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Montreal Canada

Why So Many French In Quebec and Montreal?

Rich History & Culture

Founded by Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve on May 18, 1642. First known as Ville-Marie, this settlement, became Montreal.  Montréal today has one of the largest French-speaking populations of any city in world. The largest city in the province of Québec, Montréal is the hub of French Canadian cultural and economic life.


While the English were concentrating on a northwest passage to Asia, the French King, Francois I commissioned Jacques Cartier (born in 1491) to find a way west to the Pacific and claim new lands for France. 

Cartier's expedition set sail from the port of St. Malo in [1534] with two ships. After passing Newfoundland, Cartier discovered the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in present-day Canada. On his second voyage in 1535, Cartier with the help of Indian guides explored the St. Lawrence River and passed the future sites of present-day Quebec and Montreal. 

By 1541, King Francois was committed to settle in the new lands discovered by Cartier. With wars raging in Europe, the French eventually lost interest in the New World. But Frenchmen followed Cartier's route up the St. Lawrence to establish a lucrative trade network with the Indians. 

Cartier was followed by countrymen Samuel de Champlain and Sieur de La Salle. Champlain established the first permanent settlement at Quebec, explored the St. Lawrence, the coasts of Nova Scotia, and Maine.

Founded by Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve in 1642, Montréal is one of the oldest cities in North America. Its name comes from the old French form of the name of the mountain, Mount Royal, that dominates the city. The establishing of Montreal was part of a large Canadian missionary movement which was based in France. The work and self-sacrifice of the Christian missionaries in the young colony and in the wilds that lay beyond it is one of the most stirring chapters in the history of New France.

In 1760 Montréal surrendered to British forces that were completing their conquest of Canada during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). In the wake of the British conquest a small group of enterprising merchants, mostly Scots, took over the fur trade. Their ventures grew into the North West Company, which built a powerful fur-trading empire reaching to the Arctic and Pacific oceans. In 1821 the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Montréal lost its centuries-long control of the fur trade.

French influence lasted for a time after the British conquest of 1760, as shown by some late 18th-century houses. British influence came to prevail, however, and most of Old Montréal is in fact a Victorian Style city, probably the largest and most interesting one in North America. Two buildings that dominated the landscape in the mid-19th century are still visible today: the Notre Dame Basilica (1829) and the Bonsecours Market (1840s). The basilica stands on the Place d’Armes, the city’s most historic square, whose buildings tell the story of Montréal’s institutional and commercial architecture from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

For much more detail on Canadian and Montreal history see

Today's City

Today, the second-largest city and metropolitan area of Canada, Montréal is one of Canada’s leading commercial, industrial, and service centers. It is also a center of Canadian intellectual and cultural life and the chief cultural center of the French part of Canada. Most of the residents are of French descent and speak the French language; however, a significant minority speaks English, giving Montréal a bilingual character.


Montréal is located on Montréal Island in the Hochelaga Archipelago, where the Ottawa River flows into the Saint Lawrence River. The archipelago has more than 320 islands and islets dispersed along three roughly parallel main waterways: the Saint Lawrence River, the Rivière des Prairies (formerly called Back River in English) and the Rivière des Mille Îles. The boomerang-shaped Montréal Island is the largest island in the archipelago. The most populous suburban cities are Laval and Longueuil. More than 20 road and rail bridges link Montréal Island with surrounding communities.

Most of the city streets are arranged in a grid pattern. The major thoroughfare, Saint Lawrence Boulevard (popularly known as The Main), crosses the island from south to north and was traditionally the border between francophone (French-speaking) east Montréal and the anglophone (English-speaking) west part.


French is the language of the majority: two persons out of every three claim French as their mother tongue. English is the first language of 14.2 percent of Montréalers

In 1969 the provincial government adopted a law requiring French instruction for most children, and later legislation required all public signs to be primarily in French. Anglophone business leaders hired more French-speaking managers and employees, and more large corporations were owned by francophones. Today Montréal is still a bilingual city, but the primary language is now French.

Montréal is nevertheless distinct from the rest of Québec, which is overwhelmingly francophone and of French origin. Many different ethnic groups coexist in Montréal. This helps to explain why the idea of separate sovereignty for Québec, which has been a controversial political issue in Canada for a generation, gets less support in Montréal than in the rest of the province. In the October 1995 referendum on sovereignty, the yes votes managed a showing of only 21.7 percent in the western (anglophone) part of Montréal Island and 47.5 percent in the eastern (francophone and ethnic) part, compared with 49.4 percent for the province as a whole


Montréal has a large number of private schools, most of them partially funded by the province. Like the rest of Québec province, Montréal has two public school systems, one for Roman Catholics and one for Protestants; but both systems take children of all religions. The religious division is a legacy of the 19th century and is protected by the Canadian constitution

Most public schools in the Catholic system teach in French, and most of the Protestant schools teach in English. But the growing diversity of the city’s ethnic makeup has blurred this distinction. Most of the immigrants send their children to French-language schools. As a result, French-language Catholic schools have become more multiethnic and the number of English-language Catholic schools has declined. At the same time, the percentage of pupils in Protestant schools who are taught in French has risen dramatically—to 45 percent in 1996. Several attempts have been made to change to a system based on language rather than religion, but with some guarantees for religious instruction.

