The first British governors
The British regime
After Great Britain’s conquest of New France, the French and English people had to learn to live together, which was not always easy. British leaders believed that they had to assimilate Canadians by forcing them to adopt the language, customs, laws and religion of the new metropolis. Governors received specific instructions on this matter: anyone holding an important government position must swear allegiance to the British crown and convert to the protestant religion. This meant that most Canadians, who were Catholics, were not allowed to hold these positions. Catholic institutions also lost all official recognition, which meant the Church could no longer collect tithes, for example.
The structure of this new government was very similar to that of New France. The colony was headed by a governor who enjoyed great freedom in deciding how the law was enforced. James Murray was appointed governor of the province of Québec in 1763, and soon realized that it would not be possible to assimilate Canadians so quickly because they made up 99% of the population. He therefore decided to be more flexible by allowing them to hold certain positions, such as lawyer, without having to renounce their religion.
Guy Carleton replaced Murray in 1766 and continued where Murray had left off. He did not think it would be possible to assimilate Canadians even in the medium term. In his opinion, it would be easier to gain the trust and loyalty of Canadians by allowing them to keep their religion and traditions. This is what happened when the Québec Act was passed in 1774, resulting in the following changes:
- the right to practice the Catholic religion;
- the right for the Church to collect tithes (10% of the income or produce someone earned);
- the right to occupy public servant positions without renouncing one’s religion;
- the restoration of French laws.