Excerpt taken from the book The Story of French (Ch. 10)
In Canada, the British North America Act of 1867 safeguarded the rights of French speakers in Québec and in federal institutions, but English was clearly more equal than French. Until the 1960s the federal government did absolutely nothing to defend the rights of francophones outside Québec (although, ironically, Québec had a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of its own anglophone minority). The federal government simply did not apply its own laws or the country’s constitution; for example, when Manitoba denied constitutional guarantees to its French community in 1890, Ottawa did nothing. It was only because French Canadians lobbied to have French words on Canadian stamps commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Act in 1927 that the federal government eventually agreed to do so. French didn’t appear on Canada’s currency until 1936, and the lack of French in the Canadian military was still a problem in the Second World War.
On the whole, the federal government’s stance only reinforced the already strong link between French and the Catholic Church. The constitution guarantees confessional schools, which means that provinces can prohibit French schools, but not Catholic ones. By running their schools in French, the Catholic clergy became the saviours of the language. However, in New England and Louisiana the clergy decided it was more important to convert Protestants than to shelter the French-speaking community. They appointed English-speaking bishops and Irish priests, some of who were starkly anti-French. This strategy was also used in every Canadian province west of Québec. In Ontario, in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Irish Catholics were adamant about keeping French Canadians “in their place,” and Bishop Michael Fallon, who led them, did all he could to bar bilingual Catholic schools. Franco-Ontarians, who form the largest group outside of Québec, protested so vehemently that the clergy reversed their strategy. Wherever these practices were accepted without protest, French communities lost their parish and, with it, their most solid institution. In Louisiana the last Mass in French was sung in 1940.
Other powerful groups also worked against French. In the Canadian West, for instance, the Ku Klux Klan was openly anti-French and anti-Catholic and allied itself repeatedly with conservative parties to push for bans on teaching French. The Klan was also active against francophones in Maine.