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Nineteenth-Century Society, French-Speaking Society
responsible government, French Canadians, separation of church, Canada East, dairying
Under responsible government, French Canadians had the voting power to ensure the status of the French language and to continue the Catholic Church’s control of education in Canada East. Thus the union that was intended to assimilate French Canada actually protected its individuality. More municipal and local governments were formed, and these governments invested in expanded public education, transportation, and other public services. The seignorial system was abolished, and the old French civil law modernized.
During the Union era, French Canada’s rural crisis began to ease. Farm communities became better connected to markets, and farmers began to shift into mixed commercial farming and dairying. A migration to the cities, to frontier areas, and to New England relieved rural population pressure. The Catholic Church greatly expanded its social action and its political influence. Under dynamic leaders like Ignace Bourget, bishop of Montreal from 1840 to 1885, the church for the first time was abundantly provided with French Canadian clergy. They developed schools, hospitals, and other social services that were elsewhere run by the state. Education and literacy for the first time became widely available to rural French Canada. The church, however, was very slow to accept social change. It fought hard to control French Canada’s cultural life and to discredit the secular ideas of the radicals of 1837, such as separation of church and state. Reformist ideas survived, however, among supporters of the minority Rouge party.
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