in London. The local legislatures were only consultative. Political parties campaigned for responsible government; in Quebec this party was called the Patriotes and were led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. They won the 1834 elections; however, the governor Lord John Russell rejected their demands. Many refused to surrender and fled to the United States or formed small rebellious groups in the countryside. These rebels had a first unexpected victory at Saint-Denis-sur-le-Richelieu. However the professional British troops in the country soon took the offensive and crushed the rebellion. The village of Saint-Eustache was burned to the ground and the rebellion's leaders fled to the United States. There were risings the same year in Upper Canada.

In the summer of 1838 another battle occurred in Lower Canada. From bases in the United States, the exiled Robert Nelson led a second attack. He led his forces back into Quebec in early November but on December 9th he was defeated at Odelltown. After the leniency shown following the battle at St. Eustache, this time the government placed a number of the patriotes on trial, charged with high treason. Of those found guilty, twelve were hanged and fifty-seven were banished to Australia.

The Canadian statutory holiday Victoria Day is also known in Quebec as National Patriotes Day in commemoration of these events.

Martial law and Special Council (1838–1840)

Year Event
1838 Lord Durham arrives in Canada as High Commissioner.
1839 Report on the Affairs of British North America

Union Act (1841–1866)

Year Event
1841 Upper and Lower Canada are united by the Act of Union (1840) to form the Province of Canada, as recommended by Durham. Upper Canada becomes known as Canada West and Lower Canada as Canada East.

Federal Dominion (1867–1930)

Province of Quebec (1867 and after)

Year Event
1867 The British Parliament passes the British North America Act, by which the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia join to form the country of Canada. Canada East becomes the province of Quebec. Canada remained self-governing locally, but the British continued to control its external affairs.
1896 Wilfrid Laurier becomes the first Quebecois Prime Minister of Canada.
1898 Quebec gains Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
In the late 1800s overpopulation in the Saint Lawrence Valley led many Quebeckers to immigrate to the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, the Laurentides (region) and New England (providing a link with that region that continues to this day.)
1912 Quebec gains the parts of the Labrador Peninsula that are currently in Quebec.
1917 Opposition to conscription led by Henri Bourassa in Conscription Crisis of 1917.
1927 Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decides in Newfoundland's favour in a dispute over ownership of Labrador.

Sovereign Canada (1931-Today)

Year Event
1931 The Statute of Westminster removes the legislating power of Britain over the Dominion of Canada.
1942-1944 Conscription Crisis of 1944
1945-1959 La Grande Noirceur-era of close church-state relations dominated by the controversial figure of Maurice Duplessis.
1948 Les Automatistes publish le Refus Global, an attempt to start a new vision of Quebec.
1949 Bitter Asbestos Strike leads to a greater appreciation of labour and social-democratic issues in Quebec

Modern Quebec (1960–present)

Throughout the 1960s the movement to separate from Canada attracted more and more followers. Yet the first vote, or referendum, on the issue was not held until 1980.The timeline below illustrates some of these events. The most important, perhaps, was President of France, General Charles de Gaulle's speech in Montréal where he uttered the famous phrase "Vive le Québec Libre!" (Long live free Quebec!).

In March 9, 1950, fleurs-de-lis was approved as the official flag of Quebec
In March 9, 1950, fleurs-de-lis was approved as the official flag of Quebec
Charles de Gaulle delivering his "Vive le Québec libre" speech upon the Montréal city hall balcony.
Charles de Gaulle delivering his "Vive le Québec libre" speech upon the Montréal city hall balcony.
Year Event
1960 the Quiet Revolution ushers in an array of socio-political transformations, from secularism and the welfare state to a specifically Québécois national identity
1962 The mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau (the man who will also be behind the great projects of Expo 67 and the '76 Olympics) instigates the construction of the Métro (subway). The first phase of the subway will be completed in 1966.
1963 The first bombs of the Front de libération du Québec detonate in Montreal.
1964 Signing of Quebec's first international agreement in Paris. The same year, during an official visit by the Queen, the police violently intervenes during a separatist demonstration.
1965 The report of the Laurendeau-Dunton royal commission recommends to declare French an official language in the parliaments of Canada, Ontario and New Brunswick, in the federal tribunals and in government administration of Canada.
1967 René Lévesque quits the Quebec Liberal Party and founds the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association.
During an official visit to Quebec and after being greeted with all honours by a huge crowd, the President of France, General Charles de Gaulle, declares from the balcony of the Montréal city hall; "Vive le Québec libre!" (Long live free Quebec!). Surprised by this declaration, the crowd cheers and applauds loudly. The Canadian federal government strongly takes offense; De Gaulle cancels his visit to Ottawa and leaves directly for Paris.
Expo 67 marks Montreal's pinnacle as Canada's largest and most important city and prompts the construction of what is now Parc Jean Drapeau and the Montreal Metro.
1970 October Crisis erupts when Front de Libération du Québec members kidnap British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte. Pierre Laporte is later found murdered. The Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau uses the War Measures Act, which allowed anyone suspected of being involved with the terrorism to be held temporarily without charge. The debate over this use of the War Measures Act continues to this day and may have been one of the factors in the Réné Lévesque election win of 1976.
1980 On May 20, the first referendum was held for Quebec's independent statehood, but it was rejected by a sizeable majority of 60 percent margin (59.56% NO to 40.44 % YES).
1982 Canada Act 1982, an Act of Parliament passed by the British Parliament severed virtually all remaining constitutional and legislative ties between the United Kingdom and Canada. All provinces sign, except Quebec.
1990 Oka Crisis Standoffs in Kanesatake and Kahnawake over building of a golf course in a sacred religious area and cemetery in Oka leads to the death of a police officer and better attempts to treat aboriginal issues.
1995 On October 30, in a second referendum for Quebec's independent statehood was rejected by a slim margin (50.58% NO to 49.42% YES).

Summary of Quebec's political transformations

Names in bold refer to provinces, others to sub-provincial levels of government; the first names listed are those areas mostly nearly corresponding to modern Quebec.

See also

edit Former French colonies, protectorate and possessions
Alaouites | Alexandretta | Algeria | Anjouan | Djibouti | France Antarctique | French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Gabon, Middle Congo, Oubangui-Chari) | French India (Chandernagore, Coromandel Coast, Malabar, Mahe, Pondichery, Karikal, Yanaon) | French Indochina (Annam, Cochinchina, Kampuchea, Laos, Tonkin) | French Togoland | French West Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Dahomey, French Sudan, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Upper Volta) | Inini | Kwang-Chou-Wan | Madagascar | New France (Acadia, Louisiana, Québec, Terre Neuve) | Saint-Domingue | Tunisia | Vanuatu
French colonisation of the Americas
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