Despite being taken over by the British in 1763, Québec City’s Francophone culture perseveres.

It is the only North American city to still have fortress walls, originally built by the French in the 17th Century; much of the art and architecture around Québec City is in the Nouvelle France style; Québec City residents – 95% of whom have French heritage – speak French as their first language; and many of the menus outside of touristy Vieux-Québec (Old Québec) are printed only in French.

In fact, wandering around the capital of Québec province, visitors may forget that they’re in North America. It is Québec’s strong French accent that makes it très unique.

How did Québec become so French?
Québec City was an Iroquoian village when French explorer Samuel Champlain established it as the first settlement of New France in 1608. After several battles, the Treaty of Paris gave Britain control in 1763 of the New France colony that would become Canada. By 1774, Britain was already having problems with its colonies in New England (now the United States) so to avoid revolt farther north, the government created the Québec Act, which allowed the region to reinstate French civil law (though criminal law was still British) and to accept Catholicism as an official religion. Since legal and religious institutions were so central to society, French continued to be widely spoken.

How French is Québec today?
Quebecers have long debated whether their province should separate from the rest of Canada and become its own sovereign nation in order to keep its French identity firmly intact. Sovereignty referenda were voted down in 1980 and 1995, but the issue continues to divide residents to this day.

Those in support of sovereignty wish to form a fully self-determined and autonomous Québec. They want to preserve their culture and fend off encroachment of English, Canada’s majority language.

Those against sovereignty argue that both Québec and Canada will lose out if Québec secedes. The province would no longer be part of the 10th largest economy in the world and Canada’s economy would also reduce in size, losing, for example, Québec’s aerospace industry and export commodities. Keeping English-speaking Canada united would also be difficult since Québec’s succession would geographically cut off the far eastern provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Some leaders of Québec’s Aboriginal nations say it would be a human rights violation to force their nations to become part of Québec rather than Canada.

While the issue is long from being decided, the ongoing underlying tension contributes to Québec’s distinctness, setting it apart from the rest of North America and making it a fascinating place for travellers to visit.