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Readings in Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

The Rise of the Language Issue since the Quiet Revolution

Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College.

Since the Quiet Revolution, the issue of language has been at the heart of many debates in Quebec. Three major language bills, and several amendments to these, have been issued. Court challenges of various linguistic provisions, practical problems associated with the application of several elements of the language legislation, especially those connected to Bill 101, over zealousness by civil servants in applying some provisions of the law, have all served to focus attention on this issue, and keep it in the public eye. Indeed, only separatism can rival the language issue in importance in Quebec. What has brought such a strong focus on language in Quebec in the past forty years? Why did it take the form that it did?

To answer these questions we will first turn to the pre Quiet Revolution period. The examination of this period will first show that concern over language is not new in Quebec. It will also establish a number of factors that developed, and were to impact on the post 1960 period. We will then turn to the causes of the intensification of the language issue at the time of, and after the Quiet Revolution. The examination of these elements will also serve to explain the form that the issue took after 1960.

The language issue before 1960

While there is no doubt that the issue of language intensified after 1960, it should not be presumed that it was absent before the Quiet Revolution. Indeed, many commentators have written as if this issue was nonexistent before the rise of separatism in the 1960’s. There is an underlying sense, in their writings, that there once existed a golden age, "the good old days" as it is often referred to, when the issue of language did not exist, where people went about their business unhampered, and where the relation between the two main linguistic groups was nothing but civil. Indeed, this would have been a happy time! Of course, at least for francophones, the reality was quite different. Indeed, there was a good deal of concern expressed about language in Quebec prior to the Quiet Revolution.

A first focus on the French language concerned its preservation. From the time of the conquest of New France by Britain, and especially after the arrival of significant contingents of English-speaking immigrants, concern started to be expressed about the preservation of the French language. This was especially so as, from time to time, the British government adopted policies of assimilation (Royal Proclamation, Union Act), and as the proportion of francophones in Canada fell to the extent that French became a minority language from the 1840’s. After that date, the French Canadian nation defined itself increasingly as a minority nation, besieged and threatened. As economic problems arose in Quebec throughout the XIXth century, there was an increasing scattering of members of the nation to other parts of Canada and to the United States. This reinforced the view of the nation as threatened, and the preservation of the language, la survivance as it was called, became a major theme for the ultramontane nationalists of the period of 1840-1960.

A second focus on language before the 1960’s concerned anglicisms. The interaction of two languages inevitably leads to a certain amount of borrowing between them. Indeed, a language that is static, and develops in isolation, rarely is a dynamic one. However, in Quebec, the borrowing did not reflect dynamism. Borrowing was largely one-sided, as the French language became peppered with anglicisms, and the English language remained largely unaffected. This situation resulted from the fact that relations with France were largely severed in the period of 1760 to 1854. Consequently Quebec lost, in this period, contact with the main source of French culture in the world, at a time where it was not culturally sufficiently mature itself to be able to stand on its own. Borrowing English terms became a way of overcoming the inability to describe new things properly in one’s language. The rise of anglicisms in the French language also reflected the power structure that existed between the two linguistic communities. As business fell increasingly into the hands of anglophones, the English language became ever more prominent, and unable to describe business and scientific terms in their language, francophones used the English language instead.

The elite in Quebec understood the danger of anglicisms and sought, as best they could, to stamp them out. It kept this issue on the front burner continuously. Already, in the 1880’s, journalist Arthur Buies was railing against anglicisms in a book entitled Anglicismes et canadianismes. In an article in L’Électeur, written in 1888, Buies wrote: "We are infested with anglicisms. Anglicisms inundate us, crest over us, disfigure and corrupt us. What is worse is that half the time we do not even realise it. Worse still, on occasion, we refuse to recognise anglicisms, even when they are pointed out to us. We are so used to mixing the English and French languages that we cannot tell the difference between them". Few thought the description to be overdone. A book written in the early part of the XXth century by Father Etienne Blanchard, and entitled En Garde!, had five editions in a matter of months, and sold over 35,000 copies. A shortened version of it, titled En français. Anglicismes, barbarismes, mots techniques, traductions difficiles, etc., was also published and was a run away success. A study by Chantal Bouchard ["De la ‘langue du Grand Siècle’ à la ‘langue humiliée’. Les Canadiens Français et la langue populaire, 1879-1970", in Recherches sociographiques, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1988): 7-21] asserts that in five major newspapers in Quebec in the period of 1880-1949 there was an annual average of 50 articles on anglicisms. While several of these articles were concerned especially with lexicography, a good many others were particularly interested in the ideological aspects of it. Moreover, as time passed, the interest in this issue grew. The average number of articles rose to nearly 80 in the period of 1950-1970.

