The conflict in Canada between the people who speak French and those who speak English can trace its roots to Colonial times. Since Canada was originally a French colony, the majority of the people originally spoke French. In 1760, during the French Indian War, England gained control of Canada. This led to a large number of English speaking settlers who eventually became more numerous that the original French speaking settlers. Two distinct cultural groups evolved the French, mostly in Quebec, and the English in the other provinces.
Initially, there was very little conflict between the two societies as they lived under the rule of the English crown. At the time of the Confederation in 1867, most Canadians wanted to establish a distinctive Canadian national identity, a kind of Canadian nationalism. Since the English Canadians were now the majority, they were the dominant forces in creating the political and cultural aspect of the independent Canada. They relied on the democratic government of England and to some extent to those of the United States, which guaranteed equal rights. Their vision of national identity included English as the primary language and the English culture as the standard for all of Canada. Two different types of nationalisms were then formed.
The first was an ethnic nationalism in which French-speaking citizen felt that they owed their loyalty to the French community. The second was a civic nationalism in which the English-speaking citizens felt that they owed their loyalty to the entire nation of Canada (Conlogue, 21). The civic view of Canadian national identity allowed its citizens to choose their own language and their way of life. However the English language was preferred in business, education and politics, and the English culture was considered more sophisticated that the French way of life. This tied wealth and social advancement to the English culture in area outside of Quebec.
In Canada, linguistic intolerance was part of the culture of the English settlers. Twice before the time of the Confederation, English settlers attempted to pass laws forcing their language on their French neighbors. The French responded with an uprising in 1837 in a futile attempt to break free of the English rule. They could not achieve their objective by force of arms. But the desire for cultural and linguistic autonomy continued. French Canadians agreed to the Confederation because they were led to believe that French Quebec would be allowed t operate as a nation within a nation.
The English offered this compromise rather than risk failure of the Confederation, but included the provision that the emerging western provinces would be English-speaking. The long-term effect was to continue a sense of separateness and autonomy among the French in Quebec. The accommodation was only a temporary. English-speaking Canadians continued to try to suppress French culture and land language. Illegal laws were passed in many of the provinces against teaching in French in schools (Conlogue, 27). Compounding the problem were the religious differences between traditionally Protestant English and the Catholic French.
The Orange Order, a group dedicated to preserving the Protestant religion and the English way of life, had a strong hold in Canada in the early twentieth century and were against the French at every opportunity. The English majority also developed a romantic vision of the value of a national homeland for the ethnic minorities. This was rooted in the democratic ideals on which Canada is based. Among the more liberal English Canadians, there was a hope that a uniquely Canadian cultural identity could come from the integration of the French and English. As a step toward achieving this. They suggested bi-lingual ism, the recognition of both French and English as official Canadian languages.
While many of the English Canadians were okay with this ides, the French of Quebec continued to develop their identity as a separate and distinct Canadian culture. In the 1960's political groups in Quebec magnified the past injustices, it soon appeared that Quebec might seek independence. In an attempt to stall the independence movement, the Ottawa government initiated official bi-lingual ism in 1968, making French Canada's other official language. It also allowed the Quebec government to pass laws regarding written and spoken language. In a reactionary backlash after generations of English bigotry, the government restricted the use of English in Quebec. IN 1977, it enacted Bill 101, requiring all signs, labels and documents had to be in French (Came, 17).
Because English was still an official language in Canada, it could still be used in writing and labels, but only as a smaller accompaniment to the French version. Bi-lingual education in Quebec was the area that caused the most concern. According to Bill 101, if a town has an English speaking population of less that 51%, the school will teach exclusively in French. This effectively eliminates the bilingual model that most English Canadians presume is part of their national culture. The language issue is not confined to Quebec province. In retaliation for the language regulations passed by the province, local governments in other provinces are passing laws mandating the exclusive use of English.
When Sault St. Marie's city council mandated exclusive use of English, Quebec's Premier immediately called the move 'utterly deplorable'; (qt. In Brimelow, 20). The year before, the same Premier had supported legislation to make Quebec uni-lingual. The effect from this was to further polarize the French and the English over the issue of language. For both the English and French of Canada, the language conflict is a symptom of the underlying clash of culture and views of national identity. Quebec seems firmly committed to becoming an independent state exclusively using the French language and culture.
English Canada is still trying to integrate this concept into their vision of national identity in which all Canadians are citizens of a predominantly English-speaking nation.