Province of Quebec 1763-91

  At the end of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR, Great Britain organized the territories that were confirmed as its possessions by the Treaty of PARIS, 1763.

Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester
Lord Guy Carleton was largely responsible for the Quebec Act, which helped to preserve French laws and customs (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-2833).
Murray, James
Portrait of General James Murray by an unkown artist, circa 1770-80, oil on canvas. The Englsih merchants had Murray, the first governor of the Province of Québec, recalled. The dispute centered on the application of British law and the creation of an Assembly (courtesy National Portrait Gallery).

Province of Quebec, 1763-91

  At the end of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR, Great Britain organized the territories that were confirmed as its possessions by the Treaty of PARIS, 1763. By the ROYAL PROCLAMATION OF 1763, the Province of Quebec was created out of the inhabited portion of NEW FRANCE, taking the shape of a quadrilateral on each side of the St Lawrence River and stretching from Lake Nipissing and the 45th parallel to the Saint John River and Ile d'Anticosti. These boundaries were modified by the QUEBEC ACT (1774) to include the fishing zone off Labrador and the Lower North Shore and the FUR-TRADE area between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and the Great Lakes. The Treaty of PARIS, 1783, pushed the boundary farther north. The "old province of Quebec," to use historian A.L. Burt's expression, ceased to exist when it was divided into 2 separate colonies, LOWER CANADA and UPPER CANADA, after the CONSTITUTIONAL ACT of 1791.

Since many of the province's inhabitants were, or had been, employed by fur-trade companies and merchants, their geographic universe was not limited to these official boundaries; it stretched westward to include the PAYS D'EN HAUT and the North-West, the source of the colony's main export. The fur trade had been virtually destroyed during the war and then hobbled first by PONTIAC's revolt and later by the restrictions imposed by British authorities. It took nearly a decade to revive the trade, but the traders eventually occupied the previous French territory. Then, following the example set by Peter POND, they explored and exploited new areas.

By 1789, when Alexander MACKENZIE descended the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean, the entire North-West, from Lake Superior to the Rockies, had been linked to the Province of Quebec through the activities of the VOYAGEURS and fur traders. During the period 1763-91 Montréal merchants drained off most of the furs from the southwest. Competition from New York and Albany was gradually eliminated by the 1768 decision to return to the colonies the regulation of the fur trade and by the 1774 annexation of the Ohio territory to the province. That region had ties with Montréal even after the 1783 treaty, since Britain retained the posts south of the Great Lakes until 1796 (see JAY'S TREATY).

Although the fur trade was vital for the province and its commerce with Britain, it was not the main domestic economic activity. Agriculture, especially the growing and preparation of wheat products, occupied the largest number of people and supplied the local market. Surpluses increasingly allowed food to be exported to the West Indies and Britain. Industrial production at the artisan level supplied domestic needs and the smaller needs of the fur trade.

The domestic market should not be underestimated: as a result of a high birth rate the population more than doubled, from nearly 70 000 in 1775 to nearly 144 000 in 1784 and over 161 000 in 1790. Migration played little part in this growth. About 3000 people left the St Lawrence Valley after the CONQUEST, and the expected British immigration did not take place. The number of "old subjects" was very small - some 500 in 1766 and perhaps 2000 in 1780. Their number grew significantly only after the AMERICAN REVOLUTION, when LOYALISTS arrived in significant numbers - the 1784 census listed some 25 000. The Loyalists settled mainly in the southwestern part of the province, which later became Upper Canada [Ontario].

 The British, many of whom were merchants and officials, had influence and position out of proportion to their numbers. The governors, James MURRAY, Guy CARLETON and Frederick HALDIMAND, were responsible for the province; they and their entourages (which often, in fact, included Francophones) therefore held social as well as political power. The merchants, with the advantage of credit in London, soon controlled commercial relations with the mother country. At first supported by the military authorities and helped by francophone voyageurs, they acquired in less than 2 decades the lion's share of the fur trade. They established the NORTH WEST COMPANY, which took an increasingly larger share of the trade and was, by 1790, the most powerful fur-trade organization in the Province of Quebec.

The administrators and merchants often failed to see eye to eye. The merchants even managed to have Murray, the first governor, recalled. The dispute with Murray centered on the application of British law and the creation of an Assembly, as provided for in the Proclamation of 1763. The merchants felt that these institutions were essential to the anglicizing of the colony and the protection of British interests. They perceived and defined these interests as those of Britons resident in the colony. But both Murray and Carleton defined British interests as the interests of the British Crown, and they therefore felt that their main task was to avoid any threat to the Crown's possession of the colony. Given the style of government adopted during the period of military occupation (1760-63), the lack of British immigration and the growing unrest in the Thirteen Colonies, the governor had no choice but to try to win over the majority of the population. Major portions of the Proclamation were set aside and "new subjects" were appointed to official positions.

In 1774 Carleton, who was determined to preserve a military base of operations in North America, obtained the passage of the Quebec Act. It fell far short of pleasing the merchants, who wanted an Assembly, even though it strengthened their monopoly on the fur trade to the south. The governor hoped the Act would win the support of the francophone elite. Murray had already gained the collaboration of the Roman Catholic clergy (see CATHOLICISM). The death of Bishop Henri-Marie Dubreil de PONTBRIAND in 1760 had left the church without a bishop to run its affairs and ordain new priests; moreover, funds were desperately short and war-destroyed buildings had to be replaced. Murray therefore made himself the champion of the church and was instrumental in bringing about the 1766 consecration in France of Jean-Olivier Briand as the new bishop of Québec. The Quebec Act allowed the free practice of the Catholic faith, re-established the COUTUME DE PARIS in civil matters and restored property rights to the church and SEIGNEURS. A council was created and the abolition of the Test Oath allowed Catholics to enter public office. But these conciliatory measures failed to have the desired effect. The habitants showed little enthusiasm for British interests, especially during the American invasion of 1775-76. Nevertheless, for various reasons, they also failed to side with the revolutionaries. And so Carleton's strategy had partial success: the province remained British.

 The sociopolitical structure created by the Quebec Act failed to survive the consequences of war. It was upset by the arrival of the Loyalists, and this increase in British population greatly strengthened the merchants' position and intensified their conflict with the governor. The British authorities asked Carleton (now Lord Dorchester) to suggest a solution to the problem. In order to satisfy, at least partially, the merchants and the Loyalists without angering the Francophones, in 1791 London produced a revised Quebec Act and a new constitution, which included the creation of a House of Assembly. The new provinces of Lower and Upper Canada were created, with Lower Canada retaining many of the institutional forms of the Province of Quebec.

The 30 years following the Conquest are of major importance to the understanding of Canadian history. The economic structure of the St Lawrence Valley remained almost unchanged: 2 economies coexisted, one commercial and oriented towards the mother country, the other agricultural and artisanal, and oriented toward the local market. These 30 years were marked on one hand by the intention, explicitly expressed in 1763, to anglicize the colony, and on the other hand by the need to come to terms with changing circumstances on the North American continent. During those 30 years, 2 ethnic groups came together, anticipating many of the points of contact, co-operation and tension that characterized much of subsequent Canadian history. By 1791 the process of anglicization proposed in 1763 was no longer practicable, and the francophone culture would survive.

Further Reading

  • H. Neatby, Quebec (1966); F. Ouellet, Economic and Social History of Québec, 1760-1850 (tr 1980).