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Québec: French Culture, First Nations & Folk Music

This guide provides curated Library of Congress resources for the study of Québec, Canada, including digitized primary sources and books on a wide range of subjects. Topic areas include: First Nations, French culture, and Québécois musical traditions.


The Citadel, Quebec. 1901. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress holds thousands of items about and from Québec. This guide offers links to diverse resources on Québec from across the Library including digitized primary sources, books, online resources, as well as overviews on a variety of topics concerning Québécois history and culture.

Québec is a culturally-rich and distinct Canadian province that borders Ontario, New Brunswick, Labrador and Newfoundland, and the U.S. states Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. It is also close to the small island of St. Pierre and Miquelon, a French collective territory. Québec is the largest province in terms of geographic size — about the size of Mongolia. Québec has a sizable coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and is divided into three geographic regions: the Canadian Shield in the north, the Saint-Lawrence Lowlands in the south, and the Appalachian Region in the west. The vast majority of the province’s population lives by the Saint-Lawrence River in cities such as Montréal, Gatineau, and Québec City. The Québecois government is classified as a liberal democracy with a parliamentary system led by François Legault, the current Premier. As a result of their connections to the United Kingdom, they also have a vice-regal representative, called the Lieutenant Governor. Québec City, the de jure capital, houses the provincial government and world-famous Old Québec (Vieux Québec) District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Québec has had a profound cultural influence on the rest of Canada and the larger francophone world. Canadian French is French as spoken by Canadians, and includes the variants of Québécois, Acadian, and Michif (the language of the Metis). Métis French and Michif share a common phonology but have linguistic differences. Québécois French remains the largest of these Canadian variants.

For many people, Québec brings to mind culinary staples such as poutine, tourtières, and pâté chinois or perhaps maple syrup which has a significant culinary and commercial value. Québécois are known for their passionate love of ice hockey and comedy, and their historically-rooted folk music. Less known is the complicated role of the French language in Québec and the political and cultural evolution of this Francophone region in the 21st century.

The history of Québec did not start with the European explorers. There was, and continues to be, a large population of indigenous peoples, called First Nations, as well as Inuit peoples. The largest of the First Nations groups is the Cree. There are also many indigenous people who identify as Métis, and have mixed French and Cree ancestry. While the French engaged in trade with the Native peoples via the Coureurs des bois, (French fur traders) the relationships were in many ways strategic — depending on profit and trade. In 1534, during the first of three expeditions, Jacques Cartier, a trader and explorer from Brittany, laid French claim to the lands of Canada (using the St. Lawrence Iroquoians' word for settlement "kanata"). The struggles between European powers for control of North American territories resulted in a series of wars and treaties. The savage battles that characterize the American confrontations of Native Americans was less of a hallmark in Canada. The push in Canada — however cruel — was for assimilation rather than outright elimination. Most of Québec was part of New France until that area was ceded to Great Britain after the Seven Year's War (1756-1763). This conflict was known to Americans as the French and Indian War, and to French Canadians as the Guerre de la Conquête or War of the Conquest. Throughout this time, the French relied on alliances with the Native tribes including the Wabanaki Confederacy member tribes, Abenaki and Mi'kmaq, and the Algonquin, Lenape, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Shawnee, and Wyandot (Huron) tribes. The British were allied at different intervals with the Iroquois, Catawba and Cherokee tribes. Many European countries were involved in this bid for power in North America, but in 1758-1760 it was the British who fought to capture French Canada. They captured the city of Québec in 1759, and in 1763, with the Treaty of Paris, the French ceded Canada to the British.

One of the lingering consequences of these conquests is the power struggle over a dominant language. Before 1763, most of Québec was part of New France and as a result the common language was French. The French colonists who came to New France were generally from the north (Brittany, Normandy, Ile-de-France) so the language was influenced by the dialects from these regions. As happens in any community, words were borrowed from nearby cultures and this explains the use of loan words that were adopted from the First Nations — especially words describing nature and the environment. After France ceded Québec to Great Britain it became a British colony but inhabitants (including Acadians and First Nations) were granted some degree of rights over their language and religion (Catholicism in the case of the French Canadians). The British wanted to appease most factions in these capitulations so they could focus their attention further south at the growing discontent that would eventually lead to the American Revolution.

The Canadian confederation was formed in 1867 and thus began a steady path towards industrialization and modernization. The majority of business and government transactions were in English and after WWII Québec saw a rise in non-French-speaking immigrants. A movement began in the 1960s —often called the Quiet Revolution — that sought to preserve and protect what was a minority language in Canada. The Office québécois de la langue française was established in 1961 in order to keep English from dominating the cultural climate of Québec. This period also sees the beginning of the French Canadian Nationalist Movement where stirrings from "Separatists" allude to the threat of succession from Canada. In 1977 the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) made French the official language. While it protected the indigenous languages of Québec, its mandates lay the groundwork for what is viewed by many today as too restrictive. While this "language planning" or deliberate effort to influence the language used by a community — has come under increased scrutiny by the allophone and anglophone communities (called simply Quebeckers) in Québec, it also created something of a Renaissance in the cultural spheres of French-language music and literature in Québec. However, more recently Bills 21 (dubbed the "Secularism Law") and 96 (a law to preserve French language) have proved to be somewhat contentious. Thus the debate over language and cultural hegemony continues to playout in this Canadian province.

Georges-Louis Le Rouge. Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. 1755. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Quick Facts

Official Name: Québec

Capital: Québec City

Date of Independence: 1867 (Canadian Confederation)

Head of State/Government: Lieutenant Governor, Premier

Population: 8,585,523

Language: French

Regions: Bas-Saint-Laurent, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Capitale-Nationale, Mauricie, Estrie, Montréal, Outaouais, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord, Nord-du-Québec, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Chaudière-Appalaches, Laval, Lanaudière, Laurentides, Montérégie, and Centre-du-Québec.