Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French (Ch. 10)
Perhaps because of their numbers, the French Canadians were always more politically assertive than either the Acadians or the Cajuns. Through political manoeuvres they forced the British authorities to keep certain French institutions, and even to grant Quebec its own parliament in 1791, which French Canadians have dominated ever since. By 1867 French Canadians made up only a third of Canada’s total population, but they still constituted a large majority in the province of Quebec. The Canadian constitution, the British North America Act, which was written that year, was the high-water mark of French-Canadian assertiveness. It united the five colonies of British North America and created an independent Canada. French Canadians had made sure that Canada became a federation of former colonies rather than a unitary state, so French speakers would have some clout in Canadian politics.
The Act gave formal status to the French language—for the first time in Canada’s history. It made the use of both French and English mandatory in Parliament and before the courts, both at the federal level and in the province of Quebec. This was hailed as a political victory, and it created much hope, especially after the federal government safeguarded the rights of French speakers in the newly created province of Manitoba in 1870. However, French Canadians quickly saw that the federal government and English Canadians had no intention of respecting either the spirit or the letter of the law. French Canadians would spend the next hundred years trying to get English Canada to respect its side of the deal.