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22 Mar 2012

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This lecture deals with the following question: How did French Canada survive as a
distinct society in British North America? I suggest that we need to consider two
broad aspects: a pragmatic recognition of the “French fact” on the part of the British
colonial government; and a combination of adaptability, resilience and resistance on
the part of the French Canadians (the Canadiens). Part I of the lecture outlines the
three constitutions that were provided for British North America between 1763 and
1791 and the rationale behind each one. Part II focuses on the period 1791-1837 and
deals with the economy, class identities and emerging Canadien nationalism as
background to the Rebellion of 1837, which sought to overthrow British colonial
government in Quebec. Although this rebellion failed, the Canadiens’ distinctive
identity persisted, rooted in language, religion and a deep sense of belonging.
Part I:
1 The Royal Proclamation of 1763: a plan for governing the former New France
largely unimplemented; recognition of “Indian territory” – still significant; resented
in Thirteen Colonies
2 Quebec Act, 1774: a pragmatic recognition of the French fact (new government
institutions and an enlarged “Quebec”) and as such contributed further to coming of
the American Revolution
3 Constitutional Act, 1791: a response to arrival of Loyalists from the former
Thirteen Colonies; created two colonies out of the former Quebec; each new colonial
government had an elective component, but the “last word” came from Britain.
Part II Quebec, 1791-1837: Economy, Social Class, and an increasingly vocal
Canadien Nationalism
1 Economy: an overwhelmingly rural subsistence economy; a waning fur trade;
growing timber trade
2 Social Class: habitants; seigneurs and clergy; English-Canadian merchant class;
French-Canadian professional class
Each of these groups had distinct values and aspirations. Yet the French-Can
professional class who were the main exponents of Canadian nationalism sought to
convince the habitants that their political and economic interests were the same and
would be well served if they were in charge.
THE REBELLION OF 1837: Events, Consequences, Interpretations
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