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Québec is the largest province in Canada geographically, and the second most populous, after Ontario, with a population of 7,568,640 (Statistics Canada, January 2005). This represents about 24% of the Canadian population. Québec's primary and only official language is French, making up the bulk of the Francophone population in North America. Québec is the only Canadian province where English is not an official language (at the provincial level), and it is one of only two provinces – in addition to the federal government – where French is an official language (the other, per the Constitution Act, 1982, is New Brunswick; Manitoba enjoys limited official bilingualism). The capital is Quebec City (simply referred to as "Québec" in French) and the largest city is Montreal (or Montréal in French).
A resident of Québec is called a Québecer (also spelled "Quebecker"), or in French, un(e) Québécois(e).
Largest municipalities by population
Discovery and exploration
The first European explorer of what is now Quebec was Jacques Cartier, who planted a cross either in the Gaspé in 1534 or at Old Fort Bay on the Lower North Shore and sailed into the St. Lawrence River in 1535.
Quebec City was founded near the site of Stadacona, a village populated by Iroquoians when Jacques Cartier explored Canada. However, the village was no longer there when Samuel de Champlain established the Habitation de Quebec in 1608.
After 1627, King Louis XIII of France introduced the seigneurial system and forbade settlement in New France by anyone other than Roman Catholics, ensuring that welfare and education was kept firmly in the hands of the church. New France became a royal province in 1663 under King Louis XIV of France and the intendant Jean Talon.
Change of colonial powers
Great Britain acquired Canada by the Treaty of Paris (1763) when King Louis XV of France and his advisers chose to keep the territory of Guadeloupe for its valuable sugar crops instead of New France, which was viewed as a vast, frozen wasteland of little importance to the French colonial empire. By the British Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada (part of New France) was renamed the Province of Quebec.
In 1774, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act that helped ensure the survival of the French language and French culture in the region; since it did not hinder Catholicism in Quebec, it was deemed as one of the Intolerable Acts that spurred the American Revolution. The Act allowed Quebec to maintain the French civil law as its judicial system and sanctioned the freedom of religious choice, allowing the Roman Catholic Church to remain.
Quebec retained its seigneurial system and civil law code after France's giving of the territory to England. Owing to an influx of Loyalist refugees from the US Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Act of 1791 saw the colony divided in two at the Ottawa River (a small portion west of the Ottawa/St. Lawrence River confluence, which had the westernmost seigneuries, was retained in Lower Canada); the western part became Upper Canada and changed to the British legal system. The eastern part was named Lower Canada.
The Patriotes Rebellion in Lower Canada
Like their counterparts in Upper Canada, in 1837, English and French speaking residents of Lower Canada, led by Louis-Joseph Papineau and Robert Nelson, formed an armed resistance group to seek an end to British colonial rule. Their actions resulted in the Lower Canada Rebellion. An unprepared British Army had to raise a local militia force and the rebel forces were soon defeated after having scored a victory in Saint-Denis, Quebec, south of Montreal.
Act of Union
After the rebellions, Lord Durham was asked to undertake a study and prepare a report on the matter and to offer a solution for the British Parliament to assess. Following Durham's Report, the British government merged the two colonial provinces into one Province of Canada in 1841. However, the union proved contentious.
In the 1860s, the delegates from the colonies of British North America (Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland) met in a series of conferences in Charlottetown, Quebec City and London to discuss a broader union. As a result of those deliberations, in 1867 the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the British North America Act, providing for the Confederation of most of these provinces. The former Province of Canada was again divided into its two previous parts as the provinces of Ontario (Upper Canada) and Quebec (Lower Canada). New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined Ontario and Quebec in the new Dominion of Canada (Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland entered Confederation later, in 1873 and 1949, respectively).
The "Quiet Revolution"
The conservative government of Maurice Duplessis and his Union Nationale dominated Quebec politics from 1944 to 1960 with the support of the Catholic church. Pierre Trudeau and other intellectuals and liberals formed an intellectual opposition to Duplessis' repressive regime setting the groundwork for the Quiet Revolution under Jean Lesage's Liberals. The Quiet Revolution was a period of dramatic social and political change that saw the decline of the Roman Catholic Church's influence, the nationalization of Hydro-Québec and the emergence of a separatist movement under former Lesage minister René Lévesque.