The second language issue was intimately related to the third, which was the poor quality of the spoken French. The problems were both grammatical and phonetic. Long campaigns were fought to focus attention on improving the quality of the French language. Indeed, one of the first steps taken to defend the French language was the creation of the Société du [bon] parler français in 1910. There were three major Congrès de la langue française organised, in 1912, 1937 and 1952. These Congrès regrouped the francophone world of North America to discuss issues of mutual interest. Two of their main concerns were to take steps to improve the quality of the French spoken by the population, and to make it an effective language in business and the sciences in Canada. For example, at the Congrès of 1912, Adjutor Rivard presented papers on the quality of the language of the common people in Canada, and on the francisation of English words; A. Aubert gave a conference on the efforts to correct the French language spoken in Canada; no less than three speakers addressed the issue of the role of schools in improving the language spoken by students; there were 14 communications given on the French language and commerce, industry, medicine etc. All told, there were 176 communications given at the Congrès. The Congrès of 1937 and 1952 continued in the same vein. The most outstanding condemnation of the quality of the language came in 1959 when an obscure cleric, dubbed by Le Devoir, Frère Untel [Brother Anonymous], started to write articles in the newspaper to condemn the educational system of Quebec, the language spoken by the common people, and the lack of focus on culture. His letters to the newspaper struck such an accurate note that they were rapidly edited in book form, in 1960. The Insolences du frère untel was an immediate success, and sold over 100,000 copies in French before being translated into English as well. The exchange with the editor of the newspaper, André Laurendeau, led to giving a name to this corrupted language: joual. This word is a corruption of the term cheval [horse], and the use of this word to describe the popular language was so accurate that the term has become a household name since. In Quebec, too many people spoke joual. Though the term was born only in 1959, the sad reality had been there, and an issue, for a long time.

A fourth area of concern about language before the 1960’s touched the defence of the French language in areas of Canada, and the United States, where francophones were in a minority situation. The magnitude of this issue cannot be stressed enough, although it is not within the scope of this discussion to delve at length on this point. Yet, it should be clear that between 1840 and 1960 the nation was defined as a French Canadian nation, thus defined in relation with the Canadian context, and where, consequently, the French language was inevitably in a situation of minority, except in Quebec. French Canadians from Quebec saw themselves as the centre, or the mainstay, of the nation. The French minorities were the vanguard, the outposts of it. However, though the minorities were far from the centre, francophone Quebecers were fully aware that the nation had scattered many of its people to other parts of Canada and the United States. Few families would not have had some of its members in minority situations. These were commonly referred to as nos frères de la dispersion, which could be translated as ‘our brothers of the diaspora". It would also be fair to say that in the diaspora, francophones frequently met intolerance and discrimination. In the period of 1890 to 1930 particularly, nearly every francophone minority in Canada was assailed in its rights in a manner that would make current anglophone complaints about Bill 101 appear trifling in comparison. The most noteworthy of these were the Manitoba School question and Ontario’s Regulation 17. Before the Second World War, Canada was not the haven of tolerance to racial, religious or linguistic minorities that it was to progressively become after the war.

Every one of the attacks on the francophone minorities, including the attacks on the Metis people in the period of 1870 to 1885, were deeply felt in Quebec, and resented. For Quebec was otherwise itself an oasis of tolerance, going out of its way to be generous to its own anglophone minority, to the point that eventually it will be the majority that will complain about the dominance of the minority. The attacks on minority rights, whether focused on language or the catholic faith, kept a high level of stress between the two main linguistic communities in Canada, and continued to serve to focus attention in Quebec on the issue of language. If others were so determined to stamp out the French language, then it must be a value that should be protected, and cherished.

