Québec is the largest province in Canada by area and borders Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland (Labrador was attributed to Newfoundland in 1927 by the British Privy Council). The territory of Québec represents 15.5% of the surface area of Canada and totals 1.5 million km2. This is equal to the size of France, Germany and Spain combined. The province also neighbours on 4 American states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

Despite its impressive size, the territory of Québec today is only a portion of what was once New France. The original boundaries were changed through the ROYAL PROCLAMATION OF 1763, the QUEBEC ACT of 1774, the CONSTITUTIONAL ACT, 1791 and the BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT of 1867.

The French North American empire before 1763 was a vast territory including the St Lawrence River valley, the Great Lakes region and territories around the Missouri and Mississippi rivers from the Ohio River valley to the Gulf of Mexico. The JAMES BAY region and the northern part of Québec were officially British territories after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, half a century before the Conquest of 1760. The word Canada (meaning "village" in Iroquoian), not Québec, was used by the French to refer to the territory of New France that lay along the St Lawrence River. There was a strong sense among the French population of belonging to North America. The inclusion of the vast interior of the continent, reinforced by the fur trade and French exploration, has never completely disappeared from the complex sense of identity of francophone Quebeckers.

The name Québec referred, until 1763 and the Royal Proclamation, to the city of Québec only. The name was inspired by an Algonquian word meaning "where the river narrows." It was the British, not the French, who first used the word Québec in a broader sense.

Land and Resources

The province of Québec is composed of 3 main geological regions: the St Lawrence River valley, the Canadian SHIELD and the Appalachian region. The St Lawrence River Valley is the most fertile and developed region. The majority of the population of Québec lives here, mainly between Montréal and Québec City. The Canadian Shield covers most of Québec territory from approximately 80 km north of the St Lawrence River valley up to the Ungava region. It is a vast region composed of thousands of lakes and thousands of square kilometres of forested area. On the south bank of the St Lawrence River, between the Rivière Richelieu and the Gaspé Peninsula, is the Québec part of the Appalachian mountain chain which extends from Gaspé south to Alabama.

Glaciers covered the entire territory of the province during the Quaternary period. The deglaciation began only 15 000 years ago and is mainly responsible for the formation of thousands of lakes, for which the province of Québec is famous. Most of the territory has an elevation between 300 and 600 m above sea level. Only 7% of the territory is above 600 m while the highest mountains are Mont D'Iberville (1652 m) in the Torgnat Mountains in northern Québec and Mont Jacques-Cartier (1268 m) in the Gaspé region. The most fertile soil is in the St Lawrence River valley with an average elevation of 150 m. Only 5% of the land in the Canadian Shield is arable and most of it is located in the southern part of the Shield, in the Laurentides or LAURENTIAN HIGHLANDS. The other fertile region is in southern Québec, near the American border, where small mountain formations, arable plateaus and plains form a beautiful environment. Most of the French colonists settled in the St Lawrence River valley, also known as the St Lawrence Lowlands region. After the War of Independence in the British colonies, Loyalist immigrants settled in the southern part of Québec, which was known as the EASTERN TOWNSHIPS.


The economic history of Québec can be divided into 5 major periods. The first period started with the arrival of the French and lasted until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The main economic activity was the FUR TRADE. Under the MERCANTILIST system imposed by France, colonies - including New France - exported their natural resources and in return received manufactured goods from the metropolis. The fur trade was the heart of New France's economy. Other economic activities in the colony that might compete with the home country were discouraged.

During the second period (1713-1812), the economy of New France remained dominated by the fur trade although an attempt was made to diversify the economy by improving farming and by encouraging projects like the FORGES SAINT-MAURICE. The Conquest of 1760 did not fundamentally change the mercantilist system, at least for a while, as Britain was also a protectionist country. During the third period (1812-67), wheat and timber replaced fur as the main export products. This period marked the rise of commercial capitalism. The major event of the period, between 1845 and 1848, was the Britain's abolition of its protectionist laws and the abandonment of the mercantilist system.

This radical change caused the business elite of Canada and Québec, Montréal being the most important commercial and financial centre of the colony, to alter its economic strategy. The solution was to transform Canada into an industrialized country. The political expression of that solution was Confederation in 1867. That year marks the beginning of the fourth period (1867-1945), which was characterized by the rise of industrial capitalism. Québec, particularly the Montréal region and Montréal harbour, played a crucial role in the country's industrialization. In 1900, 51% of Canada's manufacturing capacity was based in Ontario, compared to 32% in Québec. The main industries in Québec were in the sectors of textiles, footwear, food, railways and timber. By 1900, hydroelectricity was the main source of energy while pulp and paper mills and aluminum factories were sectors of high employment and substantial foreign investment. The fifth and final period is from 1945 to today. It is characterized by the rapid development of modern communications and services. In contrast to previous periods, there has been a shift away from manufacturing.

Government and Politics

The political institutions of the province of Québec have not fundamentally changed since 1867. Initially a French colony, Québec was later administered directly by British authorities. In 1841 it became part of a legislative union, and in 1867 a member of the Canadian federation. In 1982 Québec did not sign Canada's repatriated Constitution, although it did sign an accord in 1987 to enter into Canada's constitutional agreement (seeMEECH LAKE ACCORD; MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT) and another, the so-called CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD (seeCHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT), in 1992. However, neither of these were ratified and the latter was overwhelmingly rejected in a national referendum. The evolution of Québec's institutions has thus not been marked by any legal discontinuity. The most important institutions are the central political institutions.

