Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Gordon, Colin

Second Advisor

Sanders, Katrina M.

First Committee Member

Rigal, Laura

Second Committee Member

Hoenicke-Moore, Michaela

Third Committee Member

Baynton, Douglas


The Manitoba School Question is representative of a larger problem of possible tyranny by the majority. Mob rule is often less recognized when seemingly legitimized by legislative action. This long term event shows the danger resulting from assumptions that constitutional provisions provide adequate protection for a minority. When legislation is enacted which removes Constitutional rights, and there is no violent opposition, are assumed to be accepted by all. Once opposition develops decades later, it comes as an apparent surprise, even to individuals in prominent political positions.

Language is clearly a major issue in the Manitoba School Question but all elements of culture including religion and ethnicity play important roles in the controversy. While other North American communities like Prairie du Chien and St. Louis have retained little to mark a distinctive French culture, aside from street names, in Manitoba, the language and other cultural elements continue in theater, literature, and education. Even as the minority language continues, there is virtually no one who claims French as their native language who is not fluent in English. As other locations in North America debate the question and propriety of imposing an official language, much could be learned from the experience of Manitoba.

The primary sources utilized in this study were mainly documents generated by the Manitoba and Canadian governments and by the Manitoba Department of Education. Much information was also gleaned from the correspondence of Catholic missionaries and Archbishop Taché as well as from leadership in the Protestant school systems. Few of most important participants in this pageant lived to witness the Constitutional crisis resulting from the quick and easy legislative responses to popular sentiments.

Public Abstract

Because arguments and passions associated with the establishment of official language and issues of constitutional rights play such important parts in current political discussion, the Manitoba School Question and the successive attempts aimed at a satisfactory resolution of the issue provide important lessons and warnings. The events leading to the school controversy is worthy of the interest of all people of North America and many of the issues of official language designation, separation of church and state, equitable treatment of minorities are continuing questions vexing modern society that are not likely to diminish in the near future. Not surprisingly, the public schools of the infant province followed previous practice of schools based on separate religions and, in practice, separate languages.

The Manitoba Act, 1870, which functions as an important part of the constitution of Manitoba, was violated when the legislature stripped French language from the conduct of legislative and public school activities, it followed that all laws passed since 1890 were also unconstitutional. This realization brought constitutional and political crises to Manitoba and Ottawa. The controversy from the beginning led to strange alliances and opposition groups. It might appear that the French church, government, and influential individuals in Quebec would be supportive. However, the French in Manitoba were a minority while the French in Quebec were the majority who therefore had little interest in promoting federal intervention into language laws and usage within a province.

One of the many lessons learned from this long term event is danger found when rash political decisions are made in order capture or maintain the support of a majority constituency. The tyranny of the new majority had the good fortune of working in the progressive era which championed conformity, efficiency, and nationalism. Elimination of the French constitutional rights seemed like a small price to pay in the effort to achieve these goals.


Biculturalism, Manitoba constitution, Manitoba education, Manitoba history, University of Manitoba


ix, 237 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 230-237).


Copyright © 2016 Melvin J. Prewitt

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