Why Does Canada Speak French?

Quebec Church

A look at the history of Canada will reveal the reason why Canada speaks French. It was the French that first colonized the land. It was in the city of Quebec that these French colonizers first settled and established large communities.

Presently, most of the people that reside in Quebec province speak the French language. It is their official majority language. Most of Quebec’s population speak French. Most of the population speaks French as their first language.

Where It All Started

It was the French people that first colonized some parts of the Northern American continent. The first of these explorers was Giovanni de Verrazano who reached the Americas in 1524. This explorer was able to reach Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. It was during his expedition that the portion of land that he reached was named Nova Gallia or New France.

Years later, another Frenchman named Jacques Cartier was sent by Frances I, king of France to found new lands. This was in the year 1534. In his expedition, Cartier was able to discover the Gulf of Saint Lawrence where he eventually landed and made friends with the locals. This was to enable him to go further inside the land. However, the war in Europe prevented him from establishing a permanent colony there.

As the years passed by, more and more French people settled in the eastern Canada area. Business and trading were established during the start of the 17th century. And with the increase in the number of settlers in the land, more lands were founded including Acadia and Quebec City, in 1605 and 1608, respectively. In 1642, Villa Marie was founded. This city was to be present-day Montreal. Thus, more and more cities in the eastern part of Canada were occupied by the French people.

The main occupation of the French settlers in Canada was fur trading. The cities soon prospered because of this trade which helped establish them further.

In 1635, the Jesuits founded a secondary school for children’s education in Quebec. It was also the year the Compagnie des Habitants was created. With the creation of this company, the economic and political leaders of the colony were united.

At this time, all those who lived in the colony who were non-natives spoke the French language.

By the early 18th century, British forces began colonizing eastern Northern American territories. They even entered areas that were already controlled by the French. In 1713, Nova Scotia fell to the British, and other French-controlled settlements. 1755 saw the deportation of a majority of the inhabitants who spoke French to England and France.

The British were successful in completing the takeover of the land. The Treaty of Paris removed France from the Canadian territory, except for some areas near the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Because of the British takeover, the French language was consigned as a lower-ranked language. Soon English was spoken in the land especially when it came to trade and communications. Some educated French people had to learn the English language. They needed to do so. However, some had refused to learn English. They continued to speak only in French. Soon enough, French-speaking people increased in the land.

The British had also failed to let the French people imbibe their religion. It soon became evident to them that the only way that they can have peace in the land was to coexist with the French-speaking people.

Quebec Act of 1774 was soon passed in Parliament. In this Act, the restoration of French civil laws and the recognition of the French religion which was Catholicism was enforced.

Why does Canada speak French?

Montreal

After the British occupation of Canadian provinces, the French people still outnumbered the British settlers. Much as the British wanted the French-speaking population to accept the church of England, they were not successful.

However, they did not have to force their religion onto the French people. The French religion was allowed to be retained through the Quebec Act together which their language. This was how peace was bought. Both the British and the French agreed with the Act and this is the reason why Quebec became a French-speaking province.

So, despite many migrations from England, Scotland, Wales, and other parts of Europe, the identity of the French Canadians was kept. French became Quebec province’s official spoken language. It would also soon become the official language of Canada along with English.

Now, both French and English are being used in official government communications. Canadian citizens are not required to be fluent in both languages and not all the provinces of Canada are bi-lingual.

The Official Languages Act of 1969

With the Official Languages Act of 1960, both the French and the English languages became Canada’s two official languages. Both French and English were to be used by all federal institutions when they render their services.

This act has placed the English and the French language on equal standing in Canada’s government. This is despite having more English-speaking people in the whole of Canada. And this is also despite the variety in the French dialects.

When the government of Canada offers its services, it has to be in both languages. On the provincial level, Quebec’s sole official language is French. New Brunswick, however, is bi-lingual. In some areas like Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario, services offered by the provincial government are given in French if it is there is a great number of French-speaking people residing in the area.

The three territories of Canada also have French as their official language. But the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms saw to it that all territories and provinces will give primary and secondary education to their official-language minorities.

Federal political parties greatly supported the Official Languages Act but the provincial response was not so enthusiastic. In New Brunswick, they had their own Official Languages Act, officially introducing bilingualism. French-language services were offered in Ontario in some areas only. While Manitoba which is a monolingual anglophone province had to comply with the Act.

In 1988, the Official Languages Act of 1988 was replaced with a new one. This was to help promote the rights of linguistic minorities according to recent developments in Canadian language policy.

How the Term “Canadian French” was used historically

Quebec French and some deviations such as those used in Western Canada and Ontario came to be known as Canadian French. It used to leave out Acadian French since Acadia and Quebec were in different parts of New France. Today, however, Acadian French is also classified as Canadian French.

The common French languages in the Americas were Quebec French, Metis French, and Brayon French. Other French spoken in the region are Acadian French, Newfoundland French, and Cajun French which are derived from a local dialect in France.

French Dialects

The French language in Canada has three unique but related dialects. These dialects came about because of geographical isolation. These dialects are in no way similar to the French spoken in France. These dialects fall under Canadian French.

The first dialect is Quebec French. It is slightly different from the French spoken in Western Canada, Ontario, and Labrador. These dialects are also called Laurentian French but can also be aptly called Quebec French. This dialect is the most used French dialect in Canada.

In Newfoundland, the maritime provinces, the Gaspe peninsula, and the Magdalen Islands, Acadian French is spoken. This dialect is spoken by almost 350, 000 Acadians.

In Western Canada and Manitoba, Metis French is spoken. The Metis people do not only speak French but they also use the Cree dialect. Since both dialects were used, words soon got mixed and a unique language was born which is called Michif. In Michif, there is a combination of Metis French and the Cree language. Today, these two languages are endangered.

In the Port-au-port peninsula of Newfoundland, Newfoundland French is spoken. However, most people in this place speak more of Quebec and Arcadian French than their dialect.

In New Brunswick, Edmundston, Maine, and Madawaska, Brayon French is spoken. It is a combination of Acadian and Quebec French. This is due to the mixed population of people from Quebec and from Acadia who have settled in the region.

Parts of New England in the US use New England French. This French dialect came from Quebec French and is one of the major forms of French used in the United States. Louisiana French and Missouri French are the other forms of French in the US.

Conclusion

Two mother nations founded the country we now call Canada, France, and the UK. Before the British conquered the region, it was the French language that was being used in the whole colony. Despite British victory in the colony, the French language was not abolished. It was the Treaty of Paris and the Quebec Act of 1763 and 1774, respectively, that provided the continuation of French civil laws, the French language, and the French religion which is Catholicism. To this day, the Constitution of Canada still carries these provisions.

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Thais R

I moved to Canada in 2016. This was the best decision that I ever made. I created this website to share what I’ve learned with anyone who’s thinking of moving or travelling to Canada.

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