Beginning in 1963, a terrorist group that became known as the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) launched a decade of bombings, robberies and attacks on government offices and at least two murders by FLQ gunfire and three violent deaths by bombings. Their activities culminated in events referred to as the October Crisis when James Cross, the British trade commissioner to Canada, was kidnapped along with Pierre Laporte, a provincial minister and Vice-Premier, who was murdered a few days later. In their published Manifesto, the terrorists stated: "In the coming year Bourassa (Quebec Premier) will have to face reality; 100,000 revolutionary workers, armed and organized."
At the request of premier Robert Bourassa, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. Once the War Measures Act was in place, arrangements were made for all detainees to see legal counsel. In addition, the Quebec Ombudsman, Louis Marceau, was instructed to hear complaints of detainees and the Quebec government agreed to pay damages to any person unjustly arrested. On February 3, 1971, John Turner, the Minister of Justice of Canada, reported that 497 persons had been arrested under the War Measures Act, of whom 435 had been released. The other 62 were charged, of which 32 were crimes of such seriousness that a Quebec Superior Court judge refused them bail. A federal government inquiry later revealed that some Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) agents infiltrated the group to gain evidence of the group's willingness to commit terrorist acts.
In 1977, the newly elected Parti Québécois government of René Lévesque introduced the Charter of the French Language. Often known as Bill 101, it defined French as the only official language of Quebec. To this day it remains controversial, and widely misunderstood both inside and outside Quebec.
Quebec and the Canadian constitution
Lévesque and his party had run in the 1970 and 1973 Quebec elections under a platform of separating Quebec from the rest of Canada. His party was defeated both times, with 23% and 30% of the vote respectively, and Lévesque himself was defeated in his own riding (electoral district). In the 1976 election, he softened his message by promising a referendum (plebiscite) on sovereignty-association rather than outright separation, by which Quebec would have independence in most governement functions but share some other ones, such as a common currency, with Canada. Though many Quebecers, especially English-speaking Quebecers, viewed sovereignty-association as thinly-veiled separation, Lévesque and the Parti Québécois were swept into power with 41% of the popular vote on November 15, 1976. The question of sovereignty-association was placed before the voters in the 1980 Quebec referendum. During the campaign, Pierre Trudeau promised that a vote for the NO side was a vote for reforming Canada. Trudeau advocated the patriation of Canada's Constitution from the United Kingdom, as the existing constitutional document, the British North America Act, could only be amended by the United Kingdom Parliament.
Sixty percent of the Quebec electorate voted against the proposition. Polls showed that the ovewhelming majority of English Quebecers voted against, and that French Quebecers were almost equally divided, with older voters less in favor, and younger voters more in favor. After his loss in the referendum, Lévesque went back to Ottawa to start negotiating a new constitution with Trudeau, his minister Jean Chrétien and the nine other provincial premiers. The negotiations quickly reached a stand-still. Then on the night on November 4 to November 5 1981, called in Quebec the 'Night of the Long Knives' (La Nuit des Longs Couteaux'), Jean Chrétien secretly met all the provincial premiers except René Lévesque to sign the document that would eventually become the new Canadian constitution. The next morning, they put Lévesque in front of the "fait accompli." Lévesque refused to sign the document, and returned to Quebec. In 1982, Trudeau had the new constitution approved by the UK, with Quebec's signature still missing (a situation that persists to this day).
In subsequent years, two attempts were made to gain Quebec's approval of the constitution. The first was the Meech Lake accord of 1987, which was finally abandoned in 1990 when the provinces of Manitoba and Newfoundland refused to vote on it. This led to the formation of the new Bloc Québécois party in Ottawa, led by Lucien Bouchard (formerly of the Progressive Conservative Party). The second attempt, the Charlottetown Accord of 1992, was rejected by 56.7% of all Canadians and 57% of Quebecers. This result caused a split in the Quebec Liberal Party that led to the formation of the new Action Démocratique (Democratic Action) party led by Mario Dumont and Jean Allaire.
On October 30, 1995, with the Parti Québécois back in power, a second referendum on sovereignty took place. This time, it was rejected by a slim majority (50.6% NO to 49.4% YES). There was also a spoiled ballot controversy as 11.7 % of ballots were spoiled in one riding (Chomedey).
The same night, Jacques Parizeau, then premier, declared that the loss was due to money and the ethnic vote. A media frenzy around these comments forced Parizeau to resign. Lucien Bouchard became Quebec's new premier in 1996.
