The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Culture of Quebec

As a North American society and the only society on the continent with a French-speaking majority, the culture of the province of Quebec, Canada shows many unique features. On the whole, this culture differs from that of the 350 million English-speaking citizens of Canada and the United States who surround it, as well as from that of France.

History made Quebec a meeting place for cultures, where people from around the world experience America, but from a little distance and through a different eye. The culture of Quebec is connected to the strong cultural currents of the rest of Canada, United States, France, and Britain all at the same time. As such, it is often described as a crossroads between Europe and America. The Encyclopædia Britannica describes contemporary Quebec culture as a post-1960s phenomenon resulting from the Quiet Revolution (Révolution Tranquille), a counter-culture phenomenon supported and financed by both of Quebec's major political parties.


Foreign Influences

Quebec's cultural roots not only draw from the St. Lawrence River, they also tap into the rich cultures of France, the British Isles, and the United States.


Despite a common language, French, Quebecers see the Culture of France as foreign in essentially the same way that Americans see British or Australian culture. However, since the 1960s, the cultural ties between France and Quebec have increased significantly and the exchange between the two has resulted in some cross-pollination. The Quebec government does not charge foreign student fees to students from France and certain other French-speaking countries, so some of the cultural exchange is brought in person.

The intellectual elites of French Quebec are divided on this matter. One branch looks to Paris, France for all things cultural, and the other considers New York City as the cultural capital of the universe. The mass of the population tends to favor local talent or adopts a surprisingly cosmopolitan attitude, listening to Brazilian rhythms and going to Asia as well as Florida, Mexico and Cuba for vacations.

British Isles

The influence of British culture on Quebec slowly began after the British Conquest of New France in 1760. At first, the establishment of a British administration did not truly affect the life of the inhabitants of what was then called le Canada. The British population was in fact very low for a long period of time until around 1783 when United Empire Loyalists began colonizing the Eastern Townships. The arrival of many immigrants from Britain later of course greatly affected the cultural life of French-speaking Quebecers.

At the peak of British colonization of Quebec in the late 19th century, about 25% of Quebecers were Anglophones and Montreal, the largest city in Canada at the time, was a predominantly English-speaking city.

The first traces of British influence on Quebecers occurred in the beginning of the 19th century when the population adopted the table manners of the English instead of the one used in New France: the fork to the left, the knife and spoon to the right and early dinner at 5-6 PM. Before that, the Canadiens of New France used the French customs of the time, everyone having a pocket knife ready to use when it was time to eat.

Increased trade with the British Isles transformed many of the habits of Quebecers. Especially in urban areas, they began to copy the way of life of the British. It became trendy for men to dress as English dandies, and household were decorated with all things British. The architecture of Montreal is full of remnants of a Victorian trend, which was followed in all British colonies.


Irish immigration had a huge impact on Quebecers as listening to Quebec's traditional music will reveal. The immigrants from Ireland being mostly Catholic, the two populations inter-married to a much greater extent than with any other ethnic group. Today, many Quebecers have an Irish ancestor somewhere in their family tree. The Irish brought the celebration of St-Patrick's day in Montreal, making it the oldest of its kind in North America. Quebec's most praised poet, Émile Nelligan, is born of a Quebec French-speaking mother and an English-speaking Irish father. See Irish Quebecers.

United States

American influences on Quebec culture go back to the first era of prosperity experienced by the American people after their independence. American culture and values began to pour into Quebec starting with the Industrial Revolution and continue to this day, thanks to an open border between the US and Canada.

Though the same phenomenon has occurred with the other Canadian provinces, Quebec, being mostly French-speaking and (formerly) Catholic, the contact of the two cultures has produced significantly different results. It has often taken the form of a conflict between the "old way" of living and the "new way" coming from the outside.

A great proportion of Quebecers emigrated to the United States between the 1840s and the 1930s. A good number of these people eventually moved back to Quebec, while others settled there for good. These people are known as Franco-Americans. The most famous one is Jack Kerouac.


Movies and television have long been welcomed in Quebec and remain among the more popular forms of entertainment. However, due to the language barrier, most of the cultural flooding seen in most English-speaking areas has not occurred to the same extent. Dubbed US productions still enjoy great success. In fact, dubbed productions have seen a great boom in popularity over the last ten years.