The fifth, and last area of focus on language before the 1960’s, centred on the federal government and on the many campaigns by francophones to gain services in French, increase the proportion of francophones in the federal civil service, and, generally, to spread bilingualism in the federal sphere. Again, much could be written about this issue, and only a brief outline can be given here. It is safe to assert that it was Henri Bourassa, the great French Canadian nationalist of the early XXth century, who first defined Canada as the type of country that it was to become: a bilingual and independent nation. In his view, Canada was an Anglo-French nation, and bilingualism was the cornerstone on which the country was built. Yet, the daily reality of the functioning of the federal government contradicted this view. The government of Canada functioned almost exclusively in English, even in many aspects of its administration in Quebec. The common language of the civil service was English, and francophones were grossly underrepresented in it [ francophones made-up only 12% of the federal civil service in 1946; after the Official languages’ Act was issued in 1969, the percentage rose to 26.8% in 1982.]. These francophones were nearly always relegated to the lowly echelons, except when a position was secured through political patronage. While French could be used in the debates of the House of Commons, a provision written into the constitution, it was rarely used in the proceedings of the House for the simple reason that there was not simultaneous translation provided until the 1960’s. If a francophone wished to be understood, and wished to convince his anglophone colleagues of the validity of his views, then the English language had to be used. In a study conducted for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, in the 1960’s, David Hoffman and Norman Ward [Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the Canadian House of Commons] demonstrated that the introduction of simultaneous translation had a dramatic effect in increasing the use of the French language in the House of Commons. In its absence, usually less than 5% of the speeches were made in French, although francophones represented 25-29% of the members in the House. The situation was even worse in the foreign affairs of Canada. In 1965, Paul-Gérin Lajoie, then Minister of education in Quebec, a former constitutional expert, and a future leader in Canada in international relations, wrote: "In its foreign policy, the Federal government was even less respectful of the duality of Canada than in its internal policy, which is not to say much". Abroad, Canada projected an almost exclusively English face.

Demand for services in French, and large-scale campaigns organised for this purpose, was greatest for currency and postage stamps. Until 1934, the chartered banks issued paper currency. Since nearly all of them were owned by anglophones, the currency was printed only in English, except for a few small francophone banks that printed their bills in English and in French. When the Bank of Canada was created in 1934, and took over all printing of currency in Canada, the Bennett government refused to print bilingual money. Eventually, Mackenzie King rectified this. Until 1927, the year of the sixtieth anniversary of Confederation, stamps were printed in English only. To the extent that stamps and currency are symbols of sovereignty, they proclaimed loudly that Canada was English and that French was of no consequence. The energy that was dispensed in Quebec to gain elements of recognition for the French language in the federal sector was out of proportion to the gains that were made before the Trudeau years and the implementation of the Official Languages’ Act of Canada in 1969.

Thus, it cannot be seriously argued that the pre 1960’s were the "good old days" where the language issue did not exist. It existed, loud and clear, but little of it affected anglophones in any significant manner. Prior to the 1960’s, the government of Quebec passed only two language laws ever. The first is known as the Lavergne Law, issued in 1910. It required that tickets on trains, busses and tramways in Quebec be in French, as well as in English. Until that year, the tickets had usually been only in English in Quebec. It is astounding to us today to observe that this mild measure met such opposition and resistance from business and so little support from the anglophone community of the province at the time. The other law was issued under Duplessis in 1937. It required that the French text of the laws of Quebec prevail over the English text, as more likely reflecting the intent of the legislators of the Legislative Assembly. This bill was resented, and opposed, by anglophones, who saw it as an assertion of the pre-eminence of French in Quebec. Quietly, in 1938, the bill was withdrawn.

Pre 1960’s elements that were to impact on the post 1960’s period

While focus on language before the 1960’s was extensive and important, situations developed that were to have a serious impact on the shape of the language issue after this period. These will be discussed only briefly but they would deserve a larger discussion.