After winning the next election, Bouchard retired from politics in 2001. Bernard Landry was then appointed leader of the Parti Québécois and premier of Quebec. In 2003, Landry lost the election to the Quebec Liberal Party and Jean Charest.
Main hydro-electric projects are built on La Grande Rivière. The extreme north of the province, now called Nunavik, is subarctic or arctic and is home to part of the Inuit nation.
The most populated region is the St. Lawrence River Valley in the south, where the capital, Quebec City, and the largest city, Montreal, are situated. North of Montréal are the Laurentians, a range of ancient mountains, and to the east are the Appalachian Mountains which extends into the Eastern Townships and Gaspésie regions. The Gaspé Peninsula juts into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the east.
The Lieutenant Governor represents Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. The head of government is the Premier (called premier ministre in French) who leads the largest party in the unicameral National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale, from which the Council of Ministers is appointed.
Until 1968, the Quebec legislature was bicameral, consisting of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. In that year the Legislative Council was abolished, and the Legislative Assembly was renamed the National Assembly. Quebec was the last province to abolish its Legislative Council.
The government of Quebec awards an order of merit called the National Order of Quebec. It is inspired in part by the French Legion of Honour. It is conferred upon men and women born or living in Quebec (but non-Quebecers can be inducted as well) for outstanding achievements.
The Québécois people, a people also found in small minorities of Canada and of the United States, consider Quebec their homeland. The Québécois are the largest population of French speakers in the Americas. Most French Canadians live in Quebec, though there are other concentrations of francophones throughout Canada with varying degrees of ties to Quebec. Montreal is the vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis of Quebec. History made Quebec a place where cultures meet, where people from all over the world experience America, but from a little distance and through a different eye. Often described as a crossroads between Europe and America, Quebec is home to a people that has the privilege of being connected to the strong cultural currents of the United States, France, and the British Isles all at the same time.
Quebec is also home to 11 aboriginal cultures and that of a large Anglo-Quebecer minority of approximately 600,000 people.
Quebec is the only Canadian province where French is the only official language and the majority. In 2001 the population was:
Quebec's fertility rate is now among the lowest in Canada. At 1.48, it is well below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1. This contrasts with the fertility rate before 1960 which was among the highest of the industrialized countries.
Although Quebec represents only 24% of the population of Canada, the number of international adoptions in Quebec is the highest of all provinces of Canada. In 2001, 42% of international adoptions in Canada were carried out in Quebec.
The majority of the population are of French descent, approximately 80% of the population. There are also significant numbers of Irish, English, Italians, and Portuguese.
83.3% Roman Catholic
The St. Lawrence River Valley is a fertile agricultural region, producing dairy products, fruit, vegetables, maple syrup (Quebec is the world's largest producer), and livestock.
North of the St. Lawrence River Valley, the territory of Quebec is extremely rich in resources in its coniferous forests, lakes, and rivers—pulp and paper, lumber, and hydroelectricity are still some of the province's most important industries.
High-tech industries are very important around Montreal. It includes the aerospace companies like jet manufacturer Bombardier, the jet engine company Pratt & Whitney, the flight simulator builder CAE and defense contractor Lockheed Martin, Canada. Those companies and other major subcontractors make Quebec the fourth biggest player worldwide in the aviation industry.
Symbols and Emblems
The graphic emblem of Quebec is the fleur-de-lis, usually white on a blue background, as on the flag of Quebec (above), the Fleurdelisé. As indicated on the government of Quebec's Web site, the flag recalls the Royal banner said to have accompanied the army of General Montcalm, Marquis de Saint-Véran during the victorious battle of Carillon in 1758. The fleur-de-lis as a symbol of the now deposed House of Bourbon is regarded as "counter revolutionary" in France.
The avian emblem of Quebec is the snowy owl.
The patron saint of French Canada is John the Baptist. La Saint-Jean-Baptiste, June 24, is Quebec's national day, and is officially called the Fête nationale du Québec since 1977. The song "Gens du pays" by Gilles Vigneault is often regarded as Quebec's unofficial anthem.
is sometimes referred to as "La Belle Province" which means
"The Beautiful Province". Until the late 1970s, this phrase
was displayed on Quebec licence plates. It has since been replaced by
the province's official motto: "Je me souviens" which means
"I remember". A common debate in popular Canadian culture
(both French and English) is to what is being remembered.
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