3 minute read

French Canadian Families

The Quebec Family And Marriage, The Family And Reproduction, Children's New Family Environment

French Canadian families populate every province and territory in Canada; however, the trends and history of these families are most clearly delineated in Quebec. Like other families in the Western world, the Quebec family has experienced profound transformations since the beginning of the twentieth century. Until this period, the Quebec family had been marked by the historical circumstances of the peopling of New France that led to a natural reproduction regime. This regime, where recourse to voluntary means of reducing fertility did not exist, featured families formed very early in the lives of men and women, resulting in high marriage rates and high fertility levels (Charbonneau et al. 1987). In such a context, French Canadian families' high fertility has been viewed as legendary. However, research shows that although French Canada's fertility level was high compared to that of France, it was comparable to that of other societies in the New World. At the end of the nineteenth century, contraceptive use became much more widespread in other North American regions, but remained rare in Quebec, thus sustaining higher fertility rates (Bouchard and Lalou 1993). Although fertility levels remained high, a decline was under way in some areas and in specific social groups by the end of the nineteenth century (Gauvreau and Gossage 2001).

Sociologists have considered the rural French Canadian family as representative of the stem family described by Frédéric LePlay from European observations. The stem family is characterized by the transmission of the family land to one heir only, who was in charge of assuring the survival of the name and the lineage. But various authors have dismissed the application of this interpretation to the French Canadian family (Gérin 1932; Verdon 1987; Bouchard 1987). Gérard Bouchard's work on the Saguenay families presented the most convincing dismissal of the stem family thesis applied to rural Quebec. Instead, he suggested a family model in which the settlement of as many children as possible served as the basis of the family strategy. This strategy did not aim at protecting the father's patrimony, but rather at enlarging it, exchanging it, or even selling it to assure that all the sons were settled. It also included geographic mobility as an important component, particularly when the territory was fully occupied and where frontier regions were accessible. Even if that theory has not been verified on a provincial scale, it appears to be the most plausible one to apply to the French Canadian family (Bouchard 1992; Dagenais 2000).

Urban families have also been studied. As early as 1921, the majority of Quebec families lived in urban environments. In this context, the family economic cycle was more unstable and precarious than in rural areas, particularly among factory workers' families. "The material and non-material heritage which the family can give to its children is drastically limited" (Falardeau 1953). It is within the urban environment that the Quebec family first changed: "Equalitarian and democratic-minded family units have substituted themselves for families of the traditional authoritarian, quasi-patriarchal type . . ." (Falardeau 1953, p. 117). However, this process happened slowly; according to Philippe Garigue, who studied families in the 1950s, differences between rural and urban families were less pronounced than similarities (1962). Therefore, it was not until the 1960s, that the effects of industrialization, urbanization, generalized education, and decline of the Catholic-Church influence were felt more intensely. The speed at which changes then took place, as well as their depth, are considered a revolution, often referred to as the Quiet Revolution (Pelletier 1992). Simultaneously profound family changes occurred. These transformations were most easily captured by demographic changes, traditionally considered boundary markers of family life. Not only are these phenomena easily observable and measurable signs, they also have a substantive sociological meaning, revealing the state of social institutions.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects