The Constitutional Act in 1791 divided Quebec into two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, each with its own Parliament. For several years, this helped to bring about better understanding between English and French-speaking Canadians. When the new legislature of Lower Canada opened in 1792, one French member said as they lived under the best of kings, it was only courteous that English be the language used in the debates. This wasn’t practical because few of the French members understood English. Probably, few of the English members understood French. In the end, both languages were adopted.
On the question of English being the “loyal” language, Chartier de Lotbinière said, “Remember the year 1775! Those Canadians who spoke nothing but French showed their attachment to the sovereign … They helped to defend this province. You saw them join with faithful subjects of His Majesty and repel attacks on this city by people who spoke very good English. It is not, you see, uniformity of language that makes people more faithful or more united.”
The trend toward better understanding was reversed after March 12, 1800, when estates formerly owned by the Jesuits were taken over by the government of Lower Canada. The income from the land was to be used for educational purposes. The English-speaking minorities in Quebec and Montreal were still powerful. The Anglican Bishop Mountain insisted that schools with English Protestant teachers should be established in every parish so that the French-speaking children would gradually become Protestants.
When the bill was presented to the legislature, French-speaking members added paragraphs safeguarding church schools and making it necessary for the majority of people in any parish to vote in favour of having one of Bishop Mountain’s schools before it could be established. The purpose of the bill was killed, but resentments which had died away were renewed.
For those of you who want to dig a little deeper into this, I suggest visiting Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online for more about Bishop Mountain; and again at Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online you can learn more about Charier Lotbinière; to learn about the Constitutional Act of 1791, suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia, and if you want to read the actual Act, you can read it Early Canadiana Online.
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