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Québec comes from the word Gepèèg, which means "narrowing of the river" in the language of the Mi'kmag Indians. This referred to the narrowing of the Saint Lawrence River where the city of Quebec now stands.
Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, visited the area in 1534, planted a cross on the Gaspésie peninsula and claimed the area for the French king Francis I. The area was called New France (La Nouvelle-France). In 1580 he tried to found a colony, Charlesbourg-Royal, near the present city of Quebec, but his attempt failed.
In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded the first permanent settlement in Canada, on the Saint Lawrence River, where the city of Quebec now stands. Montréal was founded in 1642 by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and named Ville-Marie.
The British made several attempts to expand their North American colonies at the expense of New France. Finally, in 1759, they defeated the French garrison under General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm near the present city of Quebec. This led to the end of the colony of New France: with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France ceded its colonies in Canada to England. For the French population of the colonies this meant that they now fell under British administration. However, the British policy of assimilation failed, and in 1774, fearing that the French-speaking population of Quebec (as the colony was now called) would join the rebellious thirteen colonies to the south (the later United States), the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which recognised French law, the Roman Catholic religion and the French language in the colony. The measure could not prevent American revolutionaries from invading Quebec in 1775. However, they were defeated by the English near the city of Quebec.
In 1791, the colony of Quebec was divided into Lower Canada (the later Province of Quebec) and Upper Canada (the later Ontario). This division was carried out so that the Loyalist American settlers and British and Irish immigrants in Upper Canada could live under British laws and institutions, and the French-speaking population of Lower Canada could retain French laws and the Catholic religion. Nevertheless, there remained much friction and discontent among the people of both colonies. In 1837, this led to an armed rebellion against the British administration, which the British suppressed with difficulty. The leaders of the rebellion, including Louis-Joseph Papineau, Wolfred Nelson and William Lyon Mackenzie, are still honoured as heroes in Quebec. As a result of the revolt, Canada was reunited by the Act of Union in 1841.
In 1867, the British Parliament decided with the British North America Act to establish the Canadian Confederation, in which Québec was included as a new province.
During the years 1960-1970, the national question came more and more to the fore. The visit of the French general Charles de Gaulle to the province in 1967 stirred up nationalism in Quebec, especially through his speech in Montreal in which he made his infamous statement "Vive le Québec libre!". Under the leadership of René Lévesque, the nationalist Parti québécois was founded. This came to power in the 1976 elections with the promise of a referendum on independence.
A considerable number of inhabitants still want Quebec to be independent. Although two referendums were held in 1980 and 1995, they were always rejected (by a narrow majority). On 27 November 2006, the inhabitants of Quebec were recognised by the Canadian parliament as a separate nation within Canada. The resolution, introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was approved by 266 votes to 16.
See also the history of Canada.
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