Quebec is bounded on the N by Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay, on the E by the Labrador area of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the S by New Brunswick and the United States, and on the W by Ontario, James Bay, and Hudson Bay. Quebec is Canada's largest province; it is three times the size of France and seven times the size of Great Britain. The Canadian (or Laurentian) Shield underlies the northern nine tenths of the province, which is relatively unexplored and uninhabited; the region has been planed by glacial action into a pattern of rounded hills (including the Laurentian Mts.), swiftly flowing rivers, and numerous lakes and bogs. Dense forests cover much of the land, and the region is rich in minerals.
South of the Canadian Shield lies the great St. Lawrence River. On both sides of the river south of Quebec city are lowlands that are the centers of agriculture, commerce, and industry. Quebec city and Trois Rivières are on the north bank of the river, and Montreal, the leading industrial center of Canada, occupies an island where the Ottawa River joins the St. Lawrence. Another industrial center is the region of Jonquière and Chicoutimi, on the Saguenay River north of Quebec city. In the southeast are the Appalachian Highlands, which run parallel to the St. Lawrence. The Gaspé Peninsula, on the south of the St. Lawrence, extends into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Quebec's climate is generally temperate, with variations among the regions. Tourism is important throughout the province during the summer season, and in the winter the Laurentian Mts. attract skiers. The Eastern Townships (Estrie) region, near the New York and Vermont borders, has many fashionable lake and country resorts. Quebec has vast waterpower resources—Hydro-Quebec is the largest producer of electricity in Canada. The massive James Bay Project, whose first phases exploited the flow of La Grande and nearby rivers, was dealt a severe blow in 1992, when the New York State Power Authority refused to sign a purchase contract; the proposed development of the Great Whale River was held up by opposition from the Cree who live in and claim the area. Further work on the entire project was suspended in 1994, but a 2002 agreement with the Cree allowed completion of the La Grande complex.
The forests of the north yield wood for pulp, paper, and lumber industries, and throughout the north copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold are mined. Iron ore deposits in the Ungava Bay region have been exploited in recent decades. Asbestos is found in the far north, but more importantly in the Thetford Mines region of the Appalachian Highlands. Jonquière has one of the world's largest aluminum plants.
The small farms of the lowlands yield dairy products, sugar beets, and tobacco. Quebec is second to Ontario among the Canadian provinces in industrial production. Its main manufactures include refined petroleum, food products, beverages, motor vehicles, aircraft, clothing, furniture, iron and steel, chemicals, and metal and paper products. The fur and fishing trades are still important in Quebec. The service sector has grown significantly since 1970. Although many anglophone businesses have abandoned the Montreal area since the 1960s in response to separatist agitation and provincial laws requiring the nearly exclusive use of French, Quebec continues to be a center of international commerce. Montreal and Quebec city are both tourist magnets.
Quebec has many universities, including Bishop's Univ., at Lennoxville; Concordia Univ., McGill Univ., and the Univ. of Montreal, at Montreal; Laval Univ., at Quebec city; the Univ. of Sherbrooke, at Sherbrooke; and the Univ. of Quebec, with an administrative center at Sainte-Foy and campuses at Chicoutimi, Hull, Montreal, Rimouski, Rouyn, and Trois Rivières.
Since many continental explorations began in the region, Quebec has been called the cradle of Canada. In 1534, Jacques Cartier planted a cross on the Gaspé and the following year he sailed up the St. Lawrence. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain built a trading post on the site of the present-day Quebec city, and from this and subsequent settlements Catholic missionaries, explorers, and fur traders penetrated the North American continent. The activities of private fur-trading companies ended, for a time, in 1663 when Louis XIV made the region, then known as New France, a royal colony and chose Jean Baptiste Talon to be intendant, or administrator.
The long struggle to protect the colony and the fur trade from the Iroquois (other tribes were allies of the French) and the British was effectively lost in 1759, when the British defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham (see Abraham, Plains of). By the Treaty of Paris of 1763, Great Britain acquired New France. In an attempt to conciliate the French inhabitants, the British passed the Quebec Act of 1774, under which the colony was allowed to continue its semifeudal system of land tenure and to retain its language, religion, legal system, and customs.
After the American Revolution, many British Loyalists came to settle in Quebec. By the Constitutional Act of 1791 the British separated the area west of the Ottawa River and created the colony of Upper Canada (now Ontario) there. Quebec became known as Lower Canada, and in 1791 the first elective assembly was introduced.
