How did French Canadians develop their own cultural identity?

Jake10

Ad Honoris
Oct 2010
11,960
Canada
#1
Long before the British takeover of Canada, the French living there had already culturally separated themselves from their cousins in France. How and why did this happen?
 
Last edited:
Aug 2012
12
Maryland, USA
#2
New France was extremely sparsely populated with only about 70,000 inhabitants by the time of conquest and only two cities (Québec and Montréal) centered around Canada on the Saint Lawrence river.
The climate is very harsh and much, much colder than France for the vast majority of the year. This meant that colonists from France (as well as other areas of Europe like Germany) had to adapt their lifestyle to this new climate. The climate of Canada also made the cultivation of cash-crops impossible.

What Canada did have was valuable furs, and the fur trade became central to the economy of all of New France. Trappers (also known as "voyageurs" and "coureurs du bois" were usually men who spent extensive amounts of time in the wilderness, often working with natives and Americans to bring in profits. This lifestyle was completely alien to someone in 17th or 18th century France.

Canada and New France in general also failed to attract many female settlers. Les Filles du Roi (or Daughters of the King) were females who were actually sent to Canada with the purpose of finding husbands and as a result boost the population and economy. Because of the lack of female European settlers, the colonists of New France often took native wives, and the relations between France and most native tribes (save the Iroquois) was much more cordial than with Britain or Spain. Many Québecois today have substantial native ancestry.

Catholicism was also a bastion of Canadien culture. Only Catholics were allowed to settle the New colony. The prominence of the Catholic church in Canadien society helped create a culture that was very religious, especially in comparison to the American colonies on the eastern seaboard. Interestingly enough, many of the worst curse words in modern day Québec are words that simply denote a religious object or idea. Words like 'chalice' and especially 'tabernacle' are swear words in Québec whereas in Europe there is nothing offensive about them. If you hear a Québecois say 'TABARNAK!" it is equivalent to an American saying "F*****"!

Lastly, a point which I am not 100% sure about but hope can be confiermed by other members is that Canadiens were all speaking French while back in France most of the population still spoke their respective regional dialects or languages (Occitan, Alsatian, Dutch, Breton, etc etc). Furthermore, the regions which contributed the most to colonization of Canada were Brittany and the northwestern coastal areas of France such as Vendée.

Hope this helps illustrate how Canada developed into such a unique society. Of course there's always the British conquest and their settlement that led to the creation of a whole different "Canada" west of Montréal, but thats a whole different story. One book I highly recommend is "The Dream of Nation" by Susan Mann - it covers the history of the Québecois people from their very beginnings to the present day.
 
Last edited:
Jul 2012
159
Canada
#3
Canada and New France in general also failed to attract many female settlers. Les Filles du Roi (or Daughters of the King) were females who were actually sent to Canada with the purpose of finding husbands and as a result boost the population and economy. Because of the lack of female European settlers, the colonists of New France often took native wives, and the relations between France and most native tribes (save the Iroquois) was much more cordial than with Britain or Spain. Many Québecois today have substantial native ancestry.
An interesting take on the history of Quebec and you raise some nice points. However, I must take issue with the above paragraph.

You are talking, of course, of Les Métis but they have a very seperate history from the French "Canadien" or "Quebecois". The French that were in Montreal or Quebec City were, for the most part, much closer to the people in France than they would have been to Les Métis further west. Even today, the Métis culture is much closer related to the culture of the Canadian Natives than to that of Quebec itself. The "French" of new France who created the identity of Quebec and the francophone culture of Canada were as much French as the settlers in America or lower Canada were British.

As for the relations with the other native tribes, I believe that was more to the fact that the British simply had the manpower and controlled the land into the interior. One has to remember that there was no United States at this time (nor Canada as confederation had not yet occured) and when the War of 1812 came many years later, quite a few of the native tribes were brought in to fight with the British as it suited their needs at the time. Both sides exploited the natives when convenient and allied with them when it was prudent to do so.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2010
512
Montréal
#4
Being from Québec I can hook you guys up with the latest historical research development about that. Historiography before tried to prove that the peasantry and nobility alike felt that they had a special identity. Recently, scholars from here dismissed these views because they tried to project a modern identity malaise back in the past where things were somewhat different.

