Catholicism in Quebec and the Quiet Revolution

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Montreal is Quebec’s largest city, has always been renowned for its many churches and basilicas, earning it the nickname la ville aux cents clochers. Mark Twain once said “This is the first time I was ever in a city [Montreal] where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window”. Today, it is better known for the diversity of its people and its culture painted streets, such as the Quartier Latin and the booming Quartier des spectacles. The city is home to over a hundred and twenty cultural communities and seventy-five languages; seemingly fitting since well over a quarter of the population was born abroad. In the June 2008 issue of Monocle, a London based magazine, Montreal was dubbed “Canada’s Culture Capital”. It seems hard to imagine that the Catholic Church had a monopoly over not only Montreal but the entire province of Quebec simply half a century ago. How did a land founded and built on Catholicism become a place renowned for its cultural diversity? This essay will explore how the Catholic faith’s image developed in Quebec after the Second World War, touching the province’s strong religious foundation, the Church’s control of the education and medical systems, and how the Quiet revolution paved the way for the prosperity of the French language and the multicultural land we have today. Jacques Cartier officially claimed Quebec in the name of the King of France in 1534, bringing the first sign of Christianity by putting up a cross in Gaspé that is still visible to this day. The farm, family, faith and language were until recently stereotypical symbols for the Quebecois, but gradually became symbols of French settlers instead. However, these hadn’t always been symbols of the colonists; farming and permanent families were not part of the mindset of the early colony. Samuel de Champlain first met with the Algonquin people on his exploration journey in 1603 and the two parties were quick to form an alliance. The French and Algonquin began trading firearms for furs to keep warm throughout the winter but were mainly sent to be sold in France. During the long alliance with the Algonquin people many Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus, a Christian male religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, sought to evangelize and convert the aboriginal people. This created a bitter divide between the traditional practitioners of Midewiwin and the Catholic converts. Champlain returned in 1608 to create a settlement in what is now Quebec City, however at the time the French were interested in trading, fishing cod fish and later hunting beaver. This lifestyle made it difficult to attract potential colonists, and upon Champlain’s death in 1635 there were only 300 settlers in New France. King Louis XIV began encouraging members of his military to remain and settle in New France after discharge, and also hiring young laborers to work in the colony then encouraging them to stay as well. The recruitment efforts of the King of France resulted in a 2:1 male to female ratio, thus he supported les filles du roi, a plan where poor women without a dowry migrated to New France to be married and bear children. By 1681, the marriages and families of these women grew the population to 10 000. These 10 000 French settlers would produce most of the francophone population of Canada (Phan, 292). Once King Louis XV signed the Treaty of Paris, handing over the French territories to the English, the French military, upper-class and business elite all returned to France. The abandoned settlers turned to the Roman Catholic Church as the clergy begun opening schools and hospitals. The French colony of Quebec wanted to avoid an American influenced political policy which stood for Protestantism, republicanism and war, as well as severing its ties with France following the Treaty of Paris and the French Revolution’s religious prosecutions. The colony then adapted policies of the Church, associating the land with the Vatican instead. The Church...
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