The first component to note is that no government was ever controlled by francophones, at least until 1867. At no time before that date were francophones ever in a position where language laws could be issued according to their wishes. On the contrary, they had to face a number of measures seeking to restrict the rights of French. Thus, one could not expect that language laws be issued before 1867. Neither were they to be seriously issued between 1867 and 1960. In this period, Quebec was in the grip of Liberal and Catholic anti-statist ideologies. The best government was as little government as possible. The real government in Quebec, that is to say the agency that took care of the services, educational, social, health, that one associates with governments, was the Roman Catholic Church. Under these conditions, it was inconceivable that the state would issue much proactive legislation, linguistic or otherwise. It was only with the Quiet Revolution that Quebecers learned to effectively and extensively use the state. Should we be surprised that linguistic legislation was mostly to come after 1960?

The second component to keep in mind is that, prior to the 1960’s, the francophone population of Quebec was relatively poorly educated if measured against the situation of their anglophone compatriots in the province and in the country. The low level of educational attainment had several effects, one of which is that it largely placed most of the population of Quebec in the working class rather than in the managerial class. There developed a social structure within which, generally, francophones were on the production lines while anglophones belonged far more likely to the professional and managerial class. There was relatively little competition between the two. This was the society that was described by American sociologist Everett Hughes in French Canada in Transition in the late 1940’s. With the development of the educational system of Quebec in the 1960’s, a newly created francophone scientific and technocratic class challenged the dominant position of anglophones and demanded linguistic legislation to win its place in the sun.

This second factor was that much more serious because, outside of the agricultural sector, the economy of Quebec had rapidly fallen into the hands of anglophones after the conquest of 1760. From the early XIXth century, English became the language of business in Quebec, with French being only marginal, and of little consequence to the functioning of the economy. Several recent studies in Quebec have demonstrated that ownership of business is the main determinate of the management hired and, consequently, of the language used in the upper echelon of business. Once this system is in place, the network theory ensures that the dominant group, and in this case the dominant language, perpetuates itself, essentially blocking the opportunities of the other groups. The system here is not peculiar to English-French relations in Quebec; feminists and members of racial minorities will be very familiar with it. The one advantage that francophones had was that in discovering the state by the 1960’s they were in the position to enhance the place of French in businesses in Quebec, and by so doing, enhance the opportunities of francophones to rise within managerial positions. Again, on this question, while the anglophone control of the economy arose long ago, it was only after the 1960’s that something was likely to be done about the consequences that this control entailed.

A last factor, dominant in the period prior to the 1960’s, and changing with the Quiet Revolution needs to be addressed: prior to the 1960’s, language, as a pillar of survival, was secondary to religion. This issue has been addressed elsewhere and should be consulted for a full understanding of this point. With the Quiet Revolution, religion and institutions, two components which had served to define and distinguish French Canadian society were rapidly discarded as significant pillars of survival. Mainly one pillar remained: language. Of necessity, this pillar was to play a greater role than it had previously if the survival and the development of the community were to be achieved. Under these conditions, one should not be surprised that linguistic factors acquired from this point a prominence that they did not have previously.

Causes specifically linked to changes in the period of the Quiet Revolution. Elements that determined the form the linguistic issue would take.

To some extent, it seems to me that the problem of explaining why the language issue arose so strongly after the 1960’s is misplaced. Rather, what should be explained more fully is why it did not arise sooner, given that there always was concern about the issue of the survival of the language. Before the Quiet Revolution, English had long been dominant in Quebec, economically and socially; it was the language most endowed with prestige. It was the language of choice for immigrants when they settled in the province. Yet, this position of dominance was not challenged. Following the Rebellions of 1837-38, a sort of unwritten rule was established: henceforth, anglophones would not threaten the cultural gains made by francophones and would not seek to keep them out of the political sphere, as had been done before 1837. In return, francophones would not challenge the dominant economic position of the anglophones. This elite accommodation worked for a long time, as long as there did not exist a commercially oriented francophone class that could only gain its place in the sun by lessening the control that anglophones had on business in Quebec. Again, the social promotion of this class could only be achieved with proper training, through the promotion of French as the common language in Quebec, and as the primary language of business. Such a class was only produced progressively after the Second World War. It only became strong enough during and after the Quiet Revolution. Thus, though the dominance of anglophones, and of the English language, was likely resented before the 1960’s, it was not challenged, as the class to replace the anglophones simply did not exist. When such a class arose, it was likely to lead to a language debate.

