New Brunswick’s Commons Schools Act, 1871, was an attempt to improve what was then an inadequate education system by ensuring free and standardized education. Religious instruction, however, was officially prohibited in an effort to accommodate students from different backgrounds, and French-language instruction was not mentioned. The federal government protested against these changes but decided not to impose remedial legislation.
The province’s French-Catholic Acadian minority strongly opposed the changes, and on January 27, 1875, a demonstration at Caraquet ended in the death of an Acadian protestor and an Anglophone militiaman. The provincial government and Acadian representatives came to an informal compromise on the schools issue, but French-Catholic education privileges remained limited, and Acadian schools would be chronically underfunded for decades.