The Irish of Quebec From Majority to Minority to

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					The Irish of Quebec: From Majority to Minority to Majority?


Jack Jedwab
Executive Director,
Association for Canadian Studies
March 11, 2004



I Introduction: From Saint-Patrick a St. Patrick

It is nearly two centuries since the Irish population first settled in Quebec. Some described the
Irish as occupying the position of a double minority before Confederation as they belonged to a
language minority within a religion that represented only a minority of the British North American
                                         th
population. In the early part of the 19 century the Irish confronted an English-speaking Catholic
population that had little sympathy for them and a Catholic church dominated by French-
speakers. Given the importance of religion at that time interaction between English and French
Catholics was infrequent. On the other hand contacts between Quebec’s Irish and French
Catholics were far more common As a result of Irish-French marriages, by the year 1931 some
15% of all Quebecers of Irish descent had French as their mother tongue (the language they first
learned and still understood). It is frequently noted that the products of such marriages went on to
assume important roles in Quebec politics notably the Johnson’s and the Ryan’s amongst others.
Since the Quiet revolution the impact of Irish-French marriages has resulted in a major
transformation of the group to the point where it is the only Irish population in North America and
perhaps around the planet whose majority is now of French mother tongue. In the once popular
idea that Canada consisted of British and Founding Peoples the Irish of Quebec would be part of
both ‘founders’.

According to the results of the 2001 census as illustrated below some 58.4% of the population of
Irish descent are of French mother tongue and on the basis of those declaring only Irish descent-
single origin) the figure rises to 62.8%.

Table 1

Mother Tongue of persons reporting Irish Ethnic Origins (Single and Multiple Declarations)
in Quebec in the Year 2001

                        Total - Ethnic origin   Single ethnic origin         Multiple ethnic origin
                        responses              responses                    responses
 Single responses       291 545                53 440                       238 105
  English               113 340                19 255                        94 080
  French                170 105                33 305                       136 800
 English and French       7 355                   820                         6 535
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 2001

The transition from English to French has advanced considerably over the past two generations
as seen below those persons over the age of 65 with some 62.1% of those of Irish descent
reporting English as their mother tongue. In the 45-54 category French is in the majority as the
mother tongue of the Irish ancestry population and as we look at the younger segments of the
Irish population French progresses yet further. Indeed in the 0-14 category when examining those
persons that report that their only ethnic origin is Irish some 82% are of French mother tongue
(when all declarations are taken into account the figure drops to 64.3 as described below).
Table 2

Mother Tongue of persons reporting Total Irish Ethnic Origins in Quebec by Age Cohort in
the Year 2001 (Equal Distribution of Dual Declarations)

                                English                          French
0-14                            35.7                             64.3
15-24                           35.3                             64.7
25-44                           37.7                             62.3
45-64                           45.5                             54.5
65 and over                     62.1                             37.9
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 2001

There is an important regional dimension to the language shift of Quebec’s Irish population that
will be examined in the last section of this text (see table 7).


Irish in Quebec: Rootedness and Ethnically Mixing

As observed below the Irish population is very rooted in Quebec with 87% over the age declaring
that they are third generation of more. Of the near 7 500 that declare that they are products of
immigration approximately one-quarter were below the age of 15.

Table 4

Generational Status of Quebec’s Irish Population by single and multiple responses (up to
four) of ethnic origins, 2001

                Total - Ethnic    Single          2 responses     3 responses      4+
                origin           response                                         responses
Total -         291 545          53 440        106 180           79 710           52 215
Generational
status
  First          7 455          2 015          2 350             1 755            1 330
generation -
First
generation
   Immigrated 1 895             400            615               510              375
at age less
than 15 - First
generation
   Immigrated 4 640             1 465          1 515             995              665
at age 15 and
older - First
generation
  Second         4 430          1 365          1 875             735              455
generation
  2.5            17 075         2 425          6 015             4 770            3 865
generation
  Third          201 640        43 040         78 150            53 025           27425
generation
  Respondent 60 940             4 595          17 785            19 420           19 135
less than 15
years of age
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 2001
As indicated above some 18.3% of the Irish population declared that they were of Irish origin only
with the rest including Irish as part of a dual or multiple declaration of their ethnic origin. In the
case of the dual respondents most reported that they were Irish and Canadian or Irish and French
with the British designation falling to 17.7%. The more the number of responses given the more
the British declaration declines.


