24 July 1967: De Gaulle speaks up for Quebec's independence

French president Charles de Gaulle shocked Canada, on this day in 1967, when he declared to a welcoming crowd “Vive le Quebec libre”.

Charles De Gaulle supporting Quebec separatism in Montreal © Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
De Gaulle shocked Canada with his remarks
(Image credit: © Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Quebec, originally a French colony, was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. The Quebec Act of 1774 recognised the French language, and religious rights for Catholics. But in 1838, a pro-independence uprising forced Britain to turn its North American colonies into the Province of Canada in 1840.

This evolved into the semi-autonomous Dominion of Canada in 1867, made up of several regions, including Quebec, which had a degree of regional autonomy and cultural distinctiveness within Canada.

In the late 1950s this arrangement broke down due to concerns that Quebec was becoming "Anglicised". In 1963 the terrorist Front de Libration du Quebec (FLQ) carried out a series of bombings.

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However, the independence movement did not take off until Charles de Gaulle, then French president, shocked Canada in July 1967 by declaring "Vive le Quebec libre" to a welcoming crowd, while on a state visit to Canada. Protests forced him to cut short his trip, but the symbolic importance of the French president and war hero endorsing separation delivered a huge boost to the pro-independence movement.

In 1968 the pro-independence Parti Quebecois was formed, gaining regional power by 1976. It passed laws mandating the use of French and forced a referendum on negotiating independence. While it was rejected by 60% of voters, a second referendum in 1995 came within 1% of gaining a majority.

The language laws have become increasingly strict over the years, culminating in a family being fined C$3,000 (£1,500) last year for writing in English on boxes of household goods.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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