Quebec Studies

The Oldest and Most Resistant Section of the Border

Quebec Studies (2003), 36, (1), 3–27.

Abstract

3 The Oldest and Most Resistant Section of the Border1 Louis Balthazar Université Laval Why is there a border between Canada and the United States? First and foremost because Canadian settlers refused to join the American Revolu­ tion. They thus allowed Great Britain to keep a piece of her North American Empire and give rise to a country that would be distinct from the United States. Quebecers may take pride that their province (or their nation2) stands at the origin of Canada. They may still boast of remaining the most striking element of Canadian distinctiveness on the American Continent. The Canadian-American border is indeed fortified in Quebec by a cultural and linguistic screen, which was the main reason why the Canadiens3 re­ sisted the American revolutionary appeal in 1776. Quebec's distinct society is therefore the most striking element that allows for a border between the countries. As a consequence, and somewhat ironically, this border is forti­ fied by internal differences within Canada, by the presence of internal bor­ ders, as it were. Quebecers have remained quite ambivalent towards the United States, just like other Canadians. But their distinctive character has given rise to a sui generis ambivalence. Quite frequently they are attracted by their southern neighbor when their fellow Canadians are resistant and they may insist on their difference at the very moment English-speaking Canadians don't care. This article will endeavor to support this proposition from the history of the last two hundred years. It will also review the particular rela­ tions between Quebec and the United States on the political, economic, and cultural levels. The History of a Border Historians do not agree on the meaning of Canada's Conquest by Great Britain. Did the British victory leave a profound imprint on the FrenchCanadian population or did it just perturb the life of the first Canadian set­ tlers for a while? Whatever the answer to this question, one must at least recognize that the conquered population did not hasten to pay allegiance to the new rulers. The Quebec Act of 1774, which recognized Quebec's distinc­ tive character in North America by authorizing Roman Catholic worship and French civil laws, made it much easier for the Canadiens to grant some legitimacy to the British Crown. Even then, when the American revolution­ aries led by Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold invaded Quebec's territory, they encountered much sympathy among the population. Several Canadians joined the American militia and many others offered them hos­ pitality. This was significant enough to make for a judicial inquiry once the invaders were repelled (Fauteux).4 Others however did participate in the dogged resistance of Quebec City's fortress under the British flag. The hier­ archical authorities of this society had been particularly well served by the Québec Studies, Volume 36, Fall 2003/Winter 2004

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Balthazar, Louis