On this day in 1961, the The Quebec Board of the French Language (or Office québécois de la langue française, OQLF) was established in Montreal, Canada. Officially, the OQLF’s mandate was to ensure that French remained the primary language used in Quebec; more broadly, the board’s goal was to promote Quebecois sovereignty within Canada. Since its creation, the OQLF has been responsible for ensuring that governmental and commercial communications – including signage, packaging, and press releases – are written in French. Although the province was (and remains) a part of Canada, it is distinct for its large population of French-speakers and the culture of its inhabitants, descendants of early French settlers in the region.
Created at the recommendation of the 1956 Tremblay Commission – an inquiry into Canadian constitutional matters – the board was promoted by Quebec’s premier Jean Lesage, an important figure in the French-Canadian national movement. Beginning in the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution was an effort to modernize Quebec while promoting its distinct culture within Canada. As the years wore on, tensions between French and English (majority) Canada rose and the role of the OQLF was expanded. The board faced criticism for its “unconstitutional” removal of bilingual signage and English-language restaurant signage, but continued in its efforts despite being labeled the “tongue troopers” and “language police” by English-language media outlets. Although many argue that the OQLF is a distinctly unequal institution, it was – and is – a significant part of Quebec’s nonviolent effort to remain distinct and sovereign within Anglo Canada.