History: From New France to Confederation

French colonization started when Jacques CARTIER landed in Gaspé in 1534. One year later the French came into contact with Iroquoian villages on both shores of the St Lawrence River, for example at STADACONA near the location of the future Québec City and HOCHELAGA (the future Montréal). But the real beginning of French colonization in the St Lawrence Valley was in 1608, when Samuel de Champlain established a fort at Cap Diamant, the site of Québec City today. By the beginning of the 17th century, the Iroquoians had mysteriously disappeared from the north shore of the St Lawrence River. The population of the Montagnais-Naspaki (Innu) nation on the north shore was then around 4000 people. In 1666 the first census revealed a colonial, non-native population of only 3215 people.

The French North American empire expanded considerably during the 17th century. In 1672 and 1673, Louis JOLLIET and Jacques MARQUETTE explored the Mississippi River and, in 1682, Robert Cavelier de LASALLE reached the Gulf of Mexico by following the Mississippi River. Many institutions were established: hospitals like Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in 1639, Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal in 1657; in 1664, the Coutume de Paris became the law in the colony; in 1663, Bishop Laval opened the first seminary, the Grand Séminaire de Québec, while the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice opened in Montréal in 1677. In 1713 the Treaty of UTRECHT, following France's defeat by a coalition of European countries in the War of the Spanish Succession, demanded that France surrender ACADIA (in the territory of Nova Scotia, excluding that area which is today Cape Breton Island), Newfoundland and the lands around Hudson Bay. Several thousand Acadians thus became part of the British empire in North America. Following the SEVEN YEARS' WAR, Québec City and Montréal were claimed by the British. It was the end of the French empire in North America.

A few years after the Conquest, the remaining French population of the new British colony benefited from tension between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain with the Quebec Act of 1774. The Quebec Act enlarged the frontiers of the Province of Québec, recognized freedom of religion for Catholics, the legality of the seigneurial system and the French civil code. After the American Revolution, the Constitutional Act of 1791 reduced the frontiers of the province for the purpose of establishing a new colony, Upper Canada (eventually Ontario), and guaranteed a legislative assembly, although with limited powers, in each colony (Upper and Lower Canada).

French-Canadians were, during the years 1791 to 1867, extremely active both politically and in every aspect of economic life. Local markets, as revealed by recent research, were extraordinarily complex and diversified. At the international level some French-Canadians, like Augustin CUVILLIER and Joseph Masson, were also involved in international commerce and banking. Both men were administrators of the Bank of Montreal while other French-Canadians opened French-Canadian banks like the La Banque du peuple in 1835.

In 1837-38, the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada over the principle of self-government resulted in military repression and the DURHAM REPORT of 1839. Lord Durham recommended the application of the principle of self-government but suggested that the only solution to the French-Canadian problem was the union of the 2 colonies. The aim was to assimilate the French-Canadians. That plan was implemented in 1841 through the Union Act, voted in London in 1840. Section 41 of the Union Act stipulated that English was the only language of the new colony. But, when Britain abolished the mercantilist system between 1846 and 1848, the principle of self-government was granted to the colonies as compensation for the loss of protected access to the British market.

Following that decision, a coalition of reformists led by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine formed the first democratic government of the Province of Canada (the colony formed by the union of Lower and Upper Canada) in 1848. The right of the French language was recognized by the reformists. By 1864, during negotiations for a new federation of British North American colonies, it was clear that there was a growing recognition of the French reality in the proposed federation.


Flora and Fauna

Within the province's 3 geological regions are 4 distinct zones with different landscapes. These are the arctic tundra, the taiga, the boreal forest and the temperate forest. All except the temperate forest are sparsely inhabited.

The arctic tundra zone covers the territory from the 56th parallel up to the northern part of Québec. It is a nonforested landscape and the ground is covered with lichens and mosses. The taiga zone is situated between the 52nd parallel and the 56th. It is also characterized by a lack of forest covering, although some vegetation, like spruce, fir and dwarf shrubs grow in some areas of the region. The boreal forest zone is located between the northern limit of the St Lawrence Valley and the 52nd parallel. It is a heavily forested area. The last zone, the temperate forest, covers the Ottawa Valley, the St Lawrence Lowlands, the Appalachians and LAC SAINT-JEAN regions. These are heavily forested regions, with fir, spruce, pine, larch, maple, ash, beech and oak. The temperate forest is the primary source of the province's forestry industry. The boreal forest has not been intensively exploited. Québec is famous for the spectacular autumn colours of its boreal and temperate forests.

The arctic tundra is the natural habitat of the polar bear, fox and arctic hare. In the taiga the largest group of the deer family (Cervidae) is the caribou. Numerous species of animals like deer, coyotes, moose and lynx populate the boreal and the temperate forests. The lakes and rivers abound with fish, particularly trout, yellow perch, black bass and pike. Overall, 105 species of freshwater fish populate the rivers and lakes of Québec. Other species, like salmon and smelt, live in salt water but spawn in Québec's fresh water. The St Lawrence and Saguenay rivers are also a refuge for sea mammals like seals, white BELUGA, killer, humpback and even blue whales.

Québec is also home to 350 species of birds, of which about 10% winter in the province. Birds of prey such as merlin, kestrel and the great horned owl winter in Québec and live mainly in the boreal forest. Other, more common species, are crows, starlings, swallows and finches. In the fall thousands of snow geese gather along the shores of the St Lawrence River, particularly in Cap-Tourmente, near Québec City, during their migration south. Thousands of tourists and bird watchers are attracted to the site each year.