A second factor for the rise of the linguistic issue after the 1950’s was the development of the civil rights movement and the process of decolonisation. While advocates of individual, minority and national rights existed before, there is no doubt that the early 1960’s witnessed a growth of popularity and support for civil rights. Here, and elsewhere, people became more aware of discriminatory practices, increasingly condemned them, and sought to do something about them. This movement was spearheaded by the civil rights movement in the United States but was not limited to it. After racial and national groups, feminists and natives were to follow and all demanded structural changes. In French-speaking Quebec, there was a close identification with these foreign movements of self-assertion. When Pierre Vallières wrote his revolutionary work about Quebec in the 1960’s, he entitled it Nègres blancs d’Amérique [White Niggers of America]. The case was somewhat overstated, but few found the title inappropriate.

The view spread rapidly in Quebec that francophones were discriminated against and that this should end. Scientific studies supported this view. Francophones in Quebec earned significantly less than their anglophone counterparts. A study for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the mid 1960’s found that when the income of the 14 main ethnic groups in Quebec was compared, francophones’ income ranked twelfth, just before Italians who were relatively recent immigrants to Quebec, and Amerindians. As much as 40% of the discrepancy in the income of francophones, when compared to people of British descent, could not be explained by objective factors such as education, experience, type of job etc. The Commission was at a loss to explain this discrepancy, save to ascribe it to discrimination and the lack of importance of the French language in the economy of Quebec. [See a summary in Lysiane Gagnon "Les conclusions du rapport B.B: de Durham à Laurendeau-Dunton: variations sur le thème de la dualité canadienne", in Robert COMEAU, ed., Economie québécoise, Montreal, Presses de l’université du Québec, 1969, pp. 233-252. From the same Royal Commission consult Donald E Armstrong, Education and Economic Achievement, Ottawa, 1970, 101p. and Christopher Beattie, Jacques Désy and Stephen Longstaff, Bureaucratic Careers: Anglophones and Francophones in the Canadian Public Service, Ottawa, 1972, 652p.] Other studies showed that there was a close correlation between knowledge of English, being anglophone in Quebec and higher income. The situation was such that it seemed as if the less French one knew the more likely one was to do well. In 1961, unilingual anglophones in Quebec earned 37% more than bilingual francophones and 93% more than unilingual francophones. In the census of 1971, while the gap had somewhat narrowed, unilingual anglophones still earned 18% more than bilingual francophones. Only in 1977-78 did unilingual anglophones start to earn less than bilingual francophones. This was after Bills 22 and 101 had been issued.

Thus, a significant component in explaining the rise of the language issue from the 1960’s is connected to the civil rights movement and to attempts to remove discrimination by mandating the French language in the economy, and, by so doing, inevitably promoting the welfare of French-speaking individuals. Already, in 1974, Bill 22 had contained many articles with an economic incidence. One should not be surprised that the language law issued by the Parti Québécois, in 1977, contained so many articles dealing with the economy, and was entitled French Language Charter. The term Charter is usually used in the context of a Charter of Rights. To francophones, the Charter aimed at doing what most Charters do: protecting their rights. As such, francophones are often bewildered, and offended, by anglophone attacks on the French Language Charter. It is as if one attacked the Bill of Rights. The Charter is understood in French-speaking Quebec as a simple affirmation of francophone rights to work in French and live in French.

