Franco-Ontarians: A formidable force to be reckoned with

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Posted on 
August 8, 2022
Written by 
Arwa Ahmed (About the author) , Canadian Heritage

In 2015, Ontario celebrated the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s exploration of Ontario and the 40th anniversary of the Franco-Ontarian flag. Champlain's sojourn in the province served as a springboard for the Francophone community's cultural, social, economic, and political accomplishments. The significance of the French community’s presence in Ontario cannot be overstated. The French were the first Europeans to explore the area and establish themselves, as well as the first Europeans to form alliances with Indigenous peoples. The French also laid the groundwork for the fur trade in Ontario by identifying the region's natural and commercial riches. They are clearly an important part of Ontario's history. Today, most Franco-Ontarians live in eastern, northeastern, and central Ontario, although small Francophone communities can be found throughout the province.

Regulation 17: A threat to the French language in Ontario

Despite their vibrant culture and long history in Ontario, Franco-Ontarians have faced numerous threats to their survival. In 1912, the provincial government enacted Regulation 17 (opens in new tab), which was meant to assimilate the province's Francophone minority community into the province's Anglophone majority. Regulation 17 was a major threat to the French community in Ontario because it stipulated that English was to be the language of instruction and communication in schools across the province. Essentially, French was barred from being used as a language of instruction. Regulation 17 was received with fierce opposition across French Ontario, but especially in Ottawa. Protesting, Franco-Ontarians established their own educational system. The uproar eventually triggered a national controversy, and it was seen as a Canada-wide crisis, especially for other language minorities in Canada. Even Anglophones who were part of the Unity League of Ontario opposed Regulation 17. In 1927, 15 years later, the government stopped enforcing Regulation 17, and it was not further renewed. Some Franco-Ontarians say Regulation 17 still has residual effectsFootnote 1, despite the numerous years since it was revoked in 1944.

Franco-Ontarians stand strong

Ontario's Francophones showed resilience and tenacity, proving that they would not be ignored. They founded French-language organizations to promote their culture and defend their rights, such as the French newspaper Le Droit (opens in new tab) (in French only) and the Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario (opens in new tab) (in French only, English coming soon). After formerly identifying as French Canadians, Franco-Ontarians eventually developed their own distinct cultural identity and created the Franco-Ontarian flag, the emblem of their community. Later, in 1986, Ontario passed the French Language Services Act (opens in new tab) and created the Ministry of Francophone Affairs (opens in new tab), which further helped protect the rights of Franco-Ontarians. In 2010, September 25th was declared Franco-Ontarian Day, a day to celebrate the community’s culture and history. This day is significant to Franco-Ontarians because it demonstrates the provincial government's commitment to the community.

Franco-Ontarians today

Today, Ontario has the largest Francophone community outside of Quebec, with approximately 622,000 Franco-OntariansFootnote 2 and 1.5 million Ontarians fluent in French. Almost a quarter of Ottawa’s population consists of Franco-Ontarians. As a result, the Franco-Ontarian flag is permanently flown at Ottawa City Hall. Franco-Ontarians are extremely proud of their culture, language, and history.Footnote 3 Ontarians can now even get a licence plate (opens in new tab) with the Franco-Ontarian flag on it. The Francophone culture in Ontario is growing, thanks to French artists, newspapers, television and radio programming, and festivals, such as the Festival Franco-Ontarien (opens in new tab) (in French only), Franco-Fête (opens in new tab) and La Nuit sur l’Étang (opens in new tab). Even some traditional French Canadian cuisine, such as tourtière and poutine, is enjoyed across the country.

Although the fight to defend the rights of Franco-Ontarians is far from over, this community has proven to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.

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Get to know Arwa Ahmed

Arwa Ahmed

Arwa Ahmed is a senior program advisor at Canadian Heritage and co-chair of the Ontario Official Languages Interdepartmental Network (OOLIN). She is dedicated to preserving and honouring Canada's two official languages, as well as Indigenous languages and traditions. Arwa is also a strong advocate for intersectionality and diversity. She serves on many equity and diversity (EDI) committees, including the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee (EDI AC) and the Canadian Heritage LGBTQ2+ Committee.

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