Why do we speak French in Canada? A brief history for kids

Have you ever wondered why you have to learn French in Canadian schools, or why it’s one of our official languages? And why does the entire province of Quebec seem to speak French? Canada has a rich and complex history with the French language, and we will try and explain it to you in this brief summary.

Everything begins back in 1534, the year that Jacques Cartier (also the name of a famous bridge in Montreal) set sail across the Atlantic, as he looked for a new passage to reach Asia. He arrived in Newfoundland, and tried to claim the region in the name of France. The name “Canada” is actually a misinterpretation of the indigenous word “kanata” which means “village.”

By the mid 1630’s, Quebec had gained more and more French settlers, many of whom worked in the fur trade. The French colony there began to grow larger, until the 18th century when the British arrived. During this period of history, the British deemed that French was an inferior language. However, in order to encourage the co-existence of both English and French-speaking groups the 1774 Quebec Act was passed, which restored French civil laws.

Only 17 years later, this law was repealed when the King decided to divide Canada into two provinces: Upper Canada, which became Ontario, and Lower Canada, which became Quebec. In 1867, Canada became a federal state and was divided into four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. French became the official language of Quebec, and through the 1969 Official Languages Act, both English and French are recognized as official languages of Canada.

Even though French is an official language, there are still various dialects between different provinces, regions and communities. For instance, Quebec French differs from Acadian French, which differs from Metis French, and so on. There are also French dialects that exist outside of Canada, for example Missouri and Louisiana French.

So, there you have it, a brief history of why we speak French in Canada. If you’re interested in your child learning French, or brushing up on their skills, check out our summer camp sessions.