Bordered by Ontario, New Brunswick and Labrador (the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland) and by the United States, Quebec has an area of 1 450 680 km2, three times that of France and seven times that of Great Britain, making it the largest of Canada's provinces. The province is almost entirely surrounded by water: by Hudson Strait to the north, the St. Lawrence River and Gulf to the south, and James Bay and Hudson Bay to the west.
From north to south, Quebec takes in three main geographical regions: the Canadian Shield, the St. Lawrence Lowlands and the Appalachian Mountains. Extending from the shores of the Canadian Arctic to the Laurentians, the Canadian Shield covers about 60 percent of the land mass and is the world's oldest mountain range. Permafrost reigns in the northern part of the Shield; only dwarf birches and lichen are able to grow there.
The St. Lawrence River, the province's dominant geographical feature, links the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence Lowlands are dotted with more than a million lakes and rivers. Quebec's forests are equal in area to those of Sweden and Norway combined. To the south, the foothills of the Appalachians separate Quebec from the United States. Almost 80 percent of Quebeckers live in urban centres located along the St. Lawrence. Montreal and its suburbs have a population of over three million; Quebec City is the province's capital.
The name Quebec, which comes from an Algonkian word meaning "narrow passage" or "strait," originally meant the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River off what is currently Quebec City. Quebec was originally inhabited by members of the Algonquin and Iroquois Aboriginal people. The northern part of the province was, and still is, inhabited by Inuit.
The European history of Quebec began with the arrival of the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534. The succeeding era was characterized by the establishment of a thriving fur trade, relatively friendly relations with the Aboriginal people and a continuous rivalry between French and British colonists. Founded in 1608, Quebec City became the capital of New France. During the French regime, the fortified city was an important centre of trade and development. Today it is regarded as the cradle of French civilization in America and was named a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1985.
French-British rivalry in North America culminated with the Seven Years' War, which saw the fall of Quebec City to British forces in 1759. With the Treaty of Paris in 1763, New France became a colony of Britain. In 1774, under the Quebec Act, Britain granted official recognition to French Civil Law, guaranteed religious freedom and authorized the use of the French language.
In 1791, the colony was divided in two to reflect the large influx of Loyalists who, wishing to remain British subjects, fled north after the American Revolution to settle in western Quebec. This led to the creation of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). After rebellions in both regions in 1837, the two were reunited by the Act of Union, 1840 and became the Province of Canada. In 1867, Quebec became a founding member of the new Dominion of Canada.
Historically, Quebec's rural and Catholic roots made it a traditional, agrarian society. With the advent of the second industrial revolution between 1920 and 1940, urbanization and higher living standards came to the province.
Beginning in 1960, Quebec entered yet another period of transition: the "Quiet Revolution." It was marked by rapid economic expansion, cultural pride and a revamping of public-sector institutions to meet the needs of contemporary society.
The Quiet Revolution was also the beginning of a new period of political tension as the province sought to assume greater control over its economy and institutions. In 1980 a provincial referendum was conducted on negotiating an arrangement for sovereignty association with Canada. The referendum was defeated by a majority of Quebec citizens, as was a second referendum held in 1995.
Less than a month after the Quebec sovereignty referendum of October 30, 1995, the Parliament of Canada passed a resolution recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. Throughout Quebec's history, the survival of the "French fact" in Quebec has been central to the concerns of Quebeckers. It is this very aspect that reflects Quebec's distinct place in the Canadian Confederation and gives Canada much of its bilingual character and cultural richness.
Of a total population of about seven million, Quebec has more than five million people of French origin, 350 000 of British origin and about 137 000 Amerindians (Mohawk, Cree, Montagnais, Algonquin, Attikamek, Mi'Kmaq, Huron, Abenaki and Naskapi), Métis and Inuit.
Italians and Eastern Europeans were traditionally the largest immigrant groups to Quebec, but since 1960 the ranks of new Quebeckers have been swollen by Portuguese, Haitians, Lebanese, South Americans and Southeast Asians. Since the end of World War II, more than 650 000 immigrants from over 80 countries have moved to Quebec, particularly to the city of Montreal.
French is the mother tongue of 83 percent of Quebeckers, while approximately 10 percent cite English as their mother tongue.
Highly industrialized and quite diversified, Quebec's economy is strong and full of promise. The province has abundant natural resources and energy, along with well-developed agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors. Quebec's dynamic business sector has seized on the economic potential of the province and produces a wide variety of top quality products for export, such as air traffic control equipment, software, subway trains, helicopters, compact disks, air purifiers and toys.
Montreal, the province's commercial capital, has developed competitive industries in space and aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, energy and transportation. Quebec exports 40 percent of its total production, mainly from the forest industry (printing, lumber and paper), mining (aluminium and iron ore) and transportation equipment manufacturing. Quebec also exports electricity, engineering know-how, electronic products and telecommunications equipment. International exports now account for 20 percent of the province's gross domestic product.