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French Canadian (also Canadien in Canadian English or in French, or Canadien français in French) refers to a nation or ethnic group of French descent that originated in Canada during the period of French colonization beginning in the 17th century. They constitute the main French-speaking population of Canadamarker. The term may also refer to people living in Canada of any ethnic origin who are native speakers of French.

During the mid-18th century, settlers born in French Canada colonized other parts of North America, including Alabamamarker, Louisianamarker, Mississippimarker, Missourimarker, Illinoismarker, the Windsor-Detroit region and the Canadian Prairies (primarily Southern Manitobamarker). Between the 1840s and the 1930s, some 900,000 French Canadians emigrated to New Englandmarker, settling mainly in cities such as Fall Rivermarker and New Bedfordmarker. Those who stayed in the United Statesmarker (including Acadians) eventually became a large portion of the Franco-American community. During the same period of time, numerous French Canadians also moved to parts of Southern Ontario (mostly Eastern Ontario), and Northern Ontariomarker. Their descendants constitute the bulk of today's Franco-Ontarian community.

The majority of French Canadians that continue to reside in the province of Quebecmarker, however, call themselves Québécois rather than French Canadian.

They are the second largest ethnic group in Canada, after the English Canadians and before the Scottish Canadians (not included is people who identified "Canadian" as their ethnicity on the census).


The French Canadians get their name from Canada, the most developed and densely populated region of New France during the period of French colonization in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The original use of the term Canada referred to the land area along the St. Lawrence Rivermarker, divided in three districts (Québec, Trois-Rivières, and Montréal), as well as to the Pays d'en Haut (Upper Countries), a vast and thinly settled territorial dependence north and west of Montreal which covered the whole of the Great Lakesmarker area.

At the end of the seventeenth century, the French word Canadien became an ethnonym distinguishing the inhabitants of Canada from those of France. From 1535 to the 1690s, however, it had referred to the Aboriginal people the French had encountered in the St. Lawrence River valley at Stadaconamarker and Hochelagamarker.



Top Four Reported "French" ethnic or cultural identities in Canada
Identity Population
French 2,838,000
Québécois 1,026,000
French Canadian 847,000
Canadien(ne) 555,000
French Canadians living in Canada express their cultural identity using a number of terms. The Ethnic Diversity Survey of the 2001 Canadian census found that French-speaking Canadians identified their ethnicity most often as French, Canadien, Québécois, or French Canadian. The latter three were grouped together by Jantzen (2005) as “French New World” ancestries because they originate in Canada.

Jantzen (2005) distinguishes the English Canadian, meaning "someone whose family has been in Canada for multiple generations", and the French Canadien, used to refer to descendants of the original settlers of New France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Those reporting “French new World” ancestries overwhelmingly had ancestors that went back at least four generations in Canada. Fourth generation Canadiens and Québécois showed considerable attachment to their ethno-cultural group, with 70% and 61%, respectively, reporting a strong sense of belonging.

The generational profile and strength of identity of French New World ancestries contrast with those of British or Canadian ancestries, which represent the largest ethnic identities in Canada. Although deeply rooted Canadians express a deep attachment to their ethnic identity, most English-speaking Canadians of British or Canadian ancestry generally cannot trace their ancestry as far back in Canada as French-speakers. As a result, their identification with their ethnicity is weaker: for example, only 50% of third generation "Canadians" strongly identify as such, bringing down the overall average. The survey report notes that 80% of Canadians whose families had been in Canada for three or more generations reported "Canadian and provincial or regional ethnic identities". These identities include French New World ancestries such as "Québécois" (37% of Quebec population), "Acadian" (6% of Atlantic provinces).


Since the 1960s, French Canadians in Quebec have generally used Québécois (masculine) or Québécoise (feminine) to express their cultural and national identity, rather than Canadien français and Canadienne française. Francophones who self-identify as Québécois and do not have French-Canadian ancestry may not identify as "French Canadian" (Canadien or Canadien français). Those who do have French or French-Canadian ancestry, but who support Quebec sovereignty, often find Canadien français to be archaic or even pejorative. This is a reflection of the strong social, cultural, and political ties that most Quebeckers of French-Canadian origin, who constitute a majority of francophone Quebecers, maintain within Quebec. It has given Québécois an ambiguous meaning which has often played out in political issues, as all public institutions attached to the provincial government refer to all Quebec citizens, regardless of their language or their cultural heritage, as Québécois.