Table 5

Irish in combination with other ethnic origins, up to four responses, Quebec 2001

                 Total - Ethnic    Single            2 responses      3 responses       4+
                 origin           response                                             responses
Total            291 545          53 440       106 180               79 710            52 215
population
British origins 78 360          53 440         18 840                5 720             365
only
French           116 485        0              35 605                46 680            34 200
Canadian         119 790        0              39 405                47 140            33 245
origins
Other origins    70 550         0              12 330                25 600            32 610
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 2001

However there is a significant generation gap as regards reporting of British origin in conjunction
with Irish. As seen below those Irish over the age of 55 tend to report British origins with much
greater frequency than those under the age of 24.


Table 6

Irish in combination with other ethnic origins, up to four responses, 55 years of age and
over, Quebec 2001

                 Total - Ethnic    Single            2 responses      3 responses       4+
                 origin           response                                             responses
Total            53 005           15 805       21 560                11 280            4 355
population
British origins 23785           15 810         6 225                 1 660             95
only
French           15 220         0              6 805                 5 745             2 665
Canadian         16 585         0              7 160                 6 595             2 825
origins
Other origins    5 760          0              1 370                 2 325             2 075
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 2001

In the case of those under the age of 25 amongst those giving two responses one-third combined
Irish with French and another one-third with Canadian origins. Only one out of ten of the younger
segment reported Irish in conjunction with other British origins when making a dual declaration.
This contrasts with the one-third that did so in the 55 and over age category.
Irish In Quebec: Where They Live and Language Composition


The ethnically Irish are spread out throughout the province with one-third residing on the Island of
Montreal. The impact of the mixing of the Irish origin population described above on its language
composition is not felt in the same way across the various regions of the province. As seen below
while French is dominant amongst the ethnically Irish population in most regions there remain a
number of areas where English prevails amongst those identifying as Irish. This is the case in
Memphremagog, Broem-Missisquoi, Roussillon, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Montreal and Pontiac. In
the first four English outnumber French almost two-to-one amongst those declaring Irish origin,
while in Montreal some sixty percent declare English mother tongue. Exceptionally, in Pontiac
nearly all those declaring Irish origin are of English mother tongue.




Mother Tongue of persons reporting Total Irish Ethnic Origins in Selected regions of
Quebec in the Year 2001

                    Total - Mother        English             French              English and
                    tongue                                                       French
Communauté-         17 340            2 320                  14 410              595
Urbaine-de-
Québec
 La Côte de         1 595             460                    1 110               35
Gaspé
Memphrémagog        2 505             1 565                  865                 70
Brome-              2 905             1 930                  900                 70
Missisquoi
La Haute-           2 570             550                    1 930               85
Yamaska
Drummond            2 130             230                    1 865               35
Champlain/South 14 780                5 780                  8 545               420
Shore
Laval               11 350            2 750                  8 235               325
Montréal            91 560            52 945                 35 930              2 315
Roussillon          7 925             4 115                  3 615               185
Vaudreuil-          8 175             5 010                  2 945               195
Soulanges
Deux-Montagnes 4 205                  1 910                  2 150               135
Thérèse-De          5 060             1 000                  3 960               90
Blainville
Outaouais           15 305            6 375                  8 515               385
La Vallée-de-la-    1 940             870                    960                 105
Gatineau
Pontiac             3 590             3 345                  185                 55
Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 2001