Pioneers of Canada - Quebec
Pictured right: Victor Begin was the only French Canadian officer serving in the NorthWest Mounted Police. and he had been with them for 15 years. If you would like to know a bit more, please consult the Skagway Historical Society which has posted a brief biography of Joseph Victor Begin.
From New France to Confederation
French colonization started when Jacques CARTIER landed in Gaspé in 1534. One year later the French came into contact with Iroquoian villages on both shores of the St Lawrence River, for example at STADACONA near the location of the future Québec City and HOCHELAGA (the future Montréal). But the real beginning of French colonization in the St Lawrence Valley was in 1608, when Samuel de Champlain established a fort at Cap Diamant, the site of Québec City today. By the beginning of the 17th century, the Iroquoians had mysteriously disappeared from the north shore of the St Lawrence River. The population of the Montagnais-Naspaki (Innu) nation on the north shore was then around 4000 people. In 1666 the first census revealed a colonial, non-native population of only 3215 people. The French North American empire expanded considerably during the 17th century. In 1672 and 1673, Louis JOLLIET and Jacques MARQUETTE explored the Mississippi River and, in 1682, Robert Cavelier de LASALLE reached the Gulf of Mexico by following the Mississippi River. Many institutions were established: hospitals like Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in 1639, Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal in 1657; in 1664, the Coutume de Paris became the law in the colony; in 1663, Bishop Laval opened the first seminary, the Grand Séminaire de Québec, while the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice opened in Montréal in 1677. In 1713 the Treaty of UTRECHT, following France's defeat by a coalition of European countries in the War of the Spanish Succession, demanded that France surrender ACADIA (in the territory of Nova Scotia, excluding that area which is today Cape Breton Island), Newfoundland and the lands around Hudson Bay. Several thousand Acadians thus became part of the British empire in North America. Following the SEVEN YEARS' WAR, Québec City and Montréal were claimed by the British. It was the end of the French empire in North America. A few years after the Conquest, the remaining French population of the new British colony benefited from tension between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain with the Quebec Act of 1774. The Quebec Act enlarged the frontiers of the Province of Québec, recognized freedom of religion for Catholics, the legality of the seigneurial system and the French civil code. After the American Revolution, the Constitutional Act of 1791 reduced the frontiers of the province for the purpose of establishing a new colony, Upper Canada (eventually Ontario), and guaranteed a legislative assembly, although with limited powers, in each colony (Upper and Lower Canada). French-Canadians were, during the years 1791 to 1867, extremely active both politically and in every aspect of economic life. Local markets, as revealed by recent research, were extraordinarily complex and diversified. At the international level some French-Canadians, like Augustin CUVILLIER and Joseph Masson, were also involved in international commerce and banking. Both men were administrators of the Bank of Montreal while other French-Canadians opened French-Canadian banks like the La Banque du peuple in 1835. In 1837-38, the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada over the principle of self-government resulted in military repression and the DURHAM REPORT of 1839. Lord Durham recommended the application of the principle of self-government but suggested that the only solution to the French-Canadian problem was the union of the 2 colonies. The aim was to assimilate the French-Canadians. That plan was implemented in 1841 through the Union Act, voted in London in 1840. Section 41 of the Union Act stipulated that English was the only language of the new colony. But, when Britain abolished the mercantilist system between 1846 and 1848, the principle of self-government was granted to the colonies as compensation for the loss of protected access to the British market. Following that decision, a coalition of reformists led by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine formed the first democratic government of the Province of Canada (the colony formed by the union of Lower and Upper Canada) in 1848. The right of the French language was recognized by the reformists. By 1864, during negotiations for a new federation of British North American colonies, it was clear that there was a growing recognition of the French reality in the proposed federation.