Why is Canada a Bilingual Country?

Date01 September 2019
AuthorTuttle, Myrna El Fakhry

Canada has two official languages: French and English. We always wonder why.

Canada's two colonizing peoples are the French and the British. They controlled land and built colonies alongside Indigenous peoples, who had been living there for millennia. They had two different languages and cultures. The French spoke French, practiced Catholicism, and had their own legal system (civil law). The British spoke English, practiced Protestantism, and followed a common law system.

The British controlled parts of what is now Newfoundland. The French existed in the Maritimes (modern-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) and Quebec.

The French colonized Canada first. However, the British took over all French colonies in the Maritimes and Quebec through different wars, including the Queen Anne's War (1702-1713) and the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). As a result, the British managed these territories politically, but the French dominated them culturally. That was a matter the British had to deal with. People in those colonies spoke French and followed French religious and legal practices (see: Official Bilingualism in Canada: History and Debates) [Official Bilingualism in Canada]).

In Quebec, the British decided to authorize French culture and language but within British control. The British passed the 1763 Royal Proclamation. This action forced British law and practices on British colonies in North America, including those with large French populations. However, in 1774, the British enacted the Quebec Act, which overturned this practice. This Act guaranteed the practice of the Catholic faith in Quebec and allowed French civil law in private matters. In matters related to public administration, such as criminal prosecution, the common law system applied (see: Official Bilingualism in Canada).

In 1841, the Act of Union recognized that both the British and the French existed side-by-side but with the intention that French Canadians would eventually integrate into the British culture. The intention was that religious, cultural and legal dualism would be only temporary. This perception, based on the Durham Report, introduced a British parliamentary system including in Quebec, but it could not banish the French language and the Catholic religion (see: Cultural Duality).

Following that, the federal government enacted many laws to preserve both languages. In 1867, the year of Confederation, the British Parliament passed the British North...

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