Immigrants from France were the first Europeans to permanently settle in what is now Canadian territory. The French practiced cod fishing in Newfoundland’s fish-rich waters, and the fur trade in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence Valley with the Indigenous populations, which facilitated settlement in those regions. The French descendants quickly named themselves Acadians and Canadians, to distinguish themselves from the French from France. They first lived in the Maritime Provinces. They then settled in the St. Lawrence Valley, but quickly spread out in small groups into the Great Lakes region, the Prairies, and all along the Mississippi Valley, down to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1763, the French colonies passed into the hands of the British.
The Francophone communities throughout Canada would preserve their heritage and identity over the next two centuries, often in difficult conditions. In the second half of the 20th century, they made important gains, which today allow them to benefit from favorable conditions in a country where the French language and culture are now considered an asset.
According to the 2016 census, there are over seven million French-mother-tongue Canadians in Canada (21.4% of the population). They are spread throughout all regions, but concentrated in Quebec, where they number over six million and form the province’s majority population (79.1%). These descendants of the French pioneers are considered a founding people. That is why French is one of Canada’s two official languages.