French Canadian Folk Music: A Brief History

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


French Canadian Folk Music has a long and varied history, from the early settlers who brought their music with them, to the modern performers who keep the tradition alive.


French Canadian folk music is a genre that is distinctly Canadian. It has its roots in the French music that was brought over by the settlers who arrived in Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries. The music has since been influenced by other genres, including Celtic and English folk music. French Canadian folk music is characterized by its use of the fiddle, accordion, and penny whistle. It is often lively and upbeat, and often tells stories of the people and places of Canada.

Early French settlers in Canada

The first French settlers in Canada were members of the military and religious orders who arrived in the 1600s. They brought with them the music of the French Renaissance, which was based on the works of composers such as Guillaume de Machaut and Josquin des Prez. This music was performed by professional musicians, called troubadours, who travelled from town to town, entertaining people with their songs.

As more and more settlers arrived in Canada, they brought with them a variety of folk traditions from their homelands. These traditions included songs about love, jobs, religion, and current events. These songs were sung in French, English, German, and other languages.

One of the most important folk traditions that was brought to Canada by the settlers was the fiddle. The fiddle is a stringed instrument that is played with a bow. It is believed to have originated in Europe in the 16th century. Fiddles were originally only played by professional musicians, but over time they became popular among all people. Fiddle music was often used for dancing, and it continues to be an important part of Canadian folk music today.

The influence of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has had a huge influence on French Canadian folk music. The church would often sponsor musical events and would hire professional musicians to play at religious ceremonies. These musicians would often teach their songs to the people, who would then sing them at home and pass them down to future generations. Many of the most popular French Canadian folk songs are religious in nature and were created by the church.

The Development of French Canadian Folk Music

Although it is now generally agreed that there is such a thing as a French Canadian musical tradition, it is also true that this tradition is relatively young. It is only since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s that this musical tradition has really begun to take hold in the province of Quebec. In the centuries before that, French Canadian music was largely overshadowed by the music of the Catholic Church and the music of the British Empire.

The influence of other cultures

Folk music in Quebec has been shaped by the province’s history and the influences of the many different cultures that have settled here.

The first people to occupy what is now Quebec were the Aboriginal nations of the Algonquin, Iroquois, Huron-Wendat, and Inuit. Their music was an important part of their culture and was used for ceremonies, storytelling, and entertainment.

The French were the next to arrive, and their folk music was a mix of French, Breton, and Scottish traditions. Irish immigrants also brought their own music to the province, which influenced both French and English Canadian folk music.

As more immigrants arrived from all over Europe in the 1800s and early 1900s, Quebec’s folk music continued to evolve. Italian, German, Scandinavian, Ukrainian, and Polish immigrants all contributed to the province’s musical landscape.

Today, Quebec’s folk music is a lively blend of all these different influences. It is an important part of the province’s cultural heritage and continues to be enjoyed by Quebecers of all backgrounds.

The evolution of traditional songs

Traditional songs were often about daily life, love, loss, and());; other universal themes. The songs were generally passed down orally from generation to generation, and as a result, the melodies and lyrics often changed over time.

As French Canada began to urbanize in the late 19th century, traditional songs began to lose their popularity. They were replaced by popular music from France and the United States.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that traditional French Canadian folk music began to make a comeback. This was due in part to the work of folklorists like Marius Barbeau and Helmuth von Moltke, who collected and published folk songs from across Canada.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new generation of Québécois singers and songwriters began reviving traditional folk music. These artists brought a fresh perspective to the music, infusing it with elements of rock, jazz, and other genres.

Today, French Canadian folk music is enjoyed by people of all ages. It remains an important part of Québec’s cultural identity.

Contemporary French Canadian Folk Music

Though contemporary French Canadian folk music is relatively new, its origins date back to the early settlers of Canada. The music of these early settlers was a mix of French, English, and Celtic influences, and was largely influenced by the music of the church. As Canada began to industrialize in the late 19th century, however, the music began to change.

The popularity of folk music in the 1960s

During the 1960s, folk music experienced a resurgence in popularity both in Canada and internationally. In Canada, folk music was embraced by both English and French Canadian artists and audiences. Internationally, Canadian folk musicians such as Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell found success.

The popularity of folk music in the 1960s was due in part to the emergence of the youth counterculture and the anti-war movement. Folk music was seen as a way to express political and social views, as well as a form of personal expression. The genre was also popular because it was seen as a more authentic form of music than what was being produced by the mainstream music industry.

In Canada, French Canadian folk musicians were particularly popular in the 1960s. Artists such as Gilles Vigneault and Chartrand-Desjardins achieved success both nationally and internationally. Their music often dealt with issues of Quebec nationalism and the French Canadian experience.

The popularity of folk music waned in the 1970s, but the genre has continued to be an important part of both Canadian and international music scenes.

The resurgence of interest in folk music in the 21st century

In the 21st century, there has been a resurgence of interest in folk music in Canada. This is largely due to the work of contemporary French Canadian artists who are keeping the traditions alive. These artists are often influenced by both traditional and modern music, and they often use new technology to create their own unique sound.

Some of the most popular contemporary French Canadian folk artists include Louis-Jean Cormier, Les Hay Babies, and Les soeurs Boulay. These artists are helping to create a new generation of folk music lovers, and they are ensuring that the traditions of French Canadian folk music will be passed down for generations to come.

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