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Readings in Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

Quebec 1763-1791: Terminology and Population


Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College


  • To change one’s nature, to abandon one’s cultural characteristics to adopt those of another culture.
  • In the period after the Conquest, the process of assimilation did not have a linguistic component of significance. French was a language of great prestige, dominating  international relations, and arguably the language most used for ‘creation’ at the time. It was a language readily used by the British upper class and regulations in the St. Lawrence Valley were usually issued by the British Government in English and in French. Thus, assimilation did not mean to abandon French.
  • At this time, to be assimilated meant to become ‘British’ to accept British ways, to become in manners of thinking, behaving and beliefs ‘British’. In practice, this meant to accept the ‘British religion’ ie. Protestantism, especially the established religion of the Church of England (Anglicanism), to accept ‘British laws’ (these being the reflection of British culture) as well as ‘British institutions’, especially the political institutions of England. To the extent that these components characterized the British, to accept these ways was to embrace the British culture, to assimilate.
  • In the Constitutions of 1763 (the Royal Proclamation) and 1840 (the Union Act) Britain pursued policies of assimilation in Québec. Some have argued that, under one guise or another, Britain pursued assimilation policies throughout the entire period of 1763 and 1848.

Terminology used in this period:  

  • In this period of time, the terms Canadiens, Canadians and New Subjects are used solely to describe the French speaking, Roman Catholic population of the Province of Québec.
  • The English speaking population of the Province of Québec is referred to as the British, the Old Subjects and, more rarely, the British Americans or the English.

     The dichotomy French/English did not exist as yet.


Population data for this period:

  • 1763 estimated population of the Province was around 70,000; nearly all were French speaking.
  • 1774 population estimates are around 100,000 to 120,000; all but 2,000-4,000 are French
  • 1800 the population is estimated at 220,000 with 25,000 to 30,000 English speakers.

In this period, 80-90% of the population farmed, the cities of Montreal and Quebec were still very small; birth rates were around 55 per thousand people, death rate was around 30 per thousand. Immigrants came from the American colonies and the British Isles.

© 1998 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College