Continental air masses are common in Québec. Their temperatures are affected by marine currents. One of the most important of these is the cold Labrador current. It moves southward from Labrador to Newfoundland. It is the main cause of cool East Coast summers. The Gulf Stream is responsible for humid heat waves during the summer. Because of the frequent meeting of warm tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico and cold, dry air from the north or west, the entire province receives heavy snowfalls during the winter. On some occasions, the combination of a massive warm air system above a ground level cold air system creates heavy storms with freezing rain. This is what occurred in January 1998, when the southern part of Québec and eastern Ontario was hit for 4 consecutive days by the worst freezing rainstorm in recorded history.


Québec is also known for its countless lakes and rivers. The province's most important waterway and geographical feature is the St Lawrence River, its estuary and the gulf. The main tributaries of the St Lawrence River are, on the south shore, the Richelieu, Yamaska, Chaudière and Matapédia rivers. On the north shore, they are the Saint Maurice, Saguenay, Manicouagan and Outaouais (or Ottawa) rivers. The 2 other main watersheds are the James Bay and Hudson Bay basin and Ungava Bay. In the James Bay region, the Nottaway, Rupert and Eastmain rivers were dammed in the 1970s as part of the largest hydroelectric project in Canada. Large reservoirs, such as the Réservoir Manicouagan, on the Rivière Manicouagan north of Baie Comeau, and the Réservoir Gouin on the Saint Maurice, were also targeted for major hydroelectric projects.

The St Lawrence River has always posed navigation problems, particularly upstream, near Île de Montréal and the Rapides de Lachine. First, the French built a canal. Then, the British, who were still dreaming in 1800 of a North American commercial empire that would eclipse their American competitors, built a larger canal. However, the completion of the project, known as the Lachine Canal, in 1824, did not prevent New York from becoming the main entrance to North America, particularly after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The canal system upstream of Montréal was constantly improved between 1824 and 1954, until the opening, during that last year, of the ST LAWRENCE SEAWAY. As predicted by many critics of the project, including administrators of the Montréal harbour in the 1930s, the direct link between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic took shipping traffic away from Montréal harbour. The building of the St Lawrence Seaway is viewed by many as a major cause of the economic decline of Montréal since the 1960s.

Québec has many natural resources. In the 1990s Québec produced 98% of Canada's asbestos, 27% of its gold, 85% of its tellurium, and 100% of its titanium and columbium. Québec's subsoil also contains industrial minerals such as peat, limestone, silica, granite and mica. Québec's construction industry is self-sufficient with abundant supplies in stone, cement, sand and lime.

Over the last few decades there has been growing concern in Québec over the need to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. The Ministère de l'Environnement has several responsibilities, among them the prevention of pollution. This is an extremely important issue because most of the rivers and lakes in Québec have been polluted by acid rain. Until 1999 and the creation of the Société des établissements de plein du Québec (Sepaq), the ministry was in charge of 19 conservation and recreation parks. In addition, there are 4 national parks: Forillon, La Mauricie, Mingan Archipelago and the Saguenay-St Lawrence Marine Park.

Population and Society

The first inhabitants of the province were the Natives or First Nations. The three main groups in Québec, according to linguistic classification, are the Algonquian, the Eskimo-Aleut and the Iroquoian. According to the 1996 census, the total native population in Québec was 80 945 including 58 640 Status Indians, 40 332 living on reserves, 17 153 off reserve and 1155 on Crown Land. The number of bands is 39.

The French-speaking population in Québec in 1996 was 5.7 million or 81.5% of the province's total population (a drop from 82% in 1991). It represents 86% of the French-speaking population in Canada. The "allophones" (people of non-French or non-British ancestry) were 682 000, representing 9.7% of the population. The number of people claiming English as their mother tongue dropped to 622 000 people or 8.8% of the province's population.

During the French colonial period, France was Europe's dominant power. Its population during the 18th century was between 20 and 25 million inhabitants while that of the British Isles was estimated at 7 million. Colonial rivalry between France and Britain was already global during the 18th century. Competition between the 2 nations had implications for all continents. But France, despite an impressive system of colonies, remained mainly a continental power during the 18th century while Britain was building an international system of colonies.

At the end of the 17th century, religious minorities in Europe sought to emigrate in order to build societies according to their religious beliefs. France's minorities, such as the Huguenots, mainly moved to Central Europe while religious minorities in Britain emigrated to North America. The refusal of the church to allow religious minorities to move to New France, and the fertile soil and temperate climate of the Atlantic seaboard, led to a great disparity in the populations of New France and New England. Between 1608 and 1713, despite the success of its expansion on the continent, New France's population had grown from several hundred to only 15 000 inhabitants. New England had a population of 400 000 in 1715 and more than 2 million in 1763. Between 1715 and 1763 the population of New France grew from 15 000 to almost 70 000 inhabitants.

It was under the English regime after 1763 that the remaining French-speaking population grew substantially. From less than 70 000 the French population increased to some 100 000 in 1784, over 400 000 in 1825 and almost a million in 1860. By 1911 the French-speaking population in Québec was about 2 million people, 4 million in 1951 and almost 6 million in 1996. Between 1840 and 1930 one million French-Canadians, most of them seeking jobs in the manufacturing sector in New England, left Québec for the United States. Today, the estimated Franco-American population is 5 million people.

Under the French Regime land was settled in a distinct fashion. The seigneurial system, finally abolished in 1854, was organized to create a sense of community through the close proximity of neighbours. Individual lots, usually built along a river, were very narrow, about 175.5 m wide, and extremely deep, about 1700 m long. Some have argued that the seigneurial system and the parish were the key institutions of a rural society and encouraged a mentality opposed to urbanization and industrialization. Other observers have argued that the unique fashion of the seigneurial system in Québec was the main cause of the rise of an early urban civilization.