With four universities, Montréal is one of the leading centers of higher education in Canada. There are two English-language institutions: McGill University (1821) and Concordia University (1974). Their French-language counterparts are the Université de Montréal (1876) and the University of Québec at Montréal (1969). Both private and state universities are funded by the province on a similar footing. The metropolitan area also has 16 public community colleges and 15 private institutions that offer some college-level training

See historic links page to much more historical information that shows the long, French heritage of Quebec and Montreal.

French Pride Very Strong Today - Even to the point of Secession from Canada

There has been a lot of discussion about Quebec succeeding from Canada wanting to maintain their separate culture, French language and government. But Canada's Supreme Court has said that Quebec cannot unilaterally declare independence.

reminded the audience that Canada's Supreme Court has said that Quebec cannot unilaterally declare independence.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien  has said, "if there were a clear referendum," Chretien said, "the other provinces would have to respect that." 

The French language is both the foundation and the outward manifestation of Quebec as a distinct society
"I'm a Francophone and proud of it," Chretien said, adding that "350,000 young Anglophones are learning French in immersion. Good for them."

The province of Quebec imposes strict rules to promote the use of French.

A few years ago many stores in Montreal opposed having any English on their signs. But legislation, softening the prohibition of English on signs contained in the French Language Charter, was eventually adopted.

 At the Montreal History Centre, which chronicles the history of the city starting in 1642. the ticket-taker hands everyone  spiral notebook containing an English translation of the text of the permanent exhibits, which were exclusively in French.

A charming courtesy to visitors, you might think, until you reflect that Montreal is about 40 percent Anglophone and English is, after all, an official language in Canada. Then it begins to seem merely petty.

The museum's temporary exhibit, on Montreal's mayors, was captioned in both French and English, but -- in accordance with provincial law -- the size of the French type was twice as large as the English.

The editorial cartoonist for the (English-language) Montreal Gazette, Terry Mosher, likes to draw the woman who runs the Quebec "language police" as a dominatrix. Readers love it, he said.

The institutionalized hostility takes a toll. One Anglophone journalist from Montreal said his children go to French schools, and that's fine with him. But it's one reason, he said, why most of the English-speaking friends he grew up with have moved away from Quebec.

You could guess that from the looks of the old city of Montreal, with block after block of buildings hung with signs "A louer (to rent)." It looks like the parts of Lower Downtown where LoDo hasn't happened yet.

Quebec is French-speaking now by historical accident. When Britain took over Nouvelle France in the 1760s, said editorial page editor Alain Dubuc of the French-language Montreal daily La Presse, there were already rumblings of discontent in its colonies further south. Rather than have two nascent revolutions to cope with, the British allowed Quebec to continue speaking French.

And so, for the most part, it still does; with the result, Dubuc says, that everybody feels persecuted: The Anglophones because they're a minority in the province, and the Francophones because they're a minority in Canada.

In response to this page, here is another view: Quebecois do not speak French, anyone who speaks French and converses with the Quebecois will realize this sooner or later. They speak a language based on 18th Century French. Would someone who only spoke Shakespearean / Elizabethan English converse with you would you say tha they spoke English? AFrikaans is probably closer to Dutch than Quebecois is to French because it was cut off at a later date (ca. 1815) from the mother tongue. Both, however, were divorced from their mother country before the Industrial Revolution and the need for new words that it created. The Quebecois are the same ethnc group that we have in MIchigan (Frenchtown, now called Monroe) or in Illionis (which George Rogers Clark dealt with in his seizure of the Northwest Territory during the Revolutionary War).

And a reply to these comments:
 Your comparison of to Quebec French to France and Shaksperian English to America has some valid points. 

While it may be true that some slang in the form of Anglisims have been adopted in Quebec, there are also many examples that the French in Quebec is actualy more French than what is spoken in France. Much like some expressions you may hear in Jamacia are actually Old English expressions long since lost in the mother country. 

Quebec has its share of Old French retained from the time France ruled here. France has also imported its fair share of English words into its common language. Words like "le drug store" or "le weekend" are the norm in France where here in Quebec the proper French words "pharmacie" and "fin de semaine" are used. 

There is also the question of regional accents in both France and Quebec and many, like your e-mail friend, would assume people from these regions were not speaking "real" French. Does somebody from Alabama or Boston speak "real" English?  A new yorker doesn't speak at all like a Texan!

The View of an Anti-French Critic who Lives in Montreal (not me!)

We are unfortunate to be living in a sometimes very unpleasant place. The government, elected with less than a majority, runs this province and considers that they have a mandate to force out every person who is not of pure French background. The average French person in the street does not support this view and most get along well with the others. The government practices a "clean" form of ethnic cleansing, that has not been known by many civilized countries in the western world

For much more detailed "editorial" by someone who obviously resents the current government's emphasis on the French heritage see:

The French National Flag 


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French National Anthem Information Site

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