Linguistic relations

Historian Jean Provencher argues that the history of relations between English-speakers and French-speakers in Quebec needs to be revisited. It is commonly depicted as a story of confrontation, beginning with the battle of the Plains of Abraham. As a counterpoint, Provencher brings up the example of the Augustinian nuns at the Hotel-Dieu hospital, who took in wounded soldiers from both camps of that battle and did not discriminate according to language or origin. The nuns soon earned the confidence of the British authorities, which was unusual in the British Empire, known for its hostility to Catholicism.

Provencher says that his work at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography introduced him to many historical figures who sought to build bridges. He brings up the example of Presbyterian Scottish immigrant John Neilson, the most important publisher and bookseller in 18th century Quebec. He sold books in both languages, serving an equal number of French and English customers. Neilson himself wrote poetry in both French and English. He married Marie-Ursule Hubert, niece of the Catholic Bishop. His boys were brought up Presbyterian, and the girls as Catholics. 

Jean Provencher at the Morrin Centre, Quebec City, November 8, 2017.


Jean Provencher is a historian who has authored or co-authored over thirty publications. He was awarded the Prix Gérard-Morisset from the Government of Quebec in 2011 for his outstanding contribution to preserving and explaining Québec's cultural heritage. He currently oversees the blog, and the fourth edition of his Chronologie du Québec has recently been published.

Further Reading

Alston, Sandra. “Canada’s First Bookseller’s Catalogue.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada/Cahiers de la Société bibliographique du Canada Vol. 30, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 7–26.

Benoit, Daniel. “John Neilson et la question nationale au Bas-Canada.” M.A. Thesis, Université de Montréal, 1983.

Blair, Louisa. The Anglos: The Hidden Face of Quebec City. 2 vols. Quebec: Éditions Sylvain Harvey, 2005.

Hare, John, and Jean-Pierre Wallot. “Le livre au Québec et la Librairie Neilson au tournant du XIXe siècle.” In Livre et lecture au Québec (1800-1850), edited by Claude Galarneau and Maurice Lemire, 93–112. Quebec: Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture, 1988.

Neilson, John Gilbert. “John Neilson: Constitutionalism and Nationalism in Lower Canada.” M.A. Thesis, Acadia University, 1982.

Provencher, Jean. Chronologie du Québec, depuis 1534. 4th edition. Montreal: Boréal, 2017.

Provencher, Jean. Les quatre saisons dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent. 2nd edition. Montreal: Boréal, 2010.

Rousseau, François. La croix et le scalpel. Histoire des Augustines de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec (1639-1989). 2 Vols. Sillery: Septentrion, 1989 and 1994. 

…or read more about linguistic relations in our bibliography.