French and English
In 1905, the majority of the Quebec population spoke French. It was the language spoken by 80% of the population.
What languages did the rest of the population speak? Mostly English (18%). For several years, certain regions and cities in Quebec even had more Anglophones than Francophones. For example, around 1850, Anglophones formed a majority in Montreal and in regions such as the Eastern Townships and the Outaouais. But this was no longer the case in 1905. Anglophones were of different origins: English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or American. They lived mainly on the island of Montreal.
It was also on the island of Montreal where most immigrants whose mother tongue was neither French nor English (2% of the population) could be found. What languages would you hear if you walked the streets of the city in 1905? English and French, of course, but also Yiddish (the language of the Jewish people of Eastern Europe), Italian, Chinese and German.
Many Indigenous languages continued to be spoken by members of the Nations on the territory. However, increased communication with non-Indigenous Peoples and the residential and day school systems, where Indigenous languages were forbidden, negatively impacted the transmission and usage of Indigenous languages.
Quebec was also the most bilingual province in Canada and a portion of the population spoke more than one language. Francophones tended to be more bilingual than Anglophones. Immigrants either integrated into the Francophone majority, like the Italians, or into the Anglophone minority, like the Jewish people.
Even though French was the majority language, English enjoyed greater prestige because it was considered the language of business and commerce. Cities like Montreal and Quebec had a very English look. Foreigners did not always realize that the majority of the population was Francophone, because there were a lot of signs and billboards written in English only.
Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social. Adaptations and translations by LEARN/RÉCIT.