Quebec City’s English-speaking Communities
English speakers have played an important part in the history of Quebec City for over 250 years. Starting with the British conquest in 1759, the number of English speakers increased until the 1860s, when it reached a high of about 40% of the city’s total population. With the decline of the city’s economy in the late nineteenth century and the departure of the British garrison in 1871, the percentage of English speakers declined steadily: approximately 16% in 1900, 6% en 1941, 4% in 1971, and less than 2% today. This represents between 10,000 and 15,000 people, though there may be more. Exact numbers are hard to determine since the census questions asked (mother tongue, main language spoken at home) exclude many bilingual and bicultural people who identify as being part of Quebec City’s English-speaking communities.
These communities are made up of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. Historically, English-speaking Catholics (largely of Irish descent) and Protestants developed separate institutions, many of which rarely interacted before the 1960s. Greek, Chinese, and Jewish migrants often attended English schools but also had their own community networks. Over time, especially with the decline of religious practice and the secularization of the state since the 1960s, the religious barriers separating English-speaking communities have disappeared. Many English speakers also married into the French-speaking majority, leading to multilingual children with hybrid identities and a stake in several cultures. Although Quebec City’s English-language institutions are more integrated than they ever were, many English speakers do not define their identity exclusively in linguistic terms and still prefer to think of overlapping “communities.”-Schools-
Although most children did not go to school in the decades following the British conquest, there were a few schools around. Quebec City’s first English-language school was probably John Fraser’s School, dating from the 1760s. Tanswell’s Academy, founded in 1778, received the most state funding, but this was only enough to accommodate a handful of students at no fee. Fewer than a third of Quebec City’s people could read by the early nineteenth century, though a significantly higher proportion of English-speakers were literate.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, politicians, clerics, and educators argued over the best way to encourage and finance public education. A few multilingual non-denominational schools were founded, including the British and Canadian School
, but such mingling of religions and languages in the schoolroom was not to last. By the 1840s, pressure from Catholic clergy and Protestant fears of intransigent Ultramontane Catholicism led to a public school system divided into Catholic and Protestant sectors.
On the Catholic side, most English speakers were of Irish origin and their schools had a strong Irish character. Unlike Protestant schools, these were run by religious communities. In the 1860s, the Glacis School and the English Commercial Academy
, run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, became the first such schools catering exclusively to English-speaking Catholic boys. These evolved into Saint Patrick’s School
. English-speaking Catholic girls were taught in special classes within French schools until the Leonard School
, run by the Sisters of Charity–Halifax, was founded in 1935. Saint Lawrence College
, founded in 1958, was a private Catholic-run English-language classical college before becoming a non-denominational CEGEP in the 1960s.
Non-Catholics were mostly served by the Quebec Protestant Board of School Commissioners, founded in 1846. Their small public neighbourhood schools slowly replaced the city’s private schools. In 1894, many of these elementary schools were consolidated into the Elgin Street School
. At the high school level, there was the private High School of Quebec
(1842) for boys and the public Girls’ High School
(1874), which evolved into the co-ed Commissioners’ High School
(1918). In 1941, Protestant high schools merged into the co-ed Quebec High School
. For a short time, Protestants even had the McGill-affiliated Morrin College
, which provided higher education.
In 1998, Quebec’s denominational school boards were replaced by linguistic school boards. The Central Quebec School Board now manages four primary schools, two secondary schools, and a vocational centre within the city limits.-Places of Worship-
Whereas Quebec City’s French-speaking population was almost exclusively Roman Catholic, English speakers came from a wider variety of religious traditions.
In the decades following the British conquest, the Church of England held a privileged position. Its clergy was paid by the government and the state financed the construction of Holy Trinity Cathedral
, completed in 1804. Anglicans were also the largest non-Catholic group, though they soon began to splinter off into sub-groups. There were the “High Church” Tractarians of Saint Matthew’s Church
who wanted to revive the old Catholic styles of worship, and the “Low Church” Anglicans of Trinity Chapel
who preferred fiery sermons and less ceremony.
The Church of Scotland, also known as the Presbyterian Church, built Saint Andrew’s
in 1810, which was later joined by Saint John’s Presbyterian Church
. In 1843, Saint John’s broke away to join the Free Presbyterians, an evangelical branch that favoured greater separation between church and state.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, smaller religious minorities set up places of worship in Quebec City yet had trouble gaining recognition from the state. The minister of the first Congregationalist Chapel
was sentenced to six months in jail for performing marriages and baptisms. The American preacher at Quebec City’s first Methodist Chapel
was sent home during the War of 1812. Jews
were not granted full political rights until 1832. By the time the first opened in 1845, restrictions on dissenting churches and non-Christian religions no longer existed.
Although a majority of English speakers in Quebec City come from a Roman Catholic background, it took these English-speaking Catholics longer to get their own place of worship than most Protestant groups. After years of negotiations with the local Francophone Catholic authorities, Saint Patrick’s Church was inaugurated in 1833.
Today, English-language religious congregations face the same issues as their Francophone counterparts as a result of the decline in religious practice since the 1960s. There are nevertheless nine major active places of worship that offer English-language services within the city limits: three of them Anglican, two Roman Catholic, one Presbyterian, one United Church, one Baptist, and one Jewish.
