PRONUNCIATION: frEHnch cuh-NAY-dee-uhns
ALTERNATE NAMES: Cajuns (in the United States)
LOCATION: Canada (mainly Quebec); United States (mainly Louisiana and New England)
POPULATION: 6.5 million in Canada; 2–5 million in the United States
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism
French Canadians are descendants of Canada's colonial-era French settlers. Most live in the province of Quebec, where they form a majority of the population. The past thirty-five years have seen a strong rebirth of the French Canadians' sense of cultural identity. It has been accompanied by a political separatist movement with far-reaching implications not only for Quebec, but for all of Canada.
The French presence in Canada began in 1534, but permanent settlement did not begin until Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608. The French eventually carved out an enormous territory stretching as far east as the Maritime provinces and south to the Gulf of Mexico.
After France's defeat in the French and Indian Wars, Britain won control of New France, formalized by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Under British rule, the French Canadians remained a distinct cultural group. The preservation of their cultural identity was aided by the influence of the Catholic Church, the tendency to marry within their own community, and the tradition of having large families. When the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867, French Canadians accounted for one-third of the new country's population.
After World War II, there were growing demands for political autonomy (self-rule) in Quebec. French was recognized as Quebec's official language in 1974. The separatist Parti Québécois came to power in the province in 1976. A proposal for political independence from the rest of Canada was defeated at the polls in 1980. However, French Canadian separatism has remained a contentious issue for both the province and the nation as a whole.
The 6.5 million French Canadians living in Canada represent about a quarter of the country's total population. The majority—5.1 million—live in the province of Quebec. There are also French Canadians—known as Acadians—in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. They account for about 15 percent of the population in those provinces. There are also French Canadian communities in Ontario and the western provinces, as well as in the United States.
French Canadians are the largest group of Francophones (French speakers) in North America.
The vocabulary and pronunciation of Canadian French differ from those of the French spoken in France. Québécois is based on an older form of French and also contains many English expressions. For example, "to marry" is marier instead of the French term, épouser. Similarly, "appointment" is appointement instead of rendezvous , and "ignore" is ignorer instead of négliger.
The Acadians speak a distinctive form of French characterized by many old-fashioned expressions preserved from the seventeenth-century dialects of western France. In Moncton, New Brunswick, contact with English speakers has produced a French-English called Chiac.
The French-Canadian folklore tradition was strengthened by colonial laws that made it crucial for French Canadians to transmit their culture orally across the generations. Popular characters in French Canadian folklore include a hero figure named Ti-Jean (short for petit Jean , or Little John) and a hunter named Dalbec.
The majority of French Canadians are Roman Catholic. Until the 1960s, the church was central to French Canadian life. Since that time, however, the French Canadian community has become more secular. Church attendance has declined, and the influence of the church on daily life has decreased.
French Canadians celebrate Dollard Day on the Monday preceding May 25. The day honors a seventeenth-century French war hero. On that same day, the rest of Canada celebrates Victoria Day in honor of Britain's Queen Victoria. The most important religious holidays for French Canadians are Christmas and Easter. Many—especially those in rural areas—still observe the traditional Christmas celebration. It includes a large midnight supper ( Réveillon ) of tourtières (meat pies), ragaut (stew), and other dishes. On St. Jean Baptiste Day (24 June), the Québécois celebrate their patron saint with parties, bonfires, and fireworks. The Acadians' patron saint is Our Lady of the Assumption, and Assumption Day (August 15) is their day of celebration.
Most French Canadians observe the major life cycle events, such as birth, marriage, and death, within the traditions of the Roman Catholic church. The government of Quebec, the home of Canada's largest French-speaking population, recognizes common-law marriage in cases where couples have lived together for two years.
Like their English-speaking neighbors, French Canadians are hospitable, friendly, and polite. It is common for men to open doors for women or give up a seat if a woman is standing. French Canadians use the common greeting of Bonjour (Good day) for "Hello" and Au revoir for "Goodbye." Adults use first names and informal forms of address (such as tu rather than vous ) only with people they know well, such as close friends or relatives. Both men and women may exchange kisses on both cheeks in a European-style greeting. Close women friends often greet each other by embracing.
Housing in Canada varies by region, depending on the local availability of building materials. Two out of every three Canadians own their own homes. Single homes are the most common type of dwelling although the current trend is toward greater numbers of multifamily structures. The homes of the Acadians, like most of those in the Maritime provinces, are mostly built of wood.