Elsewhere in Canada

The emphasis on the French language and Quebec autonomy means that French-speakers across Canada may now self-identify as québécoise, acadienne, or franco-canadienne, or as provincial linguistic minorities such as franco-manitobaine, franco-ontarienne or fransaskoise. Education, health and social services are provided by provincial institutions, so that provincial identities are often used to identify French-language institutions:

Acadians residing in the provinces of New Brunswickmarker, Prince Edward Islandmarker and Nova Scotiamarker represent a distinct francophone culture. This group's culture and history evolved separately from the French Canadian culture of Quebec, at a time when the Maritime Provinces were not part of what was referred to as Canada, and are consequently considered a distinct culture from French Canadians.

Brayons in Madawaska Countymarker, New Brunswickmarker and Aroostook Countymarker, Mainemarker may be identified with either the Acadians or the Québécois, or considered a distinct group in their own right, by different sources.

French Canadians outside Quebec are more likely to self-identify as "French Canadian". Identification with provincial groupings varies from province to province, with franco-Ontarians, for example, using their provincial label far more frequently than franco-Columbians do. Some identify only with the provincial groupings, explicitly rejecting "French Canadian" as an identity label.

United States

During the mid-18th century, French explorers and Canadiens born in French Canada colonized other parts of North America in that are today Louisianamarker (called Louisianais), Mississippimarker, Missourimarker, Illinoismarker, Vincennes, Indianamarker, and around Detroitmarker. French Canadians emigrated massively from Quebec to the United Statesmarker between the 1840s and the 1930s in search of economic opportunities in border communities and industrialized portions of New Englandmarker.. French-Canadian communities remain along the Quebec border in northern Mainemarker, Vermontmarker and New Hampshiremarker as well as further south in Massachusettsmarker, Rhode Islandmarker, and southern New Hampshiremarker. The wealth of Catholic churches named after St. Louis throughout New England is indicative of the French immigration to the area. They came to identify as Franco-American, especially those who were born American.

Distinctions between French Canadian, natives of France, and other New World French identities is more blurred in the U.S. than in Quebec. In L'avenir du français aux États-Unis, Calvin Veltman finds that since the French language has been so widely abandoned in the United States, the term "French Canadian" is there understood in ethnic rather than linguistic terms.

The largest population of French Canadians in the United States today can be found in Broward County, Florida, and a sizeable population resides in Louisiana as well, particularly in the Acadiana region of the state.


Place d'Armes in Montreal, historic heart of French Canada.
People who today claim some French-Canadian ancestry or heritage number some 7 million in Canada and 2.4 million people in the United States. (An additional 8.4 million Americans claim French ancestry; they are treated as a separate ethnic group by the U.S. Census Bureau.)

In Canada, 85% of French Canadians reside in Quebecmarker where they constitute the majority of the population in all regions except the far North. Most cities and villages in this province were built and settled by the French or French Canadians during the French colonial rule.

There are various urban and small centres in Canada outside of Quebec that have long-standing populations of French Canadians, going back to the late 19th century. Eastern and Northern Ontariomarker have large populations of francophones in communities such as Ottawamarker, Cornwallmarker, Hawkesburymarker, Sudburymarker, Wellandmarker, Timminsmarker and Windsormarker. Many also pioneered the Canadian Prairies in the late 18th century, founding the towns of Saint Boniface, Manitobamarker and in Alberta's Peace Country, including the region of Grande Prairiemarker.

In the United States, many cities were founded as colonial outposts of New France by French or French-Canadian explorers. They include New Orleans, Louisianamarker; Mobile, Alabamamarker; Coeur d'Alene, Idahomarker; Belleville, Illinoismarker; Dubuque, Iowamarker; Detroit, Michiganmarker; Biloxi, Mississippimarker; St. Louis, Missourimarker; Creve Coeur, Missourimarker and Provo, Utahmarker.

The majority of the French-Canadian population in the United States is found in the New England area, although in the Middle Colonies there is a large French-Canadian presence in Plattsburgh, New Yorkmarker, across Lake Champlainmarker from Burlington, Vermontmarker. Quebec and Acadian emigrants settled in industrial cities like Fitchburgmarker, Worcestermarker, Walthammarker, Lowellmarker, Lawrencemarker, Chicopeemarker, and New Bedfordmarker in Massachusettsmarker; Woonsocketmarker in Rhode Islandmarker; Manchestermarker and Nashuamarker in New Hampshiremarker; Bristolmarker in Connecticutmarker; throughout the state of Vermontmarker, particularly in Burlingtonmarker, St. Albansmarker, and Barre; and Biddefordmarker and Lewistonmarker in Mainemarker. Smaller groups of French Canadians settled in the Midwest, notably in the states of Michiganmarker and Minnesotamarker.