The last major factor in explaining the rise of the language issue in the last forty years is the view that this period witnessed the erosion of the security of the French language. This question involves several components that came into play, and served to spread fears that the French language was increasingly in danger. Some of these points are difficult to measure precisely and substantiate. Thus, they raised more debates. [For a very typical discussion of the issue discussed here, see Jacques-Yvan MORIN, "L’érosion de la sauvegarde du français au Quebec", in Action nationale, Vol 78, No. 1-2 (Jan.-Feb. 1988): 3-61]

One factor that has undeniably emerged since the Second World War, and especially since the 1960’s, is the increasing dominance of the United States in the world. America has emerged as the political, economical, military and cultural giant in the world. With the emergence of America to hegemony in the world, the English language has acquired a status, and prestige, that it did not have previously. The increasing globalisation of the economy under the leadership of the United States, the development of the mass media largely controlled from the U.S.A., the proliferation of leisure activities, especially cultural ones, dominated by the United States have all served to not only enhance the status of English in the world but, by the same token, have relegated national languages to more and more localised, and less prestigious functions.

Already, at the best of times, prior to the 1960’s, the position of the French language was tenuous in Canada. French minorities assimilated at varying, but accelerating, rates. In 1981, outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, from 34 to 72% of people of French mother tongue in the other eight provinces used English customarily to converse at home. In general, most francophone Quebecers were little affected by such pressures. However with the advent of television, satellite and cable tv’s, the Internet, readily available magazines and travel, pressures mounted on the French language in Quebec. A study published in 1992, but based on data usually collected in 1990 [Indicateurs de la situation linguistique au Québec, Gouvernement du Québec, Conseil de la langue française, 1992, 133p.] demonstrated that 18.8% of the readers of the Montreal Gazette were francophones, 41% of francophones used computer programmes in English only, 41.5% of the computer manuels used by francophones were in English, 12% of the television viewing time was spent by francophones watching programmes in the English language (this is 3X more than anglophones watching French tv) 16% of Montreal area francophones listened regularly to English radio, far more occasionally so, 33.1% of the attendance at English movies in cinemas was made-up of francophones and 25% of the videocassettes rented by francophones were in English. Anglophone media are readily available and heavily used by francophones. Quebec is a French enclave completely surrounded by anglophones in North America. Francophone Quebecers are very aware of that fact. One might even say that they are obsessed by it. Yet, isolation is not possible any more. From the 1960’s, many felt that there was a need to take various steps, including language legislation, to protect French culture. In fact, few would deny today the need to take steps to protect the French language, even among opponents of language legislation. Rather, the debate centres on how the protection should be extended, and on what steps should be taken precisely.

Aside from the increased dominance of English, the erosion of the security of French has been caused by greater contacts between francophones and anglophones. It is not always fully realised to what extent, prior to the 1960’s, the world of anglophones and francophones rarely intersected. In the words of the great Canadian novelist, Hugh MacLennan, French and English in Quebec were Two Solitudes. They lived in different parts of the province and, even when they lived in the same area, there was a clear demarcation line between them. In Montreal, this line ran along Boulevard St. Laurent with francophones dominating the East, and anglophones the West. Within their area, each group could continue its life according to the parameters of its culture and social condition. A significant proportion of French Canadians lived in rural areas where the population was so homogeneous that many could spend their entire life without ever even glimpsing an anglophone, let alone being confronted with the English language. By contrast, the anglophone world was the world of the cities, Montreal in particular. Such is not the case today. With the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the province, especially during and after the Second World War, interaction between anglophones and francophones, or at least exposure to the other language, has increased dramatically. With greater interaction, along with the effects of the mass media, has come an increasing rate of bilingualism. Between 1951 and 1981, the rate of bilingualism in Quebec has increased by about 40%. While a great benefit to individuals socially, economically and culturally in enriching their lives, the increased bilingualisation of Quebec potentially threatened the French language, as the two languages rarely compete on a footing of equality: one is the language of a small minority while the other is endowed with the power and the prestige of world dominance. Many felt, and continue to feel, that the French language needed legislative protection. Only the nature, and the extent of that protection, was disagreed upon.