One regulation adopted under the Charter of the French Language stipulates that movie distributors are to release a French dubbed version of any major movie at the same time as the original English. Distributors had steadfastly opposed this measure, but once it took effect they found that their total sales of tickets for any given movie jumped dramatically. They had not realised before then that many Quebecers capable of reading advertising or critics in English, to some extent, were not fluent enough to really enjoy a movie in the original English. They also invested less money on the marketing of the dubbed versions, months later. By releasing both versions at the same time, all of the population, regardless of language or relative degrees of fluency in English, was subject to the same bombardment of publicity and movie reviews at the same time.

New York

Montreal is the cultural capital of Quebec. Though Toronto dominates English Canada's cultural production, or perhaps because, Montreal (and by extension Quebec) seems to follow New York City more closely. It is only slightly further away than Toronto and New York's more global influence appears to be more appealing to Quebecers. For those who can afford the higher prices, New York is the number one place to go shopping, enjoy theatre and pick up new trends. A difficulty in English is no barrier to a group of Quebecers, which invariably has at least one person with enough skill in deciphering the New York accent to enjoy the Big Apple.


Quebec is fairly typical of most Western societies in many regards, with, however, a few particularities of its own.

Family Life

Prior to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the traditional family in Quebec consisted of a catholic married couple who had more than the national average number of children. Since then, there has been a drastic change in family structure, more so than in the rest of North America. Quebec now has the highest number of unmarried couples on the continent; there is also a high number of single-parent families and a high rate of divorce.

A unique feature of Quebec, is that married women retain their maiden names when they marry. This followed the 1970s strong feminism movement and the Quiet Revolution.

In 2001, the fertility rate in Quebec was 1.474 per thousand, one of the lowest rates in the Western world.

Since June 24, 2002 Quebec has had a civil union system available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

On March 19, 2004, Quebec became the third province in Canada to legally perform same-sex marriage, following a court challenge brought by Michael Hendricks and René Leboeuf. (See also same-sex marriage in Quebec.)


The province at the turn of the 20th century, was known for its low paid blue-collar workers employed in textile and paper plants and shops. Quebec has a long tradition in forestry. Quebec's lumberjacks were known and popularized in New England and even all the way to Minnesota. In the first part of the 20th century, many Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire lumber camps were staffed by French-Canadian workers. Slow at first, Quebec has evolved since the 1960s with strong union membership. Today, Quebec has the highest percentage of unionized workers in North America. Some if not many Quebecois have strong adversarial relationships with residents of neighboring English-speaking provinces as well as Quebec's own anglophones. Such an attitude stems partly from the early to mid 20th century, when anglophones dominated the spheres of industry and commerce and tended to favour their own for promotion to management-level positions.


Quebec was a very Roman Catholic society until recent years. The Church projected itself as the protector of the French language and culture. Archbishops of large cities were very influential at all government levels. In small towns, the influence of the priest was often equal or superior to that of the town's mayor. Before any political decision could be made, politicians made sure that it would be in accordance with Catholic belief and attitudes. Congregations of nuns controlled and managed the province's education, social and medical service. Simply put, Quebec was one of the world's Catholic strongholds.

Since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, Quebec has become much more secular. Nonetheless about 90% of the population still claims to be Catholic, but few regularly attend services or pay the tithe which the faithful are supposed to give to the Church. As a result, much of the province's Catholic church architecture is in peril, with parishes not having enough funds for necessary upkeep. Some churches are even closing, merging with another parish. As church attendance is now extremely low, few individuals are willing to become priests, monks or nuns. Therefore, many small towns must now share their priest with neighboring towns. The influence of the Catholic Church is strongest in rural regions and weakest in the Montreal area.

One notable vestige of the Catholic Church's long dominance of Quebec culture is that francophone curses and expletives are nearly entirely composed of religious references and vocabulary.

All major religions are represented, to some degree, especially in Montreal and Quebec City where the Anglican Church of Canada has cathedrals. The allophone population of Montreal in particular represents many different religions and faiths. Montreal was once the centre of Jewish culture in Canada.


