Canadien or Canadian

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Canadien, Canadien-français, and Québécois

One major source of confusion in understand the Quebec question is the conflicting uses of the words "Canada" and "Canadian".

Presently, the word Canada, in both English and French, designates a vast sovereign territory in North America, stretching from the East Coast of the Atlantic to the West Coast of the Pacific. Ad mare usque Ad mare. The same word also refers to the federal State which Canada is politically speaking and of course the citizens of that State are the Canadians. However, this has not always been the case.

Canada didn't have the power to modify it's own constitution until 1982, didn't have it's present national anthem and flag before 1980 and 1964 respectively, and there did not exist a thing such as a Canadian citizenship before 1947. Before 1947, all people living inside the Canadian federation were British subjects or foreigners. Therefore, the construction of present-day Canada as a "normal" sovereign nation-state is fairly recent. The Canadian identity as it exists today is fairly young.

Early Canadiens

In order to trace the origin of the word Canada and its use throughout history, we have to go back to the voyage of Jacques Cartier in 1534. The word Canada in French would come from the Iroquoian "Kanata", which means "village". History tells us that the French explorers thought the word "Katana" meant the country they had "discovered", when in fact it meant the village they were invited in by the Amerindians they had just met.

The whole of the St. Lawrence river valley was very rapidly designated as Le Canada and eventually came to be the heart of the New France colonies, especially after the foundation of Québec (city). This colony of Canada was already populated by various nomadic Amerindian peoples of the Algonquian family as well as the Huron and the Iroquois sedentary peoples (Iroquoian family). See the article on the First Nations of Québec. None of them ever called themselves Canadien nor "Canadian". They had their own names, and they sometimes had names for the territory they lived in. It seems a lot of them considered that they simply lived on the Earth, the mother of all humans.

The first human group to identify to something called Canada were the colonists of French ancestry born in Canada. These colonists came to see themselves as a distinct people. These people no longer saw themselves as French people by the 18th century. They were the Canadian people. They knew where their ancestors came from, but the culture of the two groups was already different. When the British took over Canada, the France-born colonists left and the Canadiens stayed. These are the people the British eventually called the "French" Canadians.

Canadiens in the Province of Quebec

Canadiens in Lower Canada

Canadiens/Canadiens-français in United Canada

Canadiens-français in the Dominion of Canada

In the Province of Quebec

In the Province of Ontario

In the Maritimes

In the Canadian West

Canadiens-français in United States


British, British American, Canadians

British in the Province of Quebec

British in Lower Canada

British in Upper Canada

British/Canadians in United Canada

British/Canadians in the Dominion

Canadians in sovereign Canada


The following table presents the historical evolution of the modern day Québécois and Canadian identities:

See also