During the 19th century, large numbers of French-Canadians moved to urban centres throughout North America. Despite the official but sometimes ambiguous opposition of the Church on the subject of migration, Québécois left their rural homes as early as 1840 and moved to urban centres in New England or to cities in the province of Québec. From 1850 to 1930, the rate of the province's urban population grew steadily. In 1871 only 15% lived in cities. Two decades later, the number had doubled until, by 1921, 52% of the people were urban. This figure was above the Canadian average and comparable to that of Ontario. By 2001, Quebec's urban population was 80.4%, the third-highest proportion in Canada, behind Ontario and BC (84.7%) and Alberta (80.9%).

At the end of the 18th century, people of British origins made up 12.5% of the total population. Several thousand of these people had come to Canada after the American Revolution (the LOYALISTS). During the 19th century, the source of immigration shifted to Britain, particularly Scotland and Ireland. During the 19th century, 17 million people left Britain, 9% of whom came to Canada. These included 53 463 Irish between 1825 and 1829, 185 953 between 1830 and 1834, and almost 200 000 during the Great Famine of 1845-49. About 20% of the Irish immigrants settled in Québec. By the end of the 19th century, the predominantly Irish immigration was replaced by East European Jews and Italians. The Jewish population in Québec grew from 1.5% of the total population in 1901 to 5.7% in 1941. The Italian population was only 0.5% in 1901 and 2.3% in 1941. In 1996, the number of people claiming Italian origins totalled 4.2% of the Québec population, while 2.6% claimed Jewish origins. According to the 1996 census, the other important groups, each of them making up between 0.5% and 1% of the population, were Greek, Portuguese, Chinese, Haitian, Lebanese and Southeast Asian. Since the Irish immigration of the 1830s and 1840s, Québec society has been demographically and culturally diverse.

Labour Force

In 2001, 20% of the labour force in Québec was concentrated in goods-producing industries (agriculture, primary industry, manufacturing, construction), and approximately two-thirds in service-producing industries (transportation, trade, finance, service, public administration). The province's unemployment rate was 8.7% in 2001.

Thirty-five percent of Québec's labour force is enrolled in unions compared with 30% in Canada and 18% in the United States. This high rate of union membership may be connected to the province's history of extremely militant Catholic unions. Formed in 1921, the Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Canada was involved in many bitter strikes in the textile sector in the 1920s and in the famous ASBESTOS STRIKE in 1949. In 1960 the union was renamed the Confédération des syndicats nationaux and continues to be active today.


In 1996, the population of Québec was 86% Catholic and 6% Protestant. Since New France, the influence of the Catholic Church has been a major factor in the development of the province. After the Conquest, the British did not authorize priests from the Jesuit order and the Récollets, leaving the Sulpiciens as the only major group of priests. There were also 7 communities of sisters. By the end of the 19th century, however, there were more than 100 communities of priests and 200 communities of sisters. The Jesuits returned to Canada in 1842. The first Oblates arrived in 1844 and settled in the Ottawa region and in the James Bay region before sending missionaries to Western Canada. The Clercs de Saint-Viateur arrived in 1847. Communities of sisters were also active, particularly the Grey Nuns, an order formed in 1737.

Many sociologists, political scientists and historians have argued that francophone Québec was a priest-ridden society, obsessed by the maintenance of rural values and deeply opposed to modernity and its consequences, mainly urbanization and industrialization. Some facts are irrefutable. In 1900, the average number of parish members per priest was only 537. Overall, there was one member of the Church for every 109 Catholics in the province. This phenomenal bureaucracy probably had no equivalent in the Western world among Catholic countries - not even Italy. But while the bureaucracy was immense, there remains the question of whether it frustrated the province's development or provided a different road to modernity. The Church ran a relatively complex school system, invested in real estate and financial markets. At the same time, Catholic unions opposed trusts and big business. Communities of sisters, like the Grey Nuns, managed hospitals and were involved in real estate. The role of the Church in the history of Québec is a complex one and continues to be debated by historians and sociologists.

Social Institutions

Québec's legal and judicial system is based on the French Civil Code while the rest of Canada uses Common Law. Québec has a provincial charter of human rights, a consumer protection act, a provincial automobile insurance system, and separate income security and family allowance systems. Québec also has a complex network of more than 800 social institutions. Among them are hospitals, community centres and long-term care facilities for the elderly. Since 1965 an agency of the Québec government has managed Québec's social benefits programs. Several institutions such as Régie des rentes du Québec, Régie de l'assurance automobile and Commission de la santé et du bien-être invest their funds in the Caisse de dépôt et de placement. The Caisse has assets worth $70 billion and an annual net income of around $6 billion. The Caisse de dépôt et de placement is arguably the most important achievement of the 1960s reforms which gave the Québec state a greater role in the province's economy.


In the 1990s, Québec's portion of Canadian agricultural production was around 13%. Québec has 6.8 million ha of arable land. After a period of intense speculation and urban growth between 1972 and 1978, the government began protecting agricultural land. Québec farmers have supplied public markets since the 1880s, if not before, according to historians. Recent studies have revealed the presence of a complex local economy during the 19th century. Pork and dairy products were a Québec speciality by the end of the 19th century. Specialization increased the industrialization of agriculture and, as a result, the value of agricultural production in Québec increased by more than 4 times between 1901 and 1921.

The Agricultural Land Protection Act was passed in 1978 and now protects Québec's best farmland. Other measures to support the farming industry were also taken, including the introduction of crop insurance and stabilization insurance plans. There was also a substantial increase in allocations to various assistance programs. Total farm cash receipts totalled $5.1 billion in 1999. Main producing sectors include wheat, barley and oats, vegetables and beef. Québec has Canada's largest dairy products industry.