Conclusions that arise now is that the inhabitants of New France developed a cultural identity in reaction to the English domination more than when they lived under the French regime, for the simple reason that peasants were tied to their lands and lords, and lords to the prestigious culture from Paris. Let's also not forget that people that settled here before English domination were from different parts of France, and therefore spoke different languages, had different cultures and different perspectives on the world.
 

Jake10

Ad Honoris
Oct 2010
11,960
Canada
#5
So, from what I see here, the culture was the product of a harsh environment which limited agriculture, isolation from France, the fur trade, low numbers of French females, Native and English influences, and the influences from various parts of France that the settlers brought with them.

This is fascinating from a social science point of view, especially because such a young culture has proven to be so determined to avoid assimilation that, to this day, it represents the biggest cultural boundary in Canada.
 

Baltis

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
4,005
Texas
#7
Confessing that I own these books but did not read them, there was a French colony in southern Illinois and the St. Louis area from way back around 1703. They lived in very close harmony with the Indian population. I personally believe part of the reason the French did so well was that they never really brought that many families with them to the frontier. More a matter of some French men (mostly traders) coming in and joining the tribes.

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/French-Roots-Illinois-Country-Mississippi/dp/0252069242/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344391738&sr=8-1&keywords=french+roots+in+the+illinois+country"]Amazon.com: French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times (9780252069246): Carl J. Ekberg: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/512K5HGBCCL.@@AMEPARAM@@512K5HGBCCL[/ame]

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Kaskaskia-French-Regime-Shawnee-Classics/dp/0809325365/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344391841&sr=1-1&keywords=Kaskaskia+under+the+french+regime"]Amazon.com: Kaskaskia Under the French Regime (Shawnee Classics) (9780809325368): Natalia Maree Belting, Carl J. Ekberg: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ldWV9E4kL.@@AMEPARAM@@51ldWV9E4kL[/ame]
 

Baltis

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
4,005
Texas
#8
Where do the Acadians fit in here?

Are they the ones driving that new crossover from GMC? :)

with a bit more seriousness, the Acadians were French settlers of Nova Scotia. Unfortunately for them, Nova Scotia was taken by the British several decades prior to the French and Indian War. I believe it may have been Queen Anne's war around 1700 - 1710. Anyway, the Acadians remained but were ruled by the British. Several wars and several years later, around 1755, the British required loyalty oaths from the Acadians that came with a promise of military service. They Acadians could not or would not sign the oaths and became unfortunate pawns for both sides. Many of them immigrated to Louisiana around that time and are the ancestors to the Cajun population.

A good book on the French and Indian War with info on the Acadians:

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Montcalm-Wolfe-Francis-Parkman/dp/1470196131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344428813&sr=8-1&keywords=Montcalm+and+Wolfe"]Amazon.com: Montcalm and Wolfe (9781470196134): Francis Parkman: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fRJsXEaOL.@@AMEPARAM@@51fRJsXEaOL[/ame]

Free on Kindle

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Montcalm-and-Wolfe-ebook/dp/B004UK0Z7Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1344428870&sr=1-1&keywords=Montcalm+and+Wolfe"]Montcalm and Wolfe: Francis Parkman: Amazon.com: Kindle Store@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/510xQWJFJTL.@@AMEPARAM@@510xQWJFJTL[/ame]
 
Mar 2014
6,633
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
#10
Long before the British takeover of Canada, the French living there had already culturally separated themselves from their cousins in France. How and why did this happen?
I don't think 'culturally separated' is quite right. It implies a certain rebellious attitude, which they were not; they remained loyal and dependent on the Ancien Regime to the end. 'Culturally distinct', I would say.

Another factor in that distinctness was universal militia conscription, which they were not subject to in France. Every able-bodied male was a militiaman, period the end. This caused some resentment in the latter years since to not serve was to see your farm burned, but to be caught in arms by the British was to see your farm burned... Lose/lose.