Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Parti Québecois enacts Bill 101, restricting access to an education in English

Designed to preserve and enhance the French language in the province of Québec, Bill 101 was passed into law on August 26, 1977, continuing the centuries-long quest to make Canada’s largely francophone province as French as possible.

Hailed as a momentous victory by ardent Québec nationalists and condemned by long time anglophone Quebeckers, the adoption of Bill 101 radically changed the political  and social landscape in what was becoming an increasingly radicalized populace. Its main provisions called for greatly restricted access to English language schools for children whose parents did not receive an English education in Quebec and, additionally, curtailed the use of English on all forms of commercial and road signs.

In its essence, Bill 101 brought to life a fully French state in the province, enshrining into law French as the official language of Quebec and decreeing that anglophone businesses had to be ‘francisized’ — indeed it was expected that virtually overnight, all business and administrative  transactions were to be conducted in French and that employees in all industries were to be addressed in French by their employers.  

This had enormous implications for all of Québec, but in particular, the non-French speaking people in the province, many of whom spoke languages other than English. For instance, the children  of immigrant families were no longer eligible to receive an education in English, and adults in all facets of the workforce were required to either learn French immediately or lose their jobs. Scores of adults enrolled in French classes, while many others simply packed their bags and moved to Ontario.

From the perspective of the Québec government, where the majority was held by the Parti Quebecois under the leadership of René Levesque, this legislation was needed to address many historical inequities between francophones and anglophones in the province -- inequities that reached as far back as the battle on the plains of Abraham in 1760 when the British completed their conquest of New France.

From that point on, and as recently as the 1960s, Québec was managed by afar, at first by the British, and then, following the industrial age, by absentee owners of American corporations with branch plants in Quebec. It was commonly acknowledged that if you were French-speaking and wanted to get ahead in life, you had to adopt the English language and, by extension, the attitudes of the ruling anglophone society.

By the time the sixties were in full swing, social unrest was growing in leaps and bounds in Québec. Influenced by political and social events in the United States, and no longer willing to live under the influence of the Catholic church and the ruling English classes, the francophone populace began to reject the prevailing English model of economic and social dominance. Students were rebelling, striking and occupying schools and universities. Citizens from all walks of life were organizing. One group, La ligue d’intégration scolaire, wanted to extend the fight for the Québec language into every area where it was threatened. Unions mobilized, taxi drivers mobilized, workers and farmers mobilized. The government needed to act and did so, introducing Bill 63, the first of three language laws enacted in Québec.

Called La loi pour promouvoir la langue Française au Québec, Bill 63 recognized that Quebeckers wanted a more French Québec. The bill promoted the teaching of French in English schools and created French instruction for new immigrants to the province. It fell short, however, of requiring French to be the language of instruction for all people in Québec — a condition deemed essential for the majority of French Canadians — and was replaced five years later with somewhat stronger legislation in the form of Bill 22.

Bill 22 attempted to address the failings of Bill 63 but many argued it did little to change anything. On the subject of schools, the law maintained Bill 63’s freedom of choice for the language of instruction but added one further provision: that prior to entering the school system, children had to be tested to see if they were truly ‘English.’ It was widely rumoured and later confirmed, for instance, that the testing took the form of children as young as four being shown a lemon and a lime and being asked to tell them apart in the language they spoke at home. Again, the bill was perceived to be a watered down version of what the population demanded and, following the fall of the ruling Liberal party and the arrival of the Parti Québécois on the political scene in 1976, Bill 22 was replaced the following year with the most radical language legislation the province — and indeed the country — had ever seen.

Bill 101 went further than either of the two prior pieces of enacted legislation in areas of schooling commerce and public discourse, and its effects were swift and tumultuous. Within one year of the law’s adoption, hundreds of thousands people, most uniligual anglophones, left the province and numerous Canadian and American-based corporations pulled their head offices out of Québec and relocated them to Ontario, most often to Toronto. Indeed, it was common in the period of time following the adoption of the new language laws to see graffiti proclaiming ‘101 ou 401’ — meaning that anglophones either had to accept the language laws or take the highway to Toronto, which is named route 401. In addition to children of all immigrants having to attend French schools, it now became necessary for anyone entering the workforce to be able to speak and write French.

Since that time, some provisions of the law have been found to violate the constitution and have been rescinded. The consequences of the legislation, however, have been profound: between 1976 and 1990, enrollment in English schools has dropped by 50 percent and since 170, the sharp decline in student population has forced the closure of nearly 200 English schools in the province.

Considered by many to be the father of Bill 101, Camille Laurin was a long-time hard-line member of the Parti Québécois who originally stated, when introducing the legislation in 1977, that the English community needed to be brought down to size. A few years ago, he said he regretted the exodus of anglophones and the impact this emigration had on the province. Indeed, the main fall out of the legislation was the mass departure of a largely educated, moneyed class of English-speaking citizens who went looking for a more secure future. For years following this flight out of province, Québec was jolted economically with an unemployment rate that was higher on average than the rest of the country (excluding Newfoundland) and a lack of investment from both Canadian and multi-national corporations, fearful that the militancy of the populace would impact negatively on any commercial or industrial investments made there.

However, from the perspective of the linguistic struggle to maintain the language, the enforcement of the legislation was largely successful in the past 25 years in putting a French face on the province and in ensuring that French-speaking Quebeckers could carry on all aspects of their lives in French. In the past dozen years, amendments to the legislation went a long way to lessening the tension between anglophones and francophones. For example, parents educated in English anywhere in Canada are now entitled to an English education for their children and anglophones are guaranteed health and social services in their language.

On the surface, many of the issues have been resolved for both sides, yet in the face of ongoing government cutbacks, it remains to be seen if services to Québec’s minority anglophone population will continue to be protected.

NOTE: The terms anglophone and francophone are commonly used in Québec to refer to each of the principal language groups. A third category, the allophones, refers to people whose language of origin is neither English nor French.


Bélanger, Claude. The Language laws of Québec. Department of History, Marianopolis College, August 2000.>

Bergerson, Léandre. The history of Québec: A patriot’s handbook. NC Press, November 1977. p.43, p 223, 224

Southam news services. Canada Votes 1997. <>


Prepared by Lisa Schmidt (OISE/UT), 2002

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

DS Home Page     Back to Index     Suggest or Submit a Moment

© 1996-2002 Daniel Schugurensky. All Rights Reserved. Design and maintenance by LMS.
Last updated on December 17, 2002.