The principal industries in Québec are manufacturing, generation of electric power, mining, pulp and paper. The Québec manufacturing sector represents 25% of the Canadian total. All industry employed over 3 million people in 2000. Five groups of industries account for 65% of the factories and over 50% of the manufacturing jobs: clothing and textiles, food and beverages, paper and related products, metal products and wood products.


Québec has the second-largest area of forest land in Canada after the Northwest Territories. Most of this land, 825 000 km2 of forests, is provincially owned, although many land claims by First Nations are currently being contested in the courts. Accessible productive forests total 540 000 km2, three-quarters of which is located in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Abitibi and North Shore regions. Around 33 million m3 of wood is cut each year, 80% of which is conifer. Most of the cut wood is used for lumber and pulp manufacturing. For the last 20 years, a vast REFORESTATION program has been underway. More than 32 million saplings are planted annually.

The PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRY in Québec is among the 10 leading producers in the world and the second-largest exporter of newsprint in Canada. Over 23 000 workers are employed in this sector, producing about 42% of Canada's paper. Timber, wood pulp and newsprint together constitute 20% of Québec exports, 80% of which goes to the US. The lumber industry is another active sector. There are over 1300 lumber processing plants, and the wood industry alone employs over 36 000 people.


Québec has around 4200 full-time fishermen located in several regions, notably in the GASPÉ Peninsula, where fishing is a major part of the local economy. In 1997 this number had been reduced to 1200 fishermen. Most owned boats that are less than 10 m long. Québec's annual catch is only a fraction of that taken by the Atlantic provinces. The main catches are groundfish and various molluscs and crustaceans. The fishery now relies more on shellfish, which make up two-thirds of the catch. Groundfish now account for only 10% of the catch and pelagic fish (eg, herring and mackerel) make up the rest.


Québec is the largest producer of electricity in Canada. Its installed generating capacity is 31 667 MW, or 30% of the Canadian total. In the 1970s the province tried to reduce its dependency on petroleum products. In 1970 petroleum accounted for 74% of all energy used in the province. In 1998 it was 31.9%. The main project of the 1970s was the JAMES BAY PROJECT. It produces over 10 000 MW of electricity. A large portion of this electricity is exported to Ontario, New Brunswick and the northeastern United States.


French and English merchants dreamed of a commercial empire along the St Lawrence River. Although the North American commercial empire never materialized, the St Lawrence River and Montréal played a fundamental role in the history of transportation in Canada. Head offices of many transportation companies, including Air Canada, are in Montréal. At one point in the 1990s, 50% of the head offices of the Canadian aeronautics and space industry were in Montréal.

The opening of the St Lawrence Seaway was not beneficial to the Montréal harbour as the harbour lost its privileged position. The opening of the seaway in 1954, while contributing to the development of North Shore ports, also led to the rapid growth of Ontario ports on the Great Lakes. Québec has 28 ports, the most important of which are Montréal-Contrecoeur, Québec-Lévis and Port-Cartier and Sept-Îles-Pointe-Noire. In the mid-1990s, 73.7 million tons of cargo were being handled annually in these 28 ports.

In the 19th century, Montréal was the base from which Canada's railway system was constructed. The GRAND TRUNK RAILWAY in the 1850s, the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY in the 1880s and, in the 1910s, the CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY, are all an important part of Québec and Montréal history. The railway network was mainly developed in southern Québec, though the National Transcontinental was an expensive, failed effort to open up frontiers in the north.

Québec has 3 international airports: Dorval, Mirabel and Québec City. The construction of the Mirabel airport in the 1970s was very controversial. For 20 years intercontinental flights were dispatched to Mirabel while Dorval was the Montréal airport for continental flights. Today, in retrospect, it seems that the detractors of the project were right because in 1997 international flights were all dispatched back to Dorval airport, leaving only air freight to Mirabel. In the 1990s, the 2 Montréal airports handled about 11% of Canadian passengers, compared to Toronto's 35%, while 14% of all air freight is handled in Montréal and 38% in Toronto. Almost 85% of the 10 million passengers who annually used Québec's airports passed through Dorval and Mirabel. In November, 2004, Mirabel airport was closed. The other airports are in Québec City and Sept-Iles.

The province has 55 700 km of roads and 2300 km of super highway. More than 3.6 million vehicles are registered. Approximately 2400 trucking firms employ more than 38 000 workers and share about $2 billion in annual revenue.

Central Political Institutions

Québec, like all constitutional regimes with a British tradition, has no rigid division of legislative and executive functions among its various agencies. Its political system is based on co-operation rather than on a separation of powers. The legislative assembly, renamed the Assemblée nationale or National Assembly by the Duplessis government of the 1950s, represents Québec citizens and is composed of 125 members representing the same number of ridings. In the 1960s, efforts were made to ensure an equal number of voters per riding (around 34 000 voters). The National Assembly has the power to pass laws in areas defined as provincial jurisdiction by section 92 of the BNA Act. The political party with a majority of seats in the National Assembly forms a government. The leader of the party, who must be elected in a riding, becomes the premier. See QUEBEC PREMIERS: TABLE.

The Queen's representative in the province is the LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR. He or she is appointed by federal authorities in consultation with the province. The role is mainly symbolic, but in some situations the lieutenant-governor may be called upon to settle a parliamentary issue. As the sovereign's direct and personal representative, the lieutenant-governor ensures the continuity of government. Although technically a federal public servant, the lieutenant-governor's actions are in fact governed by the directives of Québec's conseil executif, also called the Conseil des ministres, which is composed of the premier ministre (PREMIER) and his ministers. It is the conseil executif that decides on the general orientation of government action. It expresses its will through draft bills and décrets. The 25 or so Cabinet ministers are appointed by the premier and are bound by the principle of ministerial solidarity. See QUEBEC LIEUTENANT-GOVERNORS: TABLE.