The last element contributing to the erosion of the security of French was the rapid decline in the birth rate that occurred between 1960 and 1970. In that period of time, Quebec went from having one of the highest birth rates in Canada to having the lowest. The slowing down of the rate of growth of the Quebec population, coupled with the increasing rate of assimilation of minorities elsewhere in Canada, has brought a sharp decline in the percentage of population that francophones, and Quebec, constitute in Canada. The demographic decline of a minority is always a matter of concern to it. Its ability to exert influence, to maintain adequate services, is often dependent on the size of the community. A group in decline is rarely attractive to immigrants. Quebec sought to compensate its diminishing natural increase by seeking to attract more immigrants to the province, even to seek guarantees for a share of Canadian immigration. Many new programmes were instituted by the provincial government, including a provincial department of immigration, and a more open and tolerant attitude to immigrants was displayed than had ever been seen before. The province was successful in attracting more immigrants, although the deteriorating economic conditions eventually slowed down the movement. In 1961, 14 820 immigrants entered Quebec; by 1967, the number had reached 45,717.

Not only did the number of immigrants coming to Quebec increase but the ethnic composition of this immigration rapidly changed. Now, immigrants came from Eastern Europe, Haiti, Asia, Latin America and the Arab world. Traditionally, a large percentage of the immigrants to Quebec had been British, Americans, Jewish, French, and Italians. By virtue of their background, these immigrants rapidly integrated into the existing two main linguistic groups in the province. However, most immigrants assimilated into the anglophone community; the beginning of this assimilation was done through English schools. Before the rise of the number of immigrants, and the demographic decline of francophones, this was not a matter of great concern. Such was not the case after the 1960’s. If immigrants came in larger numbers, and if they assimilated in an increasing rate to the anglophone community, then the francophone community was threatened with decline, first in Montreal, then perhaps in the rest of Quebec. Many felt that this should not be allowed to happen. When even the groups most likely to integrate to the French group, such as Italians, started to send their children to English schools in huge proportion then the call for action became very strong. Eventually, as is shown in Table 1, a large proportion of the students enrolled in English schools throughout Quebec came from a non-English background. Nearly all allophones went to English schools, a fact in sharp contrast to the situation that had prevailed one generation ago (see Table 2). Consequently, English schools grew at a fast rate, especially in the Montreal area, while French schools faced a period of rapid decline. When government did not take action to safeguard the position of French, individual catholic school boards, controlled by francophones, started to take action. Such was the case in Laval and in St. Léonard. Eventually, as the proportion of francophones rose in the Protestant school system, the same thing would likely have occurred.

Table 1

Distribution by Ethnolinguistic Group of Pupils Enrolled
In the English schools of the Commission des Écoles Catholiques de Montréal

School Year

French Origin

% of French Origin

British Origin

% of British Origin

All Other Origins

% of Other Origin

Total Number of Students

























































Source: Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Position of the French Language and on Language Rights in Quebec (Gendron Report), Vol. 3 The Ethnic Groups, Quebec, Éditeur Officiel du Québec, 1972, p. 484.

Table 2

Distribution of Immigrant Children by Language of Instruction
In the Commission des Écoles Catholiques de Montréal,

School Year

Enrolled in French Schools

% in French Schools

Enrolled in English Schools

% in English Schools












































Source: Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Position of the French Language and on Language Rights in Quebec, Vol. 3 The Ethnic Groups, Quebec, Éditeur Officiel du Québec, 1972, p. 485.

The demographic decline, and the rise of a multicultural immigration, led the governments of Quebec to focus their language legislation on sending clear messages to the newcomers: Quebec was primarily a French society, the economy should function in French. The manner of achieving this would be to regulate signs, billboards and advertising to make them French. Companies would have to establish programmes of francisation of their businesses, unless they were very small or an international head-office. Newcomers would all have to send their children to French schools, and thus be integrated into the francophone world.

Signs, businesses, the schools: these were the three main areas of legislation of Bills 22 and 101. While there were other elements, such as the right to be serviced in French, they were small in comparison to the three raised in this article. These three components were clearly connected to the causes outlined above and sought to remedy them. The success of these measures is analysed in another article.

© 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College