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The articles reviewed for the purpose of this assignment provide insight into the conditions for those living and working in Quebec in the 19th century.

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The overarching theme among the selections is a varied economy with a wide range of concerns being present for average Quebeckers. What is most important about the information provided in each article separately and combined overall are the ways in which the 19th century was a pivotal era for Quebec and how the ways in which society evolved during the time would go on to shape society for generations after.

In Bettina Bradbury’s article, “The Family Economy and Work in an Industrialized City,” the author
describes the ways in which the industrialization of Montreal contributed to the family structure moire broadly throughout Quebec. The industries that flourished in the 1800s were dominated by male workers. This led to an increasingly common reality that men were assigned as the breadwinners while the men were relegated to domestic duties to maintain the home.

Added to the changing dynamics was the influence of the Church in attributing religious mandates for women to be servants of the family and supportive of the ambitions of the men. This familial hierarchy would become definitive in Montreal and extended to other parts of the region as the population became more decentralized.

Peter DeLottinville’s “Joe Beef of Montreal” article offered a glimpse into the life and influences of a man and the tavern he founded. Charles McKiernan was an educated man who served in the military before becoming a business owner. He would go on to embody the plight of the common man and hold lively and topical discussions with patrons inside his tavern. McKiernan was given the nickname “Joe Beef” because he was known for having a knack for finding food as a sailor. The topics broached at his tavern centered around the changing politics of the city and what it meant for families and the men responsible for supporting those families.

Roderick Macleod’s “The Road to Terrace Bank: Land Capitalization, Public Space, and the Redpath Family Home” showed movement of some within the city of Montreal toward the suburban areas around the metropolis. This act, favored by many, was seen as a way to establish status and would be a movement that would work to establish the suburbs of Montreal as well as provide a framework for similar migration around other cities.

Ronald Rubin’s “Revisionism and the Search for a Normal Society” details the conflict between those who favor a more traditional version of Quebec and this who are desirous of a shift to a society that mirrors the rest of Canada. Within the article are important facets of Quebec’s history that influenced the way of life today. These themes, founded in the 19th century, are pillars of what some view as what makes Quebec unique and deserving of preservation. Others who would like to see specific shifts hold such a view due to a desire to rid the province of the influences that have not served Quebec well.

A Changing Quebec

Change, in any arena, is sure to come with its share of struggles as transition takes hold. Some of the most common sources of struggle emanate from those who are resistant to change and instead favor a more traditional view of the circumstances. Another common source of resistance comes from those who might favor change but have countervailing aims than are held by more dominating change agents. In the case of Quebec’s moment of transition there exist a number of factors that will need to be resolved if the province is ever to reconcile disparate concerns.

A traditional theme of Quebec has been one of relative isolation from English Canada. More specifically, the tradition has been isolation to varying degrees that are not always aligned as one might assume. The cause of this isolation — while important in a subject adjacent to this one — is somewhat beside the conversation about how Quebec will move forward. What is clear is that there are fractious divides between those who favor a more traditional posture relative to the rest of the nation and those who would prefer to renounce claims of uniqueness in favor of a more unifying political and social order (Macleod, 2003).

Determining the future appeal of Quebec requires understanding the sensibilities of those on all sides and finding a common language for expressing those differences. Once the issues are aired in an objective and respectful forum the groups will be able to articulate their vision for the province and how, if at all, their preferred direction will not or to a lesser degree alienate the ideals of their counterparts.

What is clearest about this ideological confrontation, from the perspective of a non-partisan yet interested observer, is that all sides share an abiding loyalty to Quebec. One of the most important initial steps toward resolving the complicated and emotional issues within the debate will be conveying that loyalty across the divide (Macleod, 2003).

Shaping Quebec

One of the most important ways to get an understanding of Quebec’s current changing ideology and presentation among the balance of Canada is to evaluate the ways in which the province came to be. This evaluation should chart the earliest days of the territory and how the circumstance that led to its founding were transformative in ways by which other provinces were unencumbered. The following are key points of the pre-19th Century Quebec that are relevant in describing the 1800s and current conflicts of ideology:

•      Starting at a time when New France contained what is now Quebec, the province’s history began, in any remarkable way, by the ideals informed by French influence. Quebec and the rest of New France were most certainly an extension of the French way of life as settlers did little in the way of shedding their practices and ideology that carried the day within Europe.

•      The intertwined association between modern-day Quebec and the Catholic Church has roots in the 17th century. One pillar of this connection includes the 1627 agreement to relinquish nearly 30% of French owned lands in New France. Cardinal Richelieu would grant a charted of this newly acquired territory to the Company of One Hundred Associates.

Ruling Quebec

•      New France was in need of a centralized body of authority, a unified governmental force to maintain order and facilitate an evolving structure of society. Officially established in 1663 by King Louis XIV, the Sovereign Council of New France occupied the role of Supreme Court and leading legislative body for New France. Later the Sovereign Council would become the Superior Council and went on to expand its role of influence and power toward governing New France by edict of the King (Cahill, 1915).

•      The Superior Council had an expansive and supreme role in the judiciary. Lower courts were in place to settle an array of claims and criminal complaints but the Council was available for appeal and often did so to settle disputes and address criminal sentences and verdicts as thy arose. One of the judicial areas under the most direct purview of the Superior council were matters that directly ran counter to France’s colonial efforts. Matters such as forgery and others that affected the province’s ability to provide accurate financial records to France were specifically important and managed exclusively by the Superior Council (Cahill, 1915).

