Bilingualism and Canadian Society
Events in Quebec had an impact on language across the country. The concept of a French Canada extending from sea to sea disappeared, as French speakers in Quebec and the rest of Canada pursued separate paths. English-speaking Quebecers would come to see themselves as a minority within Quebec, rather than part of a Canadian majority.
Official bilingualism in 1969 helped ensure the provision of federal government services in both official languages throughout the country. In 1982, the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined the right of official-language minorities to instruction in their language, long a controversial matter.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and his successor Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian government implemented a policy of federal bilingualism to ensure fairer treatment for francophones across the country. The Official Languages Act was adopted in 1969. Many English-speaking Canadians embraced the bilingual ideal, but others opposed it, accusing authorities of “forcing them to read French on their cereal boxes.”
The Acadian community comprises francophones living in the Maritime provinces, and especially New Brunswick, where about 230,000 people — one-third of the population — list French as their mother tongue. New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province.
The Franco-Ontarian community is the largest outside of Quebec, numbering over 500,000. Most people are settled in the north and east of the province, the results of emigration from Quebec in the late 19th century. They did not always receive a warm welcome. In 1912, the Ontario Ministry of Education brought in Regulation 17, which sharply restricted schooling in French. But in 1986, Bill 8 guaranteed a range of government services in French in designated regions of the province, and in February 2016, the provincial government formally apologized for Regulation 17.
Buttons celebrating Franco-Ontarian identity
1980 to 1992
Gift of L. Johanis
Quebec’s anglophone community, present since the 1760s, occupied an elite position for many years. The situation changed with the Quiet Revolution: its assertion of Quebec nationalism, the rise of the FLQ, the spectre of independence, and language laws, especially Bill 101, which made French Quebec’s sole official language. Many anglophones, unable to accept the change, left the province, with large numbers moving to Ontario. Those who remained learned to redefine themselves as a minority in Quebec, rather than part of the Canadian majority.
Photo at top of page:
Bilingual board game: Oh! Canada
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Ottawa, 1975
Gift of Dr. Elliott Avedon and the University of Waterloo
CMH, Elliott Avedon Collection, 2009.71.1225