Why French Is Spoken in Eastern Canada

Frontenac Castle in Quebec City. Quebec City is located in the largely French-speaking part of modern-day Canada.
French warships (to the left) battling British warships during the American Revolutionary War.

After losing the Seven Years’ War in 1763, France had to cede control over its large colony in present-day Canada to Britain. France, who had ruled here for some 150 years, would then never regain control. However, a large number of French speakers would remain in this area even after the British took over. Many of them could trace their roots on the North American continent back over a century, and considered themselves Canadians or French Canadians, not French. They were therefore not going to move back to France.

Linguistic and cultural separation

Speaking a different language, being of a different religious persuasion and accustomed to a different legal tradition, the Canadians of French ancestry would prove difficult to assimilate and bring into the British fold. For this reason, Britain decided to divide its newly acquired Canadian colony into two autonomous provinces: a British western province and a French-Canadian eastern province. This allowed both peoples to keep their own separate languages and cultures, while still remaining under the same British umbrella. The tradition of linguistic separation has continued ever since, and is the reason why cities such as Montréal and Quebec are largely French-speaking today.

France avenging Britain

Going back to war’s end in 1763 again, while present-day Canada was lost to Britain, France did not quickly forget their humiliating exit from North America. Instead, they bided their time for the right moment to take revenge on their European arch-rival, and found their much-awaited chance for revenge in 1775, when George Washington and other American colonists rebelled against British rule in what is today the United States. Now, with the American Revolutionary War underway, France decided to aid the American colonists’ rebellion by providing substantial supplies, soldiers and warships in their support — all in the interest of seeing Britain lose the war and be knocked down a peg or two.

Subsequently, with the Revolutionary War, very famously, ending in victory for the American colonists in 1781, France’s objective had been met. Britain was ousted from much of North America, and given how even the war had been, the French contributions may well have been the determining factor in Britain’s defeat. Thus, it is possible that Britain’s takeover of Canada from France in 1763 came at the cost of losing what was to become the United States only two decades later.