•      Another governmental addition was the implementation of the Intendant. The Intendant’s role was broad and as varied as the Superior Council atop the whole of the province. The Intendant’s duties spanned the police force, justice department (though no official “department” had been established), and finance. Over time, the powers of the position steadily increased and inclusion aboard the Superior Council was adopted. The Intendant was also later granted the authority to appoint officials to the variety of lower courts within the system (Cahill, 1915).

Challenging Quebec

•      The emerging British colonial footprint to the south of Quebec affected the French Province’s growth and standing in North America. By the middle of the 18th century the British Colonies in America boasted an inhabitance of nearly one million people and was heading toward the formation of a sovereign nation by way of the American Revolution against the British. While the territory of the province was significantly larger that what constituted the 13 American colonies, he total New France population stood at a relatively small 60,000 (Mann, 2002).

•      The French and Indian War would expose this disparity in finical and populace strength. battles within what is now America caused the province to lose land rule and abridge the boarders of New France while expanding the colonies to the south east. The Treaty of Paris cemented these new boundaries and established the framework by which the colonies would eventually ascend into nationhood.

Controlling Quebec

•      The British victory in the French and Indian War set waves of change through what is now considered officially Quebec. The division between French speaking settlers and those who spoke English were being created and the procedures of a new style of governance were taking hold. part of this redefinition of the ways of the province bled into the judicial process where power was split between British and French standards by way of the Quebec Act of 1774. This reconciling of distinct interests would be one of the major defining attributes of Quebec and influence present-day Quebec policies and the overall circumstances of an evolving province (Mann, 2002).

•      After the American Revolution, more change was on he horizon for Quebec. The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the province in half; the section designated as Upper Canada (what is now Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Quebec). New settlers who balked at French rule and the style of governance influenced by it found a home in Upper Canada. This overt rebuke of French policy would forge the genesis of the divisions that are central to the conflicts today.

Changing Landscape of Quebec in the 19th Century

Friction between the two halves of Canada were exacerbated by a few main points of concern. One issue that raised tensions within both provinces was the proposed Union Act of 1840. This initiative asserted by High Commissioner Lord Dunham was an effort to dilute the English-speaking population’s power by combining the region. Another point of concern involved agriculture and the prospects of farmers within the context of an increasingly difficult landscape on which to grow crops. The tough times for farmers sparked a significant flow of migration toward the more fertile grounds of New England. While the migration was not addressed in any substantive way early on, after the precipitous exodus continued undeterred, the economy began to show severe signs of damage. The Catholic Church weighed-in through admonishment of migrating farmers and others but the total number of those who fled eventually toped 200,000 (Cahill, 1915).

The concentration of power, influence, and population around Montreal was the direct result of weakening economic conditions and further depletion of resources in rural areas of the province. The flow of citizens to the city cause a wide array of businesses to follow, further beckoning migration and rapidly expanding the population of Montreal as much as ten-fold between the years 1852 and 1911 (Bradbury, 1979).

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Throughout this time of transformation, through war and challenge to the economic health of the province, and even through the flood of population toward Montreal, he catholic Church’s influence remained formidable and expanding. Schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations were all dominated by Church interests and Church officials were held in high regard and manned impotent positions within the overall community. This level of adherence to Catholic doctrine would continue, and as the political upheaval and affiliation with France would go on to shape the contours of present-day Quebec, so too would the catholic Church’s stature within the province (Mann, 2002).

Quebec’s own Wilfrid Laurier wold become the first Quebec-native to be elected Prime Minister of Canada in 1896. Laurier’s Prime Ministership would be marked by challenges he faced in responding to requests for support by the British government notably in the Second Boer War. Canadians objected to the Prime Minister providing support due to the perception that doing so would strengthen the British Empire. Rather than abject denial of support, Laurier compromised by facilitating assistance through a volunteer force. Still, the handling of this challenge would weaken Laurier’s support among many and give rise to new political arenas within which the Canadian electorate would wrestle.

The worldwide Great Depression exposed other issues that required reconciliation within Canada generally and Quebec specifically. A fear of adopting socialist policies aligned conservatives and Catholic influence in directing the government toward resisting seemingly inevitable remedies for economic calamity. The strife led to an increase in political capital wielded by the Catholic Church among other formative shifts in political current.

Present-Day Quebec

The evaluation of Quebec’s history reveals the issues that formed the direction of the province. From the earliest days of managing life as a satellite to the French Crown, through the struggles of forming a more independent government, and the trials of an emerging neighbor and rapidly changing geopolitical climate; the choices made by Quebeckers solidified the position being contested by today’s reformers. It is not possible to ignore the deep strain of influence in the form of the Catholic Church nor is it possible to deny the deep-seeded roots in French tradition that affect citizenry and government entities alike (Rudin).

In order to reconcile the past and the resulting present with the goals of the future, due consideration for this winding path is in order. Understanding and respecting the history is the only way to bridge the ideological divide that continues to plague the relationship among those who value and favor a more isolationist and traditional posture and those who seek a more progressive and unifying vision for Quebec.


Macleod, R. (2003). The Road to Terrace Bank: Land Capitalization, Public Space, and the Redpath Family Home, 1837-1861. Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 165-165.

DeLottinville, Peter. (2006). Joe Beef of Montreal: Working-Class Culture, Community, and the Tavern, 1869–1889.

Bradbury, B. (1979). The Family Economy and Work in an Industrializing City: Montreal in the 1870s. Historical Papers, 71-71.

Rudin, R. (n.d.). Revisionism and the Search for a Normal Society: A Critique of Recent Quebec Historical Writing. Canadian Historical Review, 30-61.

Cahall, R. (1915). The Sovereign Council of New France; a study in Canadian constitutional history,. New York: Columbia University.

Mann, S. (2002). The dream of nation (2nd ed.). Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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