Starting probably in the late 1940s and reaching its apogee in the 1970s, some Quebec residents have been known to vacation or spend the whole winter months in Florida. Mainly in the Hallandale Beach and Fort Lauderdale regions. Initially a trend that only the wealthy could afford; this destination is now considered by many as outdated and unstylish. Recently, many have openly ridiculed the destination and stigmatized its vacationers for being close-minded, rude and uninterested to communicate even basically in English. The increasing real estate taxes might explains why Quebecers are slowly deserting the North Miami area. Many snowbirds owned a trailer or a house but were renting the land where their property was located. New locations and resort areas such as Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Caribbean islands are now favoured by many Quebecers to spend their traditional sunny one or two-week vacations. While the North Miami area attracted both vacationers and snowbirds, as of today, only vacationers frequent those new resort areas.


Humour has long been a distinguishing feature of Canadian culture, and Quebec is no exception. It stretches beyond the normal realms of creative arts and extends itself into daily life. It is even welcomed in places where humour is not normally found.

For instance, prior to the modern independent political movement, many citizens of Québec decided to express their dissatisfaction with federal elections by forming the Rhinoceros Party of Canada. Founded in 1963, the party fielded humourous candidates in many ridings with a satirical platform. They added colour to many otherwise drab elections for more than two decades.

Le poisson d'avril (April Fools) is an old French tradition dating back to 1564. In Quebec, it was taken very seriously by the whole society.


See Main article: Cuisine of Quebec with links to articles on Quebec dishes like pea soup, poutine, tourtière, Montreal bagels, whippet cookies, etc.

As in European countries like Italy or France, where cooking is considered one of the fine arts, fine dining is a passion among the well-to-do of Quebec society. While Montreal has the greatest concentration of fine cuisine restaurants in Canada, even small communities proudly boast of famous inns where the chef has an international reputation. This could be partly explained by a strong immigration in the 1960s and 1970s from Belgium, Switzerland and France. Many of those immigrants were waiters, cooks and chefs.

Sports and Hobbies

Sporting activities are increasingly popular in Quebec. As Quebec is snow-bound for several months of the year, typically from November to March, it is no surprise that many winter activities have taken root and, in a few cases, even originated here.

Ice hockey is the sport of choice in Quebec. It lives in the hearts and minds of Quebecers thanks to the rich legacy of the Montreal Canadiens. The rules of the game were set up by students at McGill University in 1875. There are many junior hockey teams, and you would be hard-pressed to find even the smallest community without a rink available for organized play.

Cross-country skiing is very easily accessible due to the abundance of snow and an unending supply of open fields. With the Laurentian Mountains close at hand, the best downhill skiing in Canada east of the Rockies is to be found in Quebec as well.

The snowmobile, invented in Quebec by Joseph-Armand Bombardier, is a popular hobby, though its reputation has been marred by several deaths each year due to its unregulated use. Through the 1990s, the Mont Tremblant and Mont Sainte-Anne ski resorts became popular destinations internationally.

Another popular diversion is ice-fishing. Rivers freeze over quickly come wintertime and as soon as the ice is solid enough to walk upon, one can find dozens of tiny homemade shacks dotting the frozen surface.

Quebec is home to many professional sports teams and events, the majority of which call Montreal home.

Existing Sports Teams

Defunct Sports Teams



Le Carnaval de Québec is held every winter in Quebec City and is famous for its world-class ice sculpture competition, sledding at the feet of Chateau Frontenac and its mascot, Le Bonhomme Carnaval. It was created by an association of Quebec City restauranteurs and hotel owners in order to boost the city slow winter tourism economy. Not as bawdy as the Brazilian version, though arising from the same Christian tradition of partying before Lent, it is generally a celebration of winter. Recently, there has even been a hotel made entirely of ice available for lodging.

During the summer season, Montreal is kept busy by a wide variety of festivals, which has given the city its reputation for being one of the festival capitals of North America.

The Montreal Jazz Festival, or Festival International du Jazz, is held annually in Montreal during the summer season and attracts artists from around the world and is typically attended by millions of people who are attracted by the electric atmosphere. The city's downtown core is closed to traffic for two weeks as outdoor shows are free to the public on many stages.

