The Quebec Act (1)

Canadian culture has been marked by multiculturalism almost from its very beginning. When the British gained the territory of Quebec from the French at the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Canada immediately became a multicultural state. (The French were much more interested in regaining their tropical sugar island: Guadeloupe, instead of cold and troublesome Canada. That begs the question: what did the British ever see in Canada?). The big problem that faced the Protestant English was: what to do with this great mass of French Catholics in a colony that cost enormous amounts of imperial money to protect?

They had the option of deporting them and they had historical precedent for doing this too. They had done it with the Acadians from 1755 – 1758 when they refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the British monarch.

They also had the option of tolerating them. Toleration was not a new thing to New France/Quebec when it came to religion. In 1598, Henry IV of France published the Edict of Nantes which granted French Huguenots religious freedom. Pierre du Gua de Monts (a Huguenot) financed numerous “voyages of exploration to New France and early attempts at permanent settlement.”[1] The Huguenots settled in Quebec and Acadia. Noll narrates the story of one of these attempts at settlement:

With a body of workers he [i.e. De Monts] also sent out a Huguenot minister and two Roman Catholic priests. Although the clergymen argued with each other constantly, the colonists seemed to have taken a more modern, or at least a more charitable, attitude. When the minister and one of the priests died from scurvy at almost the same time, the colonists – at least so the story goes – buried them together in a single grave with the expressed hope that they would now at last rest peacefully together.[2]

However, the toleration of Huguenots in Quebec ended with Cardinal Richelieu’s rise to power. He stopped the allowances of the Edict of Nantes in New France in 1627. Roman Catholicism took prominence in Quebec and New France, with it being established as the only legal religion in that French colony.

Toleration, when it came to religion, was also not foreign to the British and colonial mindset. The colony of Maryland was a largely Roman Catholic colony under the control of the British parliament. Maryland, especially the “Act concerning Religion” issued by Cecil Calvert in 1649, encouraged toleration between Protestants and Catholics. Noll writes,

The act stipulated penalties for those who blasphemed the Trinity, cast aspersions on the Virgin Mary, or employed such terms as “heretic, schismatic, idolator, puritan, Independent, presbyterian, popish priest, Jesuit, Jesuit papist, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist … or any other name or term in a reproachful manner relating to matter of Religion.”[3]

The British also had the possibility of creating New France into a largely Protestant colony, by encouraging large waves of Protestant immigrants to populate it. This is what they attempted to do with the Proclamation of 1763. In that Proclamation, much to the chagrin of the Thirteen Colonies, the royal crown forbade any settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. By doing this, the British government hoped that American settlers would be forced to move north into Quebec. Bumsted outlines the British policy well:

Although neither the Proclamation of 1763 nor any other British document ever laid out a fully articulated policy for what is now Canada, the outlines of that policy were perfectly clear. The British did not wish to populate their northernmost colonies with settlers from the mother country itself…. Great Britain … hoped that colonial Americans already acclimated to the New World would make up the majority of the settlers. As a result of their experiences in Nova Scotia, the British had learned two lessons. First, the state could not afford to subsidize a large movement of people to a new colony …. Second, the best way to deal with a population alien in language, religion, and customs was to outnumber it; forcible removal was neither humane nor effective [emphasis mine].[4]

So, what did the British do with Quebec? Well, the answer to that will have to wait till next week! In the mean time, happy studying!


[1] Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, 21

[2] Ibid, 22

[3] Ibid, 28

[4] Bumsted, The Peoples of Canada: A Pre-Confederation History, 200 – 201

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