-Cemeteries-The first cemetery intended primarily for English speakers was the Protestant Burying Ground, set up in 1771. At this time, English-speaking Roman Catholics were buried in the same cemeteries as their Francophone co-religionists.
The 1832 cholera epidemic led to the establishment of new cemeteries: the and the “Cholera Burying Ground,” which became the first Saint Patrick’s Cemetery for English-speaking Catholics.
As a result of the numerous epidemics that hit Quebec City over the following decades, urban cemeteries were increasingly considered a public health threat. By the 1850s, the government began shutting these down, leading to the creation of new cemeteries in the town of Sillery: Mount Hermon Cemetery for Protestants and members of other religious minorities (though officially open to all), a new Saint Patrick’s Cemetery for English-speaking Catholics, and a Jewish Cemetery. These remain the city’s main cemeteries linked to English-speaking communities.
-Social Services-In the decades following the British conquest, there were no orphanages or homes for the elderly. People generally went to live with relatives or received assistance through their church. As the need increased with the industrial revolution and the massive arrival of immigrants, committees of volunteer “church ladies,” national societies, and the Roman Catholic Saint Vincent de Paul Society were founded to distribute outside aid.
Protestants founded the earliest charitable homes. The was probably the first, created after the War of 1812 because churches could not meet the needs of war widows and orphaned children. Immigration from Britain and Ireland increased in the 1820s and the Anglican Church founded several homes: the short-lived Quebec Asylum in 1823, the Female Orphan Asylum in 1829, and the Male Orphan Asylum during the cholera epidemic of 1832.
Roman Catholics followed soon after with the Asile Saint-Jean-Baptiste for young girls in 1834, a Francophone-run institution that welcomed many English speakers. Some temporary Irish Catholic orphanages were founded during the 1847 famine, but the first permanent home for English-speaking Catholics was Saint Bridget’s Asylum, founded in 1856.
Evangelical Protestants also created their own institutions as their numbers grew in the 1850s. The Ladies’ Protestant Home initially helped “female servants and emigrant girls” but later extended aid to other disadvantaged groups. The YMCA, YWCA, Salvation Army, and Ladies’ City Mission were founded in the following decades. These charitable groups, much like the churches in which they originated, were interested in going beyond charity to both reform and elevate the poor.
For the most part, Quebec City’s hospitals were not as divided along ethno-religious lines. Most were filled with doctors and patients from various linguistic and religious backgrounds. However, two hospitals were founded primarily by and for English-speaking communities: Jeffery Hale’s Hospital, which provided free medical treatment to needy Protestants, and the Hospital for the Reception of Sick Emigrants.
In the twentieth century, most of the above institutions opened up to other ethno-religious groups. Many orphanages also began providing temporary accommodation for out-of-town students. In the 1950s and 1960s, attitudes towards orphanages slowly began to change and children were placed in foster homes. The surviving homes came to focus exclusively on caring for the elderly.
In recent years, Saint Brigid’s Home has moved closer to the health care sector by becoming a long-term care facility. Its recent merger with Jeffery Hale’s Hospital and the has consolidated English-language health care services in one institution.
FAQWhat is this website?
-It is an interactive virtual map of major institutions that have served Quebec City’s English-speaking communities over the years. The history of each institution is summarized and users are encouraged to add their own narratives to enrich these stories.
Are there still English speakers in Quebec City?
-Yes, the city has a vibrant English-speaking minority that goes back hundreds of years. See the introduction to learn more about these communities and their institutions.
How can I interact with this website?
-We strongly encourage all users to share their stories about these institutions, past or present. Go to the map and track down the schools you attended or worked at, the places where you or your relatives worshipped, the cemeteries where your relatives are buried, the homes you lived in, or the hospitals in which you volunteered. Below the short historical summary of the institution, share your own stories, anecdotes, or photos in the space provided. You can also type up the stories of others. Tell us about some of the people who breathed life into these places, what the buildings looked like, and how the places changed over the years. It’s easy: just type up the story, attach any images, and click send—no need to register or sign up.
Why were some community institutions left out?
-Hundreds of foundations, private schools, volunteer-run charitable associations, clubs, sporting groups, and cultural institutions were founded for the English-speaking populations of Quebec City from 1760 on.
Since this is a virtual map, we have limited our scope to institutions that can be mapped: those that owned or leased real estate. We focus on major institutions in a few selected categories (schools, places of worship, cemeteries, health and social services) within the current Quebec City limits.
You forgot an important institution. Could you add it to your website?
Before letting us know of any omission, please go through the following five questions:
• Was the institution created primarily for the English-speaking community, or did it come to have this function later on?
• Is it a school, place of worship, cemetery, or health/social-service organization?
• Is it located within the current geographical limits of Quebec City?
• Is there a physical building associated with the institution?
• Is it a major institution?
If your answer to all these questions is “yes,” please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to add your institution.
You left out a very important detail or person involved with an institution. Could you add it to your website?
If you feel we have left anything out, we strongly encourage you to add any information in the space provided below the historical summary. If you think we have made mistakes, please advise us at email@example.com.