French Canadian

French Canadians are a cultural group and ethnolinguistic nation which originated in Canada, New France, a former French colony along the St. Lawrence River in what is today southern Quebec in Canada. The French Canadians, together with the Acadians, constitute the two main French-speaking populations of modern-day Canada. However, populations of French Canadians and also Acadians are to be found in great numbers in the United States.

During the mid-18th century, settlers born in French Canada colonized other parts of North America in what are today the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, the Windsor-Detroit region and the Canadian prairies (primarily Southern Manitoba).

Between the 1840s and the 1930s, some 900,000 French Canadians emigrated to the New England region. About half of them returned home. The generations born in the United States would eventually come to see themselves as Franco-Americans. During the same period of time, numerous French Canadians also emigrated and settled in Eastern and Northern Ontario. The descendants of those Quebec immigrants constitute the bulk of today's Franco-Ontarian community.

Origin of Name

The French Canadians get their name from Canada, the most developed and densely populated region of New France. The original use of the term Canada referred to the land area along the St. Lawrence river, divided in three districts (Québec, Trois-Rivières, and Montréal), as well as to the Pays d'en Haut (Upper Countries), a vast and weakly settled territorial dependence North and West of Montreal which covered the whole of the Great Lakes area.

At the end of the 17th century, the French word Canadien became an ethnonym distinguishing the inhabitants of Canada from those of France. From 1535 to the 1690s however, it referred to the Amerindians the French had encountered in the St. Lawrence River valley at Stadacona and Hochelaga [1]. Those Amerindians are today called the St. Lawrence Iroquoians by anthropologists who try to understand the reason for their disappearance.


People who today claim some French Canadian ancestry or heritage number some 7 million in Canada and 2.4 million people in the United States. (An additional 8.4 million Americans claim French ancestry; they are treated as a separate ethnic group by the U.S. Census Bureau.)

In Canada, 85% of French Canadians reside in Quebec where they constitute the majority of the population in all regions except the far North. Most cities and villages in this province were built and settled by the French or French Canadians during the French colonial rule.

There are various urban and small centres in Canada outside of Quebec that have long-standing populations of French Canadians, going back to the late 19th century. Eastern and Northern Ontario have large populations of francophones in communities such as Ottawa, Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Sudbury, Welland, Timmins and Windsor. Many also pioneered the Canadian Prairies in the late 18th century, founding the towns of Saint Boniface, Manitoba and Peace River, Alberta.

In the United States, many cities were founded as colonial outposts of New France by French or French Canadian explorers. They include New Orleans, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Belleville, Illinois; Dubuque, Iowa; Detroit, Michigan; Biloxi, Mississippi; St. Louis, Missouri; Creve Coeur, Missouri and Provo, Utah.

The majority of the French Canadian population in the United States is found in the New England area. Quebec emigrants settled in industrial cities like Waltham, Lowell, Lawrence, and New Bedford in Massachusetts; Woonsocket in Rhode Island; Manchester and Nashua in New Hampshire; and Biddeford and Lewiston in Maine. Smaller groups of French Canadians settled in the Midwest, notably in the state of Michigan.


The varieties of French spoken by Francophone Canadians are called Quebec French, Acadian French, and Newfoundland French. The French of Ontario, the Canadian West, and New England all originate from Quebec French and do not constitute distinct varieties from it, unlike Acadian French and Newfoundland French. When they are native English speakers, French Canadians speak either Canadian English or American English.

In Canada, about six million French Canadians are native French speakers. The other one million are English-speaking. In the United States, assimilation to the English language was more important and very few Americans of French Canadian ancestry or heritage speak French today.

Six million of Canada's native French speakers, of all origins, are found in the province of Quebec, where they constitute the majority language group, and another one million are distributed throughout the rest of Canada. Roughly 31% of Canadian citizens are French-speaking and 25% are of French-Canadian descent. Not all French speakers are of French descent, and not all people of French-Canadian heritage are exclusively or primarily French-speaking.

In Canadian provinces other than Quebec, francophones have enjoyed minority language rights under the Canadian Constitution since 1982, protecting them from provincial governments that have historically been indifferent or downright hostile towards their presence.


Because France forbade non-Catholic settlement in New France from 1629 onward, almost all French settlers of Canada were Roman Catholic. In the United States, some French Catholics have converted to Protestantism. Until the 1960s, religion was a central component of French Canadian national identity. The Church parish was the focal point of civic life in French Canadian society, and monastic orders ran French Canadian schools, hospitals and orphanages. During the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, however, the practice of Catholicism dropped drastically. Church attendance in Quebec currently remains low. Rates of religious observance among French Canadians outside Quebec tend to vary by region, and by age.


Over the course of many centuries, the cultural identity of the people of French Canadian ancestry or heritage has evolved greatly.


Since the 1960s, French Canadians in Quebec have generally used Québécois (masculine) or Québécoise (feminine) to express their cultural and national identity, rather than Canadien français. Francophones who self-identify as Québécois and do not have French Canadian ancestry may not identify as "French Canadian" (or Canadien français). Those who do have French or French Canadian ancestry, but who support Quebec sovereignty, often find Canadien français to be archaic or even pejorative. This is a reflection of the strong social, cultural, and political ties that most Quebeckers of French-Canadian origin, who constitute a majority of francophone Quebeckers, maintain within Quebec. It has given Québécois an ambiguous meaning which has often played out in political issues, as all public institutions attached to the Quebec state refer to all Quebec citizens, regardless of their language or their cultural heritage, as Québécois.

