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Cannon on the Plains of Abraham
Quebec City, Quebec
By 1759, when Quebec City fell to the English, England and France were in the middle of what Americans call "The French and Indian War", which began in 1756. Actually, fighting had begun earlier, for the fortress of Louisbourg on what is now Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, twice fell to the English, in 1745, as well as in 1758, since the War of the Austrian Succession in 1744 brought the English and the French into armed conflict in North America, ending a peace which had lasted since 1713. The historian Mason Wade mentions that during this final period of peace in Nouvelle France, the La Verendreyes undertook the last great explorations of France in America, starting in 1731 and reaching the Rockies by 1743.
What was Quebec like at the time of the Conquest? It was not a massive series of colonies like the 14 English colonies to the south. The three main aims of France in North America had been the fur trade, the conversion of the Indians to Christianity, and keeping the English at Bay. However, there was a sizeable population, 55,000 by 1754, and a system of laws and land ownership in Quebec which most English Canadians mistakenly think was based on the Code Napoleon. Actually, it was based on the Coutume de Paris, and forms the basis for civil law in Quebec today. By 1760, Mason Wade noted that one-quarter of the population lived in cities and towns.
What changed history for Quebec after the Conquest were two events: one, that at the Treaty of Paris in 1763, where France decided to keep its possessions in the Caribbean rather than Quebec. The second was the Quebec Act of 1775, in which England restored the old boundaries of Quebec, extending it to the Mississippi River, and including what is now Ontario and the American states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. This territory was changed drastically by the American Revolution and the settling of American Loyalists in what is now Ontario. But the other major change remained: religious and cultural recognition: the free exercise of the Catholic religion was guaranteed, and the French civl law was recognized as law, with English criminal law, replacing the old French criminal law. Only the language question was unsettled, but the fact that French settlers outnumbered English merchants and settlers by 30 to 1 and that official English proclamations were published in both French and English, and that the new Quebec Gazette, the first newspaper in Quebec, contained articles in English and in French, set a precedent that would prove hard to change centuries later.
[ Nous attendons la traduction française. ]
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