The resentment of leaders of the French community toward the British precipitated a revolt in 1837 led by Louis Papineau. Although the rebellion was crushed, the disturbances in Upper and Lower Canada caused the British to send the Earl of Durham (see Durham, John George Lambton, 1st earl of) to study conditions in the British North American colonies. His report led ultimately to internal self-government and the creation of the Canadian confederation. Upper and Lower Canada were reunited in 1841, and Quebec became known as Canada East. Responsible (elected) government was granted in 1849.Confederation and the French-English Question
With the formation of the confederation of Canada in 1867, Canada East became the province of Quebec. Provisions for the preservation of its special, traditional institutions were specifically written into the Canadian constitution. English and French were made the official languages of both Quebec and the Canadian parliament, and a dual school system was established within Quebec. However, in 1974 French was made the sole official language of the province, and all non-English-speaking children were required to attend French-language schools. But the coexistence of majority-French and minority-English cultures within the province and the reverse situation within Canada as a whole have remained sources of tension. Attempts in Manitoba and Ontario at the beginning of the 20th cent. to curtail or abolish separate Catholic schools increased the French Canadians' feeling of isolation. In 1917 they vehemently opposed conscription for World War I.Twentieth-Century Economic and Political Developments
During the 20th cent. great economic growth in Quebec was coupled with increased determination to maintain and broaden provincial rights. The boundary between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador was only finalized in 1927, when Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada; although the boundary was accepted by Canada, Quebec has never officially recognized it. In the 1960s separatist groups, advocating an independent Quebec, gained attention. In 1970 separatist terrorists kidnapped a British diplomat, James R. Cross, and the Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte. Cross was later released, but Laporte was found murdered.
In 1976 the Parti Québécois (PQ), a party of French-Canadian nationalists formed in 1970, won control of the provincial parliament under René Lévesque. The new government initiated a series of language and cultural reforms whereby the use of English was discouraged; this caused an out-migration of English-speakers and their companies, mainly to Ontario. During the 1980s, however, Montreal attracted many high-technology and financial services companies.
In 1980, Lévesque's plan for an independent Quebec, called sovereignty-association, was rejected in a provincial referendum by 60% of the voters. The PQ was returned to power in 1981, however, and in 1982 the provincial government refused to accept the new Canadian constitution. From 1985 to 1994, the Liberal party, led by Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson, controlled the assembly. In 1987 there appeared to be progress on the issue of Quebec separatism, when the Meech Lake Accord was signed, but the accord collapsed in 1990. A package of constitutional reforms was subsequently drafted by the Canadian government and presented to voters in a national referendum in Oct., 1992, but it was defeated.
In 1994 the PQ, now led by Jacques Parizeau, regained control of the provincial government. A referendum on independence was narrowly defeated in Oct., 1995. Parizeau announced his resignation and was replaced in 1996 by Lucien Bouchard, who had led the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa. Quebec was recognized by Parliament as a "distinct society" because of its language and culture and was granted a veto over constitutional amendments. Separatists said the changes were symbolic and vowed to continue their struggle. They suffered two blows in 1998, however, when Canada's Supreme Court ruled that Quebec could not legally secede on its own and the PQ's majority shrank in provincial elections.
In 1999 polls showed that support for secession had shrunk to about 40% of Quebec voters; in the Oct., 2000, national elections the Bloc Québécois received fewer votes than the Liberals for the first time since 1980. A federal law designed to make it harder for Quebec to secede was passed in July, 2000; it required that a clear majority support a clearly worded proposition and that borders, the seceding province's responsibility for a share of the national debt, and other issues be resolved by negotiations. In 2001, Bouchard resigned; he was succeeded as premier by the new PQ party leader, Bernard Landry. The Liberals, led by Jean Charest, decisively defeated the PQ in the Apr., 2003, elections, and Charest became premier. In the Mar., 2007, provincial elections, the Liberals lost seats but secured a plurality and formed a minority government. Charest called for new elections in Dec., 2008, and succeeded in securing a legislative majority.
Quebec sends 24 senators and 75 representatives to the national parliament.
See C. C. Nish, ed., Quebec in the Duplessis Era, 1935-1959 (1970); F. Grenier, ed., Quebec (1972); W. D. Coleman, The Independence Movement in Quebec, 1945-80 (1984); A. Greer, Peasant, Lord and Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec Parishes, 1740-1840 (1985); R. Handler, Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec (1988); H. Guidon, Quebec Society (1988).
See M. de la Roche, Quebec, Historic Seaport (1944); W. P. Percival, The Lure of Quebec (rev. ed. 1965); M. Gaumond, Place Royale: Its Houses and Their Occupants (tr. 1971); D. T. Ruddel, Quebec City, Seventeen Sixty-Five to Eighteen Thirty-Two (1988).