Since the 1970s, major reforms have transformed the operations of these central bodies. The National Assembly's rules of procedure were modernized and adapted to Québec's circumstances: a total of 18 parliamentary standing committees have been established and debates are now televised. The conseil executif is operating more and more with the assistance of departmental standing committees, each headed by a minister of state. A priorities committee provides better planning, and a treasury board, headed by a minister, is responsible for formulating and implementing the government's financial policies.

Legal Institutions

Québec's judicial system has 2 levels: lower court powers are shared by a number of courts, but there is only one Court of Appeal. Québec courts interpret and apply Québec law, and a large part of federal law. The federal Parliament has not fully exercised its constitutional right to create courts in order to ensure that its laws are implemented. The lower court hierarchy has 7 components:

1) Justices of the peace have jurisdiction in criminal matters such as minor crimes, infractions of federal and provincial laws and of certain municipal regulations.

2) Municipal courts may be created by town councils to decide how municipal regulations should be implemented. They are presided over by judges appointed by the Québec government.

3) Juvenile courts are presided over by up to 42 judges appointed by the Québec government and have jurisdiction in certain civil and criminal matters involving juveniles.

4) Courts of Sessions of the Peace are presided over by up to 64 judges who deal mainly with criminal matters in urban areas.

5) The Provincial Court is composed of up to 149 judges and its jurisdiction extends throughout Québec in less important civil matters and for municipal and school taxation issues.

6) The Superior Court has up to 107 judges appointed by the federal government and acts as a common-law trial court.

7) The Court of Appeal is composed of 22 judges who are also appointed by the federal government.

Municipal Institutions

Subsection 8 of section 92 of the BNA Act stipulates that each province may exclusively make laws in relation to matters such as municipal institutions. The CONSTITUTION ACT of 1982 reiterated that the provinces have the authority to organize and administer their municipal institutions. There are nearly 1400 municipalities in Québec. All municipalities fall under the Municipal Code and the Cities and Towns Act.

Most of Québec's municipalities are loosely organized into 100 regional county municipalities. Québec City, Montréal, Hull-Gatineau and the Outaouais have jurisdiction over their assessment, development, public transportation, taxation and public safety provisions. Rural county municipalities have been established to pool community services outside the larger urban centres.

Public Finance

All provinces, including Québec, have 2 sources of revenues: provincial taxes and transfer payments from the federal government based on established programs. In the 1990s, the annual revenues of the province of Québec were around $35 billion, of which 40% came from income and corporate taxes, 18% from various taxes on consumer goods (tobacco, retail sales, fuel), 5% from copyrights, permits and fines, and around 2% from transfers from Crown corporations. The annual transfer payments from the federal government roughly totalled $6 billion. Annual expenditures by the provincial state of Québec in the 1990s averaged approximately $42 billion, with roughly half going to health, social services and education, and almost $10 billion to culture.

In 1980 the accumulated deficit in Québec was around $8 billion, rising dramatically to $67 billion by 1995. This is a serious problem that the government of Premier Lucien Bouchard has been trying to solve by following the example of other provinces, like Alberta, which drastically cut expenditures in order to reduce its deficits.

Intergovernmental Relations

Québec has 75 representatives in the federal House of Commons and 24 members in the Senate. The federal and Québec authorities coordinate their activities, not without difficulty, through about 100 joint committees and a number of federal-provincial conferences. It is in international relations, however, that Québec has asserted itself. In 1871 Québec opened 2 offices abroad and, in 1882, a trade officer was appointed to France. Later, in 1961, the first Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs (now Relations Internationales) was created. Since then Québec delegations have been established in the US, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Cooperative agreements link Québec to a number of countries, particularly France. Québec is represented in many international francophone institutions, including the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique.


From the Conquest of 1760 and the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and basically until 1867, Québec was a British colony. In 1791, with the Constitutional Act, the frontiers of the colony were reduced to what is essentially southern Québec today. The colony was also granted an elected Assembly. But the territory, like any other British colony, was directly and undemocratically governed from the metropolis through a governor named by London and a body of Councils also composed of non-elected members. The Assembly had limited powers.

Because French-Canadians had developed a distinct identity by the end of the 18th century, the struggle for democracy became, at least for half a century, synonymous with nationalism. After the Rebellion of 1837-38, Québec was amalgamated with Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1841 and became part of a legislative union. After the failure of that union, Québec became in 1867 a province of the Canadian federation.

For many French-speaking Canadians who supported the BNA Act of 1867, Confederation was based on the principle of a federation of nations, namely the British and the French (both the French and the British excluded the First Nations.) But that interpretation of Confederation was never shared by a majority of English-speaking Canadians. They tended to see Canada as a homogeneous nation composed of different regions represented by the provinces. This unresolved debate about the nature of the federation has been at the core of every political and constitutional crisis in Canada and the province of Québec since 1867.

In 1980 the first referendum on Québec's independence was defeated with a majority of Quebeckers voting to remain within Canada. Two years later a major crisis in Québec-Canada relations occurred when Québec did not sign Canada's repatriated Constitution. The second crisis occurred between 1987 and 1990 during the debate about the MEECH LAKE ACCORD. In 1992 the CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD was rejected, although for different reasons, by both Québec and the rest of Canada. In 1995, a second referendum in Québec on sovereignty was barely won by the federalist side (49% in favour of sovereignty, 51% against).