The Fireworks Festival is an annual fireworks competition held at La Ronde (in Montreal), an amusement park built on the artificial island used for Expo 67. The competition takes the form of a series of weekly fireworks shows lasting most of the summer. The fireworks are accompanied by music broadcast over a local radio station. Spectators can pay for seats inside La Ronde, which gives a good view of the underwater explosions, but tens of thousands of people watch the fireworks for free from nearby locations. Because of its proximity to La Ronde, the Jacques Cartier Bridge is closed down to automobile circulation and is flooded by thousands of pedestrian spectators for the duration of the show.

The Just for Laughs Festival, or Festival Juste pour rire, a comedy festival, again highlights Quebec's love of humour. Gala events are held nightly for several days and an atmosphere similar to the Jazz Fest is seen on the streets of Montreal, with many street performers and crowds.

The Francofolies is a festival celebrating the diversity of francophone music. Many exterior shows are given for free.

See List of Quebec festivals.

Creative Arts


The architecture of Quebec is characterized by the juxtaposition of the old and the new and a wide variety of architectural styles, the legacy of two successive colonizations by the French, the British, and the close presence of the architecture of the United States to the south.

Famous for its religious heritage, Quebec has some of the most beautiful Roman Catholic churches you can find in North America. Quebec has 122 religious buildings listed as historical monuments. The most known ones would be the Saint Joseph's Oratory, the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral, the Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica, and the Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral.

Circus Arts

Main article: Circus of Quebec

Quebec has carved a niche for itself in the field of circus arts, where it emphasizes the European tradition of circus.

The Cirque du Soleil circus troupe is known for its artistic productions with rich musical scores. Its productions include Varekai, Dralion, Alegria and O, which is performed on a water platform. It is one of the world's few circuses without animal performers. Other internationally successful troupes include Cirque Éloize and Cirque ÉOS.

Comic strips

Main article: Comic strips of Quebec

Comic books in Quebec traditionally call upon the European tradition of comics, combining both graphic design and literature. Though most are aimed at children, they are generally considered more dignified entertainment and there are many notable exceptions of graphic novels aimed at an older reading audience.


Main article: Music of Quebec

The traditional folk music of Quebec has two main influences: the traditional songs of France, and the influence of Celtic music, with reels and songs that show a definite affinity with the traditional music of Canada's Maritime Provinces, Ireland, Scotland, and Britanny. This traditional music is becoming increasingly more popular, with the success of groups such as La Bottine souriante .

Quebec has also produced world-class classical music over the years. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), founded in 1934 is one shining example. Under the direction of Charles Dutoit from 1977 to 2002, the MSO gained a truly international reputation. Montreal is also home to the Orchestre métropolitain , the early music ensemble Arion, the all-female ensemble La Pietà , created by violinist Angèle Dubeau , to name but a few; Quebec City is home to the Violons du Roy under the direction of Bernard Labadie and the Orchestre symphonique de Québec under the direction of Yoav Talmi . Quebec has a number of classical music festivals, such as the Festival de Lanaudière , Festival Orford chamber music festival held at the Orford Art Centre , and where the distinguished ensemble the Orford String Quartet was first formed.

Classical music aficianados can attend performances in a number of concert halls. Salle Wilfrid Pelletier at the Place des Arts cultural centre in the heart of Montreal is home to the MSO. Montreal's McGill University also houses two concert halls: Pollack Hall and Redpath Hall. The University of Montreal has its Salle Claude Champagne , named after Quebec composer Claude Champagne . The Grand Théâtre de Québec in Quebec City is home to the Orchestre symphonique du Québec.

Jazz also has a long tradition in Quebec. Montreal's annual Montreal Jazz Festival draws millions of visitors each summer. Many Quebeckers have made a name for themselves in the jazz world, such as Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones , Karen Young , Lorraine Desmarais , Vic Vogel , Michel Donato , and Alain Caron.

A number of performers enjoy considerable success at home, both in terms of record sales and listenership, while remaining relatively unknown outside Quebec. In a number of cases, French-speaking Quebec singers are able to export their talent to France and Belgium. Artists like Céline Dion will sometimes sing in English to reach a wider audience.

Visual Arts

Main article: Visual arts of Quebec

For many years a mostly rural society, Quebec has a tradition of craft art, including the making of stained glass windows, as exemplified in the art of Marcelle Ferron.

The group known as Les Automatistes, and its best known member, Jean-Paul Riopelle, is perhaps Quebec's most well known contribution to the world of fine art.