Canadian French is an umbrella term for the distinct varieties of French spoken by francophone Canadians: Québécois (Quebec French), Acadian French, Brayon French, and Newfoundland French. Unlike Acadian French and Newfoundland French, the French of Ontario, the Canadian West, and New England all originate from what is now Quebec French and do not constitute distinct varieties from it, though there are some regional differences. French Canadians may also speak either Canadian English or American English.

In Quebec, about six million French Canadians are native French speakers. One million are English-speaking, i.e. Anglophones or English-speaking Quebecers, and others are Allophones (literally "other-speakers", meaning, in practice, immigrants who speak neither French nor English at home). In the United States, assimilation to the English language was more significant and very few Americans of French-Canadian ancestry or heritage speak French today.

Six million of Canada's native French speakers, of all origins, are found in the province of Quebec, where they constitute the majority language group, and another one million are distributed throughout the rest of Canada. Roughly 31% of Canadian citizens are French-speaking and 25% are of French-Canadian descent. Not all French speakers are of French descent, and not all people of French-Canadian heritage are exclusively or primarily French-speaking.

Francophones living in Canadian provinces other than Quebec have enjoyed minority language rights under Canadian law since at least 1969, with the Official Languages Act, and under the Canadian Constitution since 1982, protecting them from provincial governments that have historically been indifferent or downright hostile towards their presence.


The pre-revolutionary kingdom of Francemarker forbade non-Catholic settlement in New France from 1629 onward and almost all French settlers of Canada were Roman Catholic. In the United States, some French Catholics have converted to Protestantism. Until the 1960s, religion was a central component of French-Canadian national identity. The Church parish was the focal point of civic life in French-Canadian society, and religious orders ran French-Canadian schools, hospitals and orphanages and were very controlling of every day life in general. During the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, however, the practice of Catholicism dropped drastically. Church attendance in Quebecmarker currently remains low. Rates of religious observance among French Canadians outside Quebec tend to vary by region, and by age. In general, however, those in Quebec are the least observant, while those in the United States of Americamarker and other places away from Quebec tend to be the most observant. There are also French Canadians, those are people who have Canadian citizenship and whose mother tongue is French whose families arrived in Canada over the last 75 years and who are not Christian. There are many people from France, Lebanonmarker, Moroccomarker, Tunisiamarker, and other countries whose mother tongue is French and are either Muslim or Jewish.


The French were the first Europeans to permanently colonize what is now Quebecmarker, parts of Ontario, Acadia, and select areas of Western Canada, all in Canada (See French colonization of the Americas.) Their colonies of New France (also commonly called Canada) stretched across what today are the Maritime provinces, southern Quebec and Ontariomarker, as well as the entire Mississippi River Valley.

Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall
The first permanent European settlements in Canada were at Port Royalmarker in 1605 and Quebec Citymarker in 1608 as fur trading posts. The territories of New France were Canada, Acadia, and Louisiana. The inhabitants of Canada called themselves the Canadiens, and came mostly from northwestern France. The early inhabitants of Acadia, or Acadiens, came mostly but not exclusively from the Southwestern region of France. Canadien explorers and fur traders would come to be known as coureurs des bois or voyageurs, while those who settled on farms in Canada would come to be known as habitants. Many French Canadians are the descendants of the King's Daughters of this era.

During the mid-18th century, French explorers and Canadiens born in French Canada colonized other parts of North America in what are today the states of Louisianamarker (called Louisianais), Mississippimarker, Missourimarker, Illinoismarker, Vincennes, Indianamarker, the Windsor-Detroit region and the Canadian prairies (primarily Southern Manitobamarker).
After the 1760 British conquest of New France in the French and Indian War (known as the Seven Years' War in Canada), the French-Canadian population remained important in the life of the colonies.

The British gained Acadia by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and in 1755, the beginning of the French and Indian War, deported 75% of the Acadian population to other British colonies and France itself. The French Canadians escaped this fate in part because of the capitulation act that made them British subjects. It took the 1774 Quebec Act for them to regain the French civil law system, and in 1791 French Canadians in Lower Canada were introduced to the British parliamentary system when an elected Legislative Assembly was created.

The Legislative Assembly having no real power, the political situation degenerated into the Lower Canada Rebellions of 1837–1838, after which Lower Canada and Upper Canada were unified. Some of the motivations for the union was to limit French-Canadian political power and at the same time transferring a large part of the Upper Canadian debt to the debt-free Lower Canada. After many decades of British immigration, the Canadiens became a minority in the Province of Canada in the 1850s.

French-Canadian contributions were essential in securing responsible government for The Canadas and in undertaking Canadian Confederation. However, over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries, French Canadians' discontent grew with their place in Canada because of a series of events, including the execution of Louis Riel, the elimination of official bilingualism in Manitobamarker, Canada's participation in the Second Boer War, Regulation 17 which banned French-language schools in Ontario, the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and the Conscription Crisis of 1944.

