Although Quebec’s public school system is now split along French/English lines, the major dividing factor for most of the past two centuries was not language but religion. In the century following the British Conquest, Protestant ruling authorities struggled with the French Catholic clergy to define the educational system. By the 1840s, a consensus emerged to have separate systems for Protestants and Catholics, and this was enshrined in section 93 of the 1867 Constitution. This meant that English-speaking Irish Catholics worked alongside French-speaking Catholics on the same boards and education councils; some students attended their own schools, but others went to separate English-language classes within French-language schools. As for Jews and other non-Christian minorities, they typically attended Protestant schools and learned English.
Religious divisions decreased in the twentieth century. English-language Catholic schools became increasingly autonomous in the 1920s, and developed new curricula inspired by the Protestant system. The secularization of Quebec society in the 1960s, and the provincial language laws that followed, accelerated the redefinition of the education sector along linguistic lines. Schools were officially deconfessionalized in 2000.
Restrictions on access to schools introduced by Bill 101 led to a substantial decrease in the number of students in English-language schools in Quebec. Quebec now has 320 primary and secondary public schools under nine English-language school boards. Private schools and the post-secondary sector are not subject to Bill 101 restrictions. This sector includes seven English-language CEGEPs and three English-language universities.
Historian Rod MacLeod co-authored a history of Protestant education in Quebec and addresses some of the complexities outlined here.
Rod MacLeod at Bishop’s University, November 23, 2017.
Rod MacLeod, PhD, is a historian and co-author of A Meeting of the People: School Boards and Protestant Communities in Quebec, 1801-1998. He is a past president of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network and the current editor of its quarterly magazine, the Quebec Heritage News.
Bourhis, Richard Y., and Pierre Foucher. The Decline of the English School System in Quebec. Moncton, NB: Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities / Institut canadien de recherche sur les minorités linguistiques, 2012.
Gérin-Lajoie, Diane. Negotiating Identities: Anglophones Teaching and Living in Quebec. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2016.
Lamarre, Patricia. “English Education in Quebec: Issues and Challenges.” In The Vitality of the English-Speaking Communities of Quebec: From Community Decline to Revival, edited by Richard Y. Bourhis, 63–87. Montreal: CEETUM, Université de Montréal, 2008.
Lanouette, Mélanie. “Penser l’éducation, dire sa culture : les écoles catholiques anglaises au Québec, 1928-1964.” PhD Dissertation, Université Laval, 2004.
MacLeod, Roderick, and Mary Anne Poutanen. A Meeting of the People: School Boards and Protestant Communities in Quebec, 1801-1998. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
Magnan-MacKay, Marie-Odile. “Éducation et frontières linguistiques au Québec : les parcours identitaires d’étudiants universitaires issus de l’école de langue anglaise.” PhD Dissertation, Université Laval, 2011.
…or check out all the resources about education in our bibliography.