A Brief History
On October 30, 1995, the people of the Canadian province of Quebec voted by the narrow margin of 50.58% to 49.42% to remain a Canadian province. Quebec, the largest province of Canada by size, was the heart of New France until the British won the Seven Years War in 1763, and with it sovereignty over Quebec.
The Quebecois as the people call themselves maintain their French heritage, and the French language is spoken by the majority of people in the province. A reminder of this French heritage can be found on their automobile license plates, which read “Je me souviens,” which means roughly “I remember,” often taken to mean the Quebecois remember their French heritage.
This vote was the second time the people of Quebec held a referendum on whether or not to maintain the status quo, as in 1980 the measure to declare independence from Canada was defeated in a major way. Still, the political movement toward a French identity prompted Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to preside over a re-imagining of the Canadian constitution called The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This action was approved by the British Parliament as well as that of Canada, and was signed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982. Among other things, The Charter dictated that French and English have equal status as languages in Canada and New Brunswick, with neither language having precedence. People of any linguistic group would have equal rights, but no provision was made specifically for Native Canadian (Indians and Eskimos) language speakers. French and English speaking people were both given the right to be educated in their own language.
Despite this national recognition of the equality of French Canada, the urge for Quebec to secede or one way or another change status continued. Not surprisingly, the Native Canadian peoples of Quebec demand the right to decide for themselves if they wish to remain part of Canada, and refuse to be forced into being part of a sovereign Quebec governed by French Canadians. The 1995 referendum saw a commendable 93.5% of eligible voters cast their votes.
The idea of a re-imagining of the status of Quebec has not gone away. A considerable number of Quebecois (another term for people of Quebec) long for either full independence from English Canada or at least greater independence. Some long for reunion with France.
Quebec is a wonderful place, as is the rest of Canada. My family and I have been there many times and find the people and the country of Canada to be wonderful hosts to our visits. Even when visiting parts of Quebec where English is not spoken the people have been as nice and as accommodating as can be.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you been to Canada? Have you been to Quebec? Tell us if your experiences match ours in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Hebert, Chantal. The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was. Knopf Canada, 2014.