Other arts


See also List of Quebec media

The major newspapers in Quebec include the broadsheets La Presse (Montreal), Le Devoir (Montreal) and Le Soleil (Quebec City), the tabloids Le Journal de Montréal (Montreal) and Le Journal de Québec (Quebec City), and the English-language broadsheet The Gazette (Montreal).

Other smaller centres have their own newspapers, and there are also several free papers including "alternative weeklies" and daily micro-presses available in cafes and the Montreal Metro.

A number of television networks and stations broadcast in Quebec. Two public broadcasters broadcast over the air in French: Radio-Canada, operated by the federal government, and Télé-Québec, operated by the provincial government. Two private broadcasters broadcast over the air in French: TVA (which generally has the highest ratings of all French-language broadcasters) and Télévision Quatre Saisons (TQS). These Quebec television networks produce a considerable amount of their content locally.

The three main Canadian English networks also broadcast over the air in Quebec: public broadcaster CBC and private brodcasters CTV and Global Television. These networks provide some local content, primarily news and public affairs programming. Montreal's CJNT, owned by Global, is a hybrid affiliate of English language CH system and multicultural programming.

A number of networks are only available to cable and satellite subscribers. Subscribers can watch a wide range of specialized French-language TV channels. Amongst these offerings is TV5, the international French-language network. Most major Canadian English-language cable and satellite networks are also available.

Most American television networks are available in Quebec, although in some locations farther from the border they are not available over the air, but only on cable. The PBS affiliates from the neighbouring states, WETK in Burlington, Vermont and WCFE in Plattsburg, New York, sometimes run Quebec-specific material.

Cultural institutions

Many cultural institutions were set up in Quebec, in the wake of the Quiet Revolution.

Among the key institutions are:

  • the Archives nationales du Québec (Quebec National Archives) created in 1920
  • the Conservatoire de musique et d'art dramatique du Québec , a network of nine Academies created in 1942
  • the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec (Quebec National Library) created in 1967
  • the provincial public broadcaster Télé-Québec created in 1968
  • the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (Quebec Council of Arts and Letters) created in 1992.

Quebec's rich heritage of culture and history can be explored through a network of museums, which include the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal , the Musée de la civilisation and the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec . See also List of Quebec museums

Many of Quebec's artists have been educated in universities' arts faculties and specialized art schools. Notable schools include the Conservatoire de musique et d'art dramatique du Québec , the École nationale de théâtre du Canada , the École nationale de l'humour and the École nationale de cirque .

Prizes and Awards

Quebec society rewards its singers, musicians, authors, actors, directors, dancers, etc. regularly. Among the awards are:

  • Félix Awards (Music)
  • Opus Awards (Concert Music)
  • Jutra Awards (Cinema)
  • Gémeaux Awards (Television and film)
  • Olivier Awards (Humour)
  • Masques Awards (Theatre)
  • Athanase David Awards (Literature)

Regional Cultures

Saguenay Lac-St-Jean

A region known for its blueberries, its tourtière, its soupe aux gourganes and other specialties, the Saguenay Lac-St-Jean is also the birth place of many of Quebec's public figures such as former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, singer Mario Pelchat and Olympic athlete Marc Gagnon. The accent of this region is one of the most distinctive and peculiar ones found in Quebec, although natives of the regions would reply that in fact it is the people of Montreal who have an accent, not them!


The Gaspésie region is Quebec's little sample of the Canadian Maritimes. The people of la Gaspésie have an accent very close to that of their Acadian cousins living in New-Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The culture of the Gaspésie region is very much centered around the sea. The area is famous for its shrimps of Matane and the scenery of its sea coast, the Percé Rock, and Chic-Chocs Appalachian mountains.


Montreal, Quebec's largest city, is the second largest French-speaking city after Paris.

Aboriginal People

There are 11 groups of aboriginal peoples living in the territory of Quebec. Their influence on Quebec culture has been and continues to be significant. They are the ones who taught the first French settlers how to survive and to adapt to the harsh winters. Later, the French engaged in trade with a great number of tribes inside and outside Quebec.

There are many words in Quebec French that come from aboriginal languages, such as manitou (wizard) and mocassin (soft leather shoes) as well as many places, rivers and lakes that have a native name.

See Also

External links

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13