After the Conquest and during the 19th century, the French referred to themselves as "les Canadiens" and described the "others" as "les Anglais." The strong French-Canadian perception that the 1867 Act reflected a federation of nations was constantly refuted by a large component of English-speaking Canadians. This contributed to the emergence of a separatist movement and a "Québec only" identity. The Métis Rebellions of 1870 and 1885, the hanging of Louis Riel, the illegal and unconstitutional abolition of the French language in Manitoba in 1890, the conscription crises in 1917 and 1942, the constant marginalization of the French language at the federal level until the Official Languages legislation of 1969 - these events contributed to a negative perception of the Canadian federation.

The history of political parties in Québec reflects both the evolution of the identity of Quebeckers and, as in all societies, contradictions in that identity. From 1867 to 1897 provincial politics were dominated by the Conservative Party. The conservatives ruled for all but 5 of those years, 1878-1879 and from 1887 to 1891. The power of the Conservative Party symbolized the alliance between the Church and business, and a commitment to a socially conservative society led by private enterprise. Wilfrid Laurier's victory at the federal level in 1896 propelled the provincial Liberals to power in 1897. They remained in power for half a century, except between 1936 and 1939, until 1944. The Liberals maintained the alliance between the Church and private enterprise. The Church was given a free hand in social affairs and education while the political and economical spheres were left to politicians and businesspeople.

The domination of the Liberals was interrupted in 1936 when Maurice Duplessis and the Union Nationale party took power. That party resulted from the 1935 merger of the provincial Conservative Party and a group of young Liberal dissidents active during the Depression. The name of the group was l'Action Libérale Nationale and among its aims was nationalization of the private hydroelectricity companies. Once in power, however, the leader of the former provincial Conservative Party, Maurice Duplessis, who became leader of the Union Nationale coalition in 1936, did not implement any of the reforms proposed by the Action libérale nationale, ruling the province the same way the Liberals had.

It was the new leader of the provincial Liberal Party, Adélard Godbout, re-elected in 1939, who applied those reforms. The Godbout government was perhaps the most socially progressive provincial government of the century in Québec. Among its reforms were the right to vote for women at the provincial level, the formation of Hydro-Québec and reforms in education. But its accomplishments were overshadowed by World War II when the federal government used its special wartime powers to intervene in provincial affairs. In 1944 the domination of the Liberal Party since 1897 really came to an end. With only 35% of the popular vote, Maurice Duplessis was re-elected and this time governed until 1959.

The Duplessis government was characteristic of the Cold War, right wing and vehemently anti-Communist. Opposition to his extremely conservative style of government in the 1950s prepared the field for the reforms of the 1960s. When a group of young liberals led by Jean Lesage took power in 1960 it was the beginning of a new era and the period of reforms known as the QUIET REVOLUTION. The Church was replaced by the provincial state in social affairs and the state intervened in the economy to promote the interests of French-speaking business. The emphasis on the provincial state corresponded with a change in the self-identification of many French-Canadians in Québec. Historians still debate the nature and effects of the Quiet Revolution. For some experts, the Quiet Revolution was a period of immense change that at last brought Québec into the modern world. For others, the alliance of the Church and business, beginning from at least the second half of the 19th century, was a typical contradiction of modernity. To these observers, the changes of the 1960s, despite their magnitude, were simply a realignment of political and social forces in an already modern society.

Formed in 1968, the Parti Québécois came to power only a few years later in 1976. Ironically, a few months before the 1976 provincial election in Québec, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau had proclaimed the death of 'separatism' in Québec. When René LÉVESQUE became premier of Québec in 1976, it was not only a wake-up call for Trudeau but also for the entire country.

The Parti Québécois was elected in 1976 with a clear social-democratic platform. Indeed, between 1976 and 1980, the government of the Parti Québécois initiated many reforms, some of them very controversial, like the reform of the automobile insurance system and the famous Bill 101 on the regulation of the French language in the province. In 1980, as promised by René Lévesque, the Parti Québécois organized a referendum on the mandate to negotiate a new partnership with Canada referred to as "sovereignty-association." Many commentators have argued that this new partnership was in fact a proposal for a new confederation, a system where the central state has very limited powers. Others have argued that it was a form of secession. Despite the fact that the question seemed moderate, the federalist No side won convincingly by almost 60% to 40%. However, in 1981, the Parti Québécois was re-elected, mainly because the Québec voters were in the majority satisfied with its performance as a responsible government. It was thus a government of the Parti Québécois in power in 1982 when Pierre Elliott Trudeau patriated the constitution from Britain.

In 1983, the Parti Québécois took a real switch to the right in its conflict with unions of the public sector and abandoned some of its social-democratic approach. That played a crucial role in the Parti Québécois defeat in 1985. Robert BOURASSA, who had patiently rebuilt his control over the provincial Liberal Party after his astonishing defeat in 1976, became once again the premier of Québec in 1985. Caught in the debate and eventually the failure of the Meech Lake Accord between 1987 and 1990 and, in 1988-89, the controversy of Bill 178 on language regulation in Québec (that Bill allowed the use of the French language and other languages for signs inside stores or public buildings but imposed the use of the French language only for signs outside buildings), Robert Bourassa managed his way to victory again in 1989. But this second mandate was also very controversial, with the Oka crisis in the summer of 1990, just after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, and the no less catastrophic failure of the CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD in 1992. Robert Bourassa was replaced by Daniel JOHNSON, and in 1994 the Liberal Party was defeated by the Parti Québécois, now led by Jacques PARIZEAU. One year after this victory, the Parti Québécois, in a second referendum on sovereignty, lost narrowly when the Yes side finished with a surprising score of 49%. Parizeau resigned, and Lucien Bouchard was sworn in as leader. Bernard Landry became the province's leader in 2001. On April 14, 2003, the Parti Québécois was defeated and the Liberal Party leader, Jean Charest, was elected premier of Québec.


