The area known as Quebec, one of Canada’s ten provinces, was first explored by Jacques Cartier, who took possession of it in 1534 in the name of the King of France, Francis I. In 1608, the explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, the province’s capital and the source of the term “Quebecois,” which originally meant an inhabitant of the city of Quebec but which has come to designate a French-speaking citizen of the province. The seventeenth century saw extensive colonization of this area by approximately 10,000 French colonists. In 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham resulted in a decisive defeat of French forces by the British. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered this territory to the British crown, and a royal proclamation gave the former French colony the name of Province of Quebec. When in 1867, the Dominion of Canada was created by the British North America Act, Quebec, at that time one of four Canadian provinces, was 85 percent francophone.
During the twentieth century, there was pronounced political activity by those members of Quebec society who wished to secede from Canada, in the belief that the distinctness of the Quebec language and culture made it a country separate from the rest of Canada. Two referenda, held in 1982 and 1995, were unsuccessful in achieving a majority vote by those wishing to create their own country. The population of Quebec at the time of the 1995 referendum, approximately 6.9 million (compared to Canada’s 26.2 million), was 82 percent francophone.
Throughout the history of modern Quebec, many francophone writers, artists, actors, and social activists endeavored to promote the Quebec identity through the protection of the francophone culture from assimilation into the majority anglophone culture and through the preservation of traditions that bear a distinctly Quebecois flavor. The political activism known as the independence movement was clearly strengthened by the participation of all levels of society.