The identities of French Canadians outside Quebec have also evolved. Following the example of Quebec, they have begun to rename themselves according to their respective provinces:

Unlike the situation in Quebec, French Canadians outside Quebec often identify both as "French Canadian" and with their provincial grouping. Identification with provincial groupings varies from province to province, however — Franco-Ontarians, for example, use their provincial label far more frequently than Franco-Columbians do. A significant minority identify only with the provincial groupings, explicitly rejecting "French Canadian" as an identity label.

United States

The French Canadians who emigrated en masse to the United States between the 1840s and the 1930s came to identify as Franco-American, especially those who were born American and could not identify as Canadians, whatever the meaning given to it.

Because distinctions between French Canadian, Acadian, and French of France is blurred to native English speakers who have no extensive knowledge of French language cultures, especially outside Canada, Franco-Americans is a term which often designated all people of French ancestry or heritage. In L'avenir du français aux États-Unis, Calvin Veltman finds that since Canadian French has been so widely abandoned in the United States, the term "French Canadian" is there understood in ethnic rather than linguistic terms.


The French were the first Europeans to permanently colonize what is now Quebec. (See French colonization of the Americas.) Their colonies of New France stretched across what today are the Maritime provinces, southern Quebec and Ontario, as well as the entire Mississippi River Valley.

The first permanent European settlement in Canada was at Port Royal in 1605. The territories of New France were Canada, Acadia, and Louisiana. The inhabitants of Canada called themselves the Canadiens, and came mostly from northwestern France. [2]; Many French Canadians are the descendants of the King's Daughters of this era. The inhabitants of Acadia, or Acadiens, came from Southwestern France; the inhabitants of Louisiana called themselves Louisianais.

During the mid-18th century, French explorers and Canadiens born in French Canada colonized other parts of North America in what are today the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, the Windsor-Detroit region and the Canadian prairies (primarily Southern Manitoba).

After the 1760 British conquest of New France in the French and Indian War, the French-Canadian population remained important in the life of the colonies.

The British gained Acadia by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and in 1755, the beginning of the French and Indian War, deported 75% of the Acadian population to other British colonies and France itself. The French Canadians escaped this fate in part because of the capitulation act that made them British subjects. It took the 1774 Quebec Act for them to regain the French civil law system, and in 1791 French Canadians in Lower Canada were introduced to the British parliamentary system when an elected Legislative Assembly was created.

The Legislative Assembly having no real power, the political situation degenerated into the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837–1838, after which Lower Canada and Upper Canada were unified. One of the motivations for the union was to limit French Canadian political power. After many decades of British immigration, the Canadiens became a minority in the Province of Canada in the 1850s.

French-Canadian contributions were essential in securing responsible government for The Canadas and in undertaking Canadian Confederation. However, over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries, French Canadians' discontent grew with their place in Canada. (See Quebec, History of Canada and Politics of Canada.)

Between the 1840s and the 1930s, some 900 000 French Canadians emigrated to the New England region. About half of them returned home. The generations born in the United States would eventually come to see themselves as Franco-Americans. During the same period of time, numerous French Canadians also emigrated and settled in Eastern and Northern Ontario. The descendants of those Quebec immigrants constitute the bulk of today's Franco-Ontarian community.

Since 1968, French has been one of Canada's two official languages. It is the sole official language of Quebec and one of the official languages of New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. The dialects of French spoken in Canada are quite distinct from those of France. See French in Canada.

Modern usage

In English usage, the terms for provincial subgroups, if used at all, are usually defined solely by province of residence, with all of the terms being strictly interchangeable with French Canadian. Although this remains the more common usage in English, it is considered outdated to many Canadians of French descent, especially in Quebec. Most francophone Canadians who use the provincial labels identify with their province of origin, even if it isn't the province in which they currently reside; for example, a Québécois who moved to Manitoba would not change their own self-identification to Franco-Manitoban.

Increasingly, provincial labels are used to stress the linguistic and cultural as opposed to ethnic and religious nature of French-speaking institutions and organizations. The term "French Canadian" is still used in historical and cultural contexts, or when it is necessary to refer to Canadians of French-Canadian collectively, such as in the name and mandate of a national organizations which serve minority francophone communities across Canada. Francophone Canadians of non-French-Canadian origin such as immigrants from francophone countries are not usually designed by the term "French Canadian"; the more general term "francophones" is used for French-speaking Canadians across all ethnic origins.



French-Canadian flags

<center><gallery> Image:Flag of the Franco Albertains.svg|Franco-Albertan Image:Flag of Quebec.svg|Quebec Image:Flag of Acadia.svg|Acadia Image:Flag of the Franco-Manitobains.svg|Franco-Manitoban Image:Franco-Ontarian flag.svg|Franco-Ontarian Image:Franco-Terreneuviens.svg|Franco-Terreneuviens Image:FlagofFranco-Yukonnais.png|Franco-Yukonnais Image:Flag of the FrancoTenois.svg|Franco-Tenois Image:Bandera dels Fransaskois.svg|Fransaskois Image:Ca-f-nu.gif|Franco-Nunavois Image:Flag of the Franco-Colombiens.svg|Franco-Columbian </gallery></center>


See also

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