Education in Québec dates back to the mid-17th century with primary schools run by religious orders in major cities of New France, including Québec City, Montréal and Trois-Rivières. Secondary education also began during the 17th century with the establishment of the Collège de Québec in 1635. After 1680 the collège offered more advanced courses, notably in law, mathematics and surveying. After the Conquest, and a few years later with the arrival of the Loyalists and British immigrants, a complete English-language school system, from nursery school to university, was gradually established. McGill University, for example, opened in 1843. Section 93 of the BNA Act stipulated that, in the province of Québec, the school system would be organized on the principle of religion. The system for English-speaking Quebeckers was financed by the provincial state in the same way and according to the same criteria as the French-language system.

Major Reforms

Until the 1960s the French-language education system was decentralized. Local school boards were responsible for day-to-day operations while the Roman Catholic Church and the provincial state, through their representatives and the office of the provincial secretary, decided on programs and curricula. In the 1960s a commission led by Bishop Parent recommended several changes. Education became a higher priority and a growing consensus arose about the need to increase the general level of education and provide better technical training for specific jobs. The educational reform based on the conclusion of the Parent report produced 4 major innovations:

1) Universal access to secondary education through a better network of high schools and a better regional representation through regional school boards.

2) Establishment of an institution designed as Colléges d'enseignement général et professionel (CEGEPs). This is an intermediate level between secondary school and university. It has basically 2 goals: to provide post-secondary students with a 2-year preparation for university and offer a 3-year advanced job-related technical training.

3) Establishment of a new university, which became the UNIVERSITÉ DU QUÉBEC system. The new university offers programs in all regions of Québec.

4) Establishment of a Department or Ministry of Education, which became the ultimate authority in education.


In 1999-2000, there were 18 Protestant, 137 Catholic and 3 nondenominational school boards for a total of 2557 schools. There were also 337 private schools. ADULT EDUCATION services were also offered. The 3 nondenominational school boards were established after the passage of Bill 107 in December 1988. That bill reorganized school boards from denominational to linguistic lines. Because of opposition by Catholic groups, however, implementation of the bill was postponed until 1993 when a unanimous decision by the SUPREME COURT OF CANADA affirmed the constitutionality of the law. Then, in 1997, after a very long process, Québec and the federal state agreed to change section 93 of the former BNA Act in order to guarantee the constitutionality of linguistic boards and to remove the religious criteria. In the 1990s the annual enrolment in the primary and secondary system averaged a little more than a million students.

At the post-secondary level, there are 42 francophone colleges or CEGEPs and 4 anglophone colleges. The university system has 7 French universities and 3 English-language institutions. The largest campus is the Université de Montréal. In the mid-1990s, the enrolment was over 200 000 students at the college level and more than 300 000 at the university level.

Cultural Life

Technically, Québec is a province. Others claim that Québec is a nation in the sense that it is the home of the French-speaking nation in North America and other Quebeckers of non-French origins. Others, although they are more and more a rarity, believe that Québec is the territory in which the most important component of the French-Canadian nation resides.

French-Canadian cultural roots can be traced to the beginning of the 19th century in LITERATURE, PAINTING and SCULPTURE. Debate about the significance of the arts in the francophone community has been passionate since the 19th century. In literature, Father Henri-Raymond CASGRAIN in the second half of the 19th century and Bishop Camille ROY in the first half of the 20th century both sought to create literature that would reflect what they defined as the essence of French-Canadian society. They were challenged by the universalists who wanted a universal literature. After the Quiet Revolution, many writers, despite their claims that they were expressing a new identity, were, like Casgrain and Roy, exploring the identity of the French-speaking society now referred to as Québec society.

One of the paradoxes of the last 3 decades is that the complexity of French-Canadian society in Québec, before and after the Quiet Revolution, has been understated to the point that it has become a cultural stereotype. One of the consequences is that great French-Canadian artists from the past are almost forgotten today. A century ago one of the greatest divas was Emma Lajeunesse, known as Emma ALBANI. Her fame was comparable to that of Céline DION today.

The cultural infrastructure in Québec is impressive. There are 150 theatre companies, nearly 100 summer theatres and at least 5 important theatre festivals. The province has a dynamic music scene with over 100 musical organizations, including the Club musical du Québec and the Ladies' Morning Musical Club, which started their activities in the 19th century. The ORCHESTRE SYMPHONIQUE DE MONTRÉAL is ranked among the top orchestras in the world while a large number of music schools, in universities and conservatories, provide musical training. In dance, Québec enjoys an international reputation with companies like Les GRANDS BALLETS CANADIENS and La La La Human Steps. There are 59 institutions or schools of dance in the province. Montréal has around 230 commercial cinemas and is the host of the prestigious Montréal Film Festival. No wonder that even Mordecai Richler, the prominent English-language novelist, once described francophone Quebeckers as the most cultivated people in Canada.


There are 29 television stations in Québec, and francophone networks include, Radio-Canada, TVA, Quatre Télévision Saisons and RDI. English-speaking television includes CBC and CTV. There are also 195 cable companies reaching over 60% of the total market, including 8 French-language channels. A high proportion of the television watched by francophone Quebeckers is French-language programming produced in Québec. It is estimated that Quebeckers spend 70% of their total viewing hours watching made-in-Québec television shows. Québec has 58 AM and 77 FM radio stations and more than 150 rebroadcasting radio stations in the province. The province has 10 French-language and 2 English-language daily newspapers, more than 200 weeklies, more than 300 periodicals and over 30 publications in languages other than French and English.