Between the 1840s and the 1930s, some 900,000 French Canadians emigrated to the New Englandmarker region. About half of them returned home. The generations born in the United States would eventually come to see themselves as Franco-Americans. During the same period of time, numerous French Canadians also emigrated and settled in Eastern and Northern Ontariomarker. The descendants of those Quebec immigrants constitute the bulk of today's Franco-Ontarian community.

Since 1968, French has been one of Canada's two official languages. It is the sole official language of Quebec and one of the official languages of New Brunswickmarker, the Northwest Territoriesmarker and Nunavutmarker. The province of Ontariomarker has no official languages defined in law, although the provincial government provides French language services in many parts of the province under the French Language Services Act.

The dialects of French spoken in Canada are quite distinct from those of France. See French language in Canada.

Modern usage

In English usage, the terms for provincial subgroups, if used at all, are usually defined solely by province of residence, with all of the terms being strictly interchangeable with French Canadian. Although this remains the more common usage in English, it is considered outdated to many Canadians of French descent, especially in Quebec. Most francophone Canadians who use the provincial labels identify with their province of origin, even if it is not the province in which they currently reside; for example, a Québécois who moved to Manitoba would not change his own self-identification to Franco-Manitoban.

Increasingly, provincial labels are used to stress the linguistic and cultural as opposed to ethnic and religious nature of French-speaking institutions and organizations. The term "French Canadian" is still used in historical and cultural contexts, or when it is necessary to refer to Canadians of French-Canadian collectively, such as in the name and mandate of a national organizations which serve minority francophone communities across Canada. Francophone Canadians of non-French-Canadian origin such as immigrants from francophone countries are not usually designated by the term "French Canadian" ; the more general term "francophones" is used for French-speaking Canadians across all ethnic origins.



French-Canadian flags

Image:Flag of Quebec.svg|QuebecImage:Flag of Acadia.svg|AcadieImage:Flag of the Franco-Colombiens.svg|Franco-ColumbiansImage:Flag of the Franco Albertains.svg|Franco-AlbertansImage:Bandera dels Fransaskois.svg|FransaskoisImage:Flag of the Franco-Manitobains.svg|Franco-ManitobansImage:Franco-Ontarian flag.svg|Franco-OntarianImage:Franco-Terreneuviens.svg|Franco-NewfoundlandersImage:Flag of the Franco-Yukonnais.svg|Franco-YukonnaisImage:Flag of the FrancoTenois.svg|Franco-TénoisImage:Flag of the Franco-Nunavois.png|Franco-Nunavois

See also


  1. Gervais Carpin, Histoire d'un mot.
  2. Jantzen (2005) Footnote 9: "These will be called “French New World” ancestries since the majority of respondents in these ethnic categories are Francophones."
  3. Jantzen (2005) Footnote 5: "Note that Canadian and Canadien have been separated since the two terms mean different things. In English, it usually means someone whose family has been in Canada for multiple generations. In French it is referring to "Les Habitants", settlers of New France during the 17th and 18th centuries who earned their living primarily from agricultural labour."
  4. Jantzen (2005): "The reporting of French New World ancestries (Canadien, Québécois, and French-Canadian) is concentrated in the 4th+ generations; 79% of French- Canadian, 88% of Canadien and 90% of Québécois are in the 4th+generations category."
  5. Jantzen (2005): "According to Table 3, the 4th+ generations are highest because of a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic or cultural group among those respondents reporting the New World ancestries of Canadien and Québécois."
  6. Jantzen (2005): For respondents of French and New World ancestries the pattern is different. Where generational data is available, it is possible to see that not all respondents reporting these ancestries report a high sense of belonging to their ethnic or cultural group. The high proportions are focused among those respondents that are in the 4th+ generations, and unlike with the British Isles example, the difference between the 2nd and 3rd generations to the 4th+ generation is more pronounced. Since these ancestries are concentrated in the 4th+ generations, their high proportions of sense of belonging to ethnic or cultural group push up the 4th+ generational results."
  7. Jantzen (2005): "As shown on Graph 3, over 30% of respondents reporting Canadian, British Isles or French ancestries are distributed across all four generational categories."
  8. Jantzen (2005): Table 3: Percentage of Selected Ancestries Reporting that Respondents have a Strong* Sense of Belonging to the Ethnic and Cultural Groups, by Generational Status, 2002 EDS".
  9. See p. 14 of the report.
  10. G. E. Marquis, Louis Allen, The French Canadians in the Province of Quebec


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