French Canadian nationalism concerns a wide variety of manifestations of the collective will of much of Canada's French-speaking population to live as a distinct cultural community. Its innumerable ramifications have been not only cultural but also political, economic and social.
French Canadian nationalism concerns a wide variety of manifestations of the collective will of much of Canada's French-speaking population to live as a distinct cultural community. Its innumerable ramifications have been not only cultural but also political, economic and social. Historians disagree about its beginnings. Guy Frégault suggests that the inhabitants of colonial New France in the early 18th century were sufficiently different from those of France for a distinct national sentiment to exist. Michel Brunet argues that the Conquest of 1760, by transforming the French in Canada into a conquered people, triggered a defence mechanism that has endured.
Others, such as Fernand Ouellet, are convinced that nationalism had its origin soon after 1800 when social strains and economic crises increased animosity between French and English inhabitants of Lower Canada. Political scientist Léon Dion distinguishes 4 types of French Canadian nationalism: conservative (dominant until 1960), liberal (post-1960), social-democrat (post-1970) and socialist (particularly during the 1970s).
Wherever the debate may lead, it is clear that French Canadian nationalism has been present for at least 200 years and that, because of its nature, it will probably endure as long as a significant number of Canadians continue to speak French as their first language (seeHistoriography in French).
For over a century, French Canadian nationalism was generally linked to conservative causes and to the perpetuation of a traditional society. For the clerical and professional elite, fidelity to language, culture and religion implied respect for the acceptance of the established social order in which the Roman Catholic Church dominated, agriculture was lauded as society's material and moral foundation, parish and family were the basic social institutions, commercial and industrial pursuits were disdained, and foreign influences were shunned.
To what extent was this concept of nationalism shared by common people? The very insistence with which the clerical elite defended its concept of society betrayed the existence of challenges to the social order, especially when nationalist credos seemed to conflict with conditions for individual material betterment. Although nationalists vigorously defended an agricultural way of life, by 1921 half of Québec's population was urban and migration to the cities showed no signs of abating, except during the Great Depression, when industrial jobs were scarce.
Nationalism between the 1840s and the 1940s also had important political aspects. It meant denying the conclusion of the celebrated Durham Report that the "inferior" French Canadian nation would be absorbed. It...