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Are Francophone and Anglophone Communities More Divided or United than at the Start of World War I?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2029 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The French Canadians have had a substantial amount of history in Canada, more specifically Quebec. Their culture has grown and flourished since first settling, in the seventeenth century, making it in a sense, independent of the Anglo-Canadian one. Ever since these two groups were united under the Canadian banner, conflicts have risen between the two causing a rift within Canadian society, with one assimilating the other, as said by Henri Bourassa, a Quebec nationalist: “Let us be French as the Americans are English”.

Are francophone and anglophone communities more divided or united than they were at the start of World War I.


     The conscription crisis was a military and political crisis during the latter half of the First World War, which deeply affected the harmony between Quebec and the rest of Canada. At the start of The Great War, Candian citizens volunteered in mass, around 330,000 men answered the call to arms from 1914-1915 to combat the Germans in France and Belgium (Desmond Morton). Most men who enlisted were of Anglo-Saxon descent because they felt as if they had a patriotic duty to support their motherland, the United Kingdom. While French Canadians only represented 4% of the 330,000 volunteers (Canadian War Museum author). Such low enlistment can be attributed to several factors: many individuals had lived in Quebec for generations and lost all ties to France. This means that they did not feel as if they had a patriotic duty to serve. As well, Quebec was largely rural with most men of age were working in farms and many believed that they were supporting the war effort enough by supplying the food needed for the front. On top of that, Quebec is a province centered around catholicism causing men to marry at a younger age and conceive many children, further lowering their want to serve since they have more to lose. As the war became one of attritions and prolonged, the human toll mounted and the men willing to volunteer gradually lessened. By 1917, voluntary recruitment was failing to maintain troop numbers, Prime Minister Robert Borden passed the Military Service Act allowing the conscription of all eligible men. The French Canadian community who strongly opposed such law felt as if the government betrayed them, did not listen to their opinion and infringed on their rights. As a direct result of conscription, French Canadians took to the streets to protest against it. Eventually, they became violent and morphed into full-blown riots, such as several days of violent manifestations and street battles in Quebec City during Easter, in 1918. It left four civilians dead and multiple injured. Conscription had little to no effect on Canada’s war effort with only 48,000 conscripts being sent overseas, half of which fought at the front. Ultimately, the implementation of conscription caused a deep divide between French Canadians and the rest of Canada which lingers to this day.


     During war, there are many pieces of evidence to support comradeship within Canada, but there are internal conflicts as well. One of such is the opposing belief on the subject of conscription between the francophone and anglophone community in Canada. As World War Two broke out in Europe and Canada entered the war, the Liberal party (current government at the time), led by William Mackenzie King, had pledged to French Canadians that no one would be forced to fight overseas. They were determined to not allow another split between French and English Canadians which had occurred in 1917. After the defeat of France in June of 1940, the parliament voted on the National Resources Mobilization Act, which introduces conscription but only for service within Canada (Canadian War Museum). As the war progressed, the federal government held a national referendum asking Canadians to release their promise of not imposing conscription if, in the future, Ottawa deemed necessary to send conscripts to Europe. Nine of the ten provinces voted overwhelmingly in favour with 80 percent ”yes.” But four-fifths of the Quebecois people voted “no” (Llyod Duhaime). Just like from 1917-1918, the nation was divided into two linguistic camps. With Quebec being more rural, Catholic, and no ties to Europe which all resulted in a decisive no from the French province. In a bid, to lessen tensions about the plebiscite Mackenzie King famously said, “Not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary” (Parli). By 1944, after front-line infantry units, in the North-West of Europe and in Italy suffered heavy losses, Ottawa authorized 16, 000 conscripts to fight overseas, only after King turning to Louis St. Laurent, the leading cabinet minister from Quebec, for deliberation about the issue and the best way to go forward. There was some rioting in major cities across Quebec such as; Quebec City and Montreal. However, the response from the francophone community was not as violent as the ones during World War I. The majority of French Canadians realized that William Mackenzie King did his best to prevent and delay the use of conscription. For the first time, Canada sees that the government paid attention to the opinion of Quebec. Even though, a slight rupture happened in Canadian society both the French and English Canadians were able to come to a compromise and grow together as one.

October Crisis 1970:

     During the 1960s and 70s, Canada’s only predominant francophone province, Quebec, is shaken throughout the decades by the rise of a nationalistic movement and even terrorist groups, like the FLQ (Front de Libération du Québec), who demanded Quebec sovereignty and greater social justice.  From 1963-1970, FLQ terrorist attacks caused seventeen deaths and dozens injured. For example, on the thirteenth of February 1969, the bombing of the Montreal exchange led to twenty-seven injured, three dead, and caused one million dollars in damages (Mathieu Charlebois). But the FLQ’s most notorious terrorist act is the abduction of British diplomat James R. Cross, on the fifth of October 1970, then the Quebec’s Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, five days later, creating the October crisis. In reaction, Pierre Trudeau’s government adopted the War Measures Act which suspends civil liberties. It was the first and only time used on Canadian soil. A few hours later, the body of Laporte was found. The Canadian Army is deployed and multiple arrests are made. Through long negotiations with the FLQ Cross, the British diplomat was freed. In essence, this was a period of both unity and divide between Quebec and Canada. On the one hand, an overwhelming majority of French Canadians supported the use of the War Measures Act and disapproved of the FLQ’s tactics for separatism. But at the same time, it showed to what degree that certain French Canadians felt about being part of Canada, to where they have to commit atrocious acts of terrorism. The actions of the FLQ highlighted that the only way to achieve independence is through the democratic process, which led to the election of a Parti Québécois government in 1976 (Denis Smith).


1995 referendum:

     The 1990s was the decade in which Quebec nationalism was at its peak with the 1995 referendum on whether Quebec should remain in Canada or become a sovereign state. The failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord provoked profound incertitude about whether Quebec would stay a Canadian province. The rest of Canada had enough about constitutional questions. Meanwhile, the marginalization of Quebec, attributed in part the reenergization of the notion of a distinct society, bringing back to power le Parti Québécois . The new premier, Jacques Parizeau, promised and held a referendum on the faith of Quebec. The question which was asked on the referendum was: “Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the Bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on 12 June 1995?” (Gerald L. Gall). At the start of the campaign trail the “no” camp had a considerable lead in the beginning of pollings. But, over the course of the campaign and in the final weeks the “yes” camp gained considerable traction. In the end, it was the remainers who won with a weak majority of only 50.58% and with just 54,288 votes more than the separatists (Maude-Emmanuelle Lambert, Dominique Millette, Gerald L. Gall). 1995 was the year that marked the height of French and English Canadian divides and was a turning point for Canada in realizing that Quebec is a Canadian province and must no longer be marginalized.


     As a solution to resolve the divide between Canada’s linguistic communities is that a policy at all provincial levels to implement mandatory French and English classes from grade 1 to 8. Anglophone provinces to teach French in Quebec for English to be taught English, both at a high degree. Currently, French classes across Canada are lacking and are not properly teaching students how to speak French, but English classes in Quebec are extremely proficient. 48.6% of Quebec’s population is bilingual, while the rest of Canada sits at 9.8% (Statistics Canada)


    The goal of such policy is to make all provinces intertwined on a linguistic level, meaning for our country to be completely bilingual. This is to show that French is no longer a second class language and that Quebec is no longer a second class province. As well, it could possibly make Canada more attractive to foreign investors since most people would be bilingual.

In order


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