Until the 1960s, the family lives of French Canadians were heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Large families were the norm. Today the average couple has only two children. The French Canadian divorce rate is comparable to that among other groups in North America. Roughly half of all newly married couples eventually divorce. The increased divorce rate has raised the number of single-parent families.
Since the 1970s, educational and employment opportunities for Canadian women have expanded. They have entered the professions and other traditionally male areas of the economy in increasing numbers. The government of Quebec established a program to encourage employment opportunities for women in the early 1980s.
French Canadians wear modern Western-style clothing. The traditional costume of the Acadians is still worn on special occasions. Women wear white bonnets and blouses, black skirts, and white aprons. Men wear white shirts, black vests, and knee-length black pants. White stockings and black shoes are worn by both men and women.
Quebec has a rich, distinctive French-Canadian cuisine. Popular dishes include tourtière (a meat pie), and ragoût de boulettes et de pattes do cochon (a stew made from meatballs and pigs' feet). Other favorites include French onion soup, pea soup, and poutine , a traditional dish made with French fries or grated potatoes. Quebec is also known for its maple syrup. Children enjoy eating tourquettes , a natural candy made by pouring boiling maple syrup onto fresh snow.
Education in Canada is administered by each province individually. In all cases school attendance is compulsory from the age of about six to sixteen. Quebec has two parallel systems, one of which is specifically for French-speaking, Catholic students. The Acadian populations of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island are legally guaranteed access to French-language schools in predominantly French-speaking areas.
Most higher education in Canada is government-funded. Laval University in Quebec is Canada's oldest university, and McGill in Montreal is one of its most prestigious.
French Canadian radio stations must allot 75 percent of their programming to music by French recording artists. Folk and country music are especially popular with Acadians.
Leading contemporary French Canadian authors include playwright Michel Tremblay (1942–) and short-story writer Mavis Gallant (1922–). Perhaps the most renowned French Canadian author of the twentieth century was Gabrielle Roy (1909–83). Her first novel, The Tin Flute (1945), drew a stark portrait of Quebec's urban poor.
Before the 1980s, management positions in Quebec tended to be dominated by English speakers. However, after the separatist Parti Québécois came to power in 1976, many English speakers left the province. Since then the gap between the two groups has narrowed substantially. Today the French Canadian middle class occupies a prominent position in industry, finance, and other key economic areas. French Canadians work in government and the professions and own small businesses. There is still a French-speaking working class in both unionized and nonunionized fields. Many Quebecois have performed hazardous work in the province's asbestos mines.
Before the twentieth century, the French-speaking Acadians in the Maritime provinces engaged in farming, fishing, and forestry. Today many engage in commercial farming and fishing.
Hockey, the Canadian national sport, is popular among French Canadians. Every team in the National Hockey League (NHL) includes French Canadians. Quebec has had five professional teams since the NHL began in 1917—three in Montreal (Canadiens, 1917–present; Wanderers, 1917–18; and Maroons, 1924–38) and two in Quebec City (Bulldogs, 1919–20; and Nordiques, 1979–95). The Montreal Canadiens—popularly known as the "Habitants" or "Habs"—have won the Stanley Cup, which is awarded to League champions, more than twenty times.
The Canadian Broadcasting System (CBC) broadcasts French-language news programs, dramas, films, and sports events. Quebec also has a large audience for English-language television and radio programming and magazines. Le Journal de Montréal and La Presse are the most widely read French-language newspapers.
Like Canadians of all backgrounds, French Canadians enjoy the beautiful scenery of their native land on vacation trips. Many families own small cottages in the country, which they visit on weekends and during vacations. Others travel to distant parts of the country for camping or other outdoor activities.
A time-honored pastime among French Canadian families in Quebec is "sugaring off." Early in the spring, they head for the woods to tap maple trees for sap that is then boiled down in cabines à sucre ("sugar shacks") to make maple syrup and maple sugar.
Traditional crafts among the Acadians include knitting and weaving. Colorful hooked rugs are a specialty.
The social status of French Canadians has historically been lower than that of the English-speaking majority. Traditionally, they have not been as well educated and have suffered widespread discrimination.
A major concern of French Canadians today is the preservation of their culture and language against the threat of assimilation into English-speaking North America. In both Quebec and the Maritimes, the drain of resources caused by emigration to other parts of Canada and to the United States is also a concern.
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