The French were among the first Europeans to colonize Canada. (See French colonization of the Americas.) Their colonies of New France stretched across what today are the Maritime provinces, southern Quebec and Ontario, as well as the entire Mississippi River Valley. The first permanent European settlement in Canada was at Quebec City. The territories of New France were Canada, Acadia, and Louisiana. The inhabitants of Canada called themselves the Canadiens, the inhabitants of Acadia, the Acadiens, and the inhabitants of Louisiana, the Louisianais.
After the 1760 British conquest of New France in the French and Indian War, the French Canadian population remained important in the life of the colonies.
The British, who had gained Acadia by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), deported 75% of the Acadian population to other British colonies at the beginning of the French and Indian War. The French Canadians escaped this fate in part because of the capitulation act that made them British subjects. It took the 1774 Quebec Act for them to regain the French civil law system, and in 1791 French Canadians in Lower Canada were introduced to the British parliamentarism system when an elected Legislative Assembly was created.
The Legislative Assembly having no real power, the political situation degenerated into the Patriotes Rebellion of 1837 to 1838, after which Lower Canada and Upper Canada were unified. One of the motivations for the union was to limit French Canadian political power. After many decades of British immigration, the Canadiens became a minority in the Province of Canada in the 1850s.
French Canadian contributions were essential in securing responsible government for the Canadas and in undertaking Canadian Confederation. However, over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries, French Canadians' discontent grew with their place in Canada. (See Quebec, History of Canada and Politics of Canada.)
Since 1968 French has been one of Canada's two official languages. It is the sole official language of Quebec and one of the official languages of New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.
A number of distinct groups of French Canadians may be identified. The largest is the Quebecois, the majority of whom no longer self-identify as Canadien-français (French Canadians). Others include:
Many French Canadians are the descendants of the King's Daughters.
The dialects of French spoken in Canada are quite distinctive compared to those of France. See Canadian French.