History of Francophone Communities


Ever since the first French settler set foot on Ontario soil in 1610, nearly 400 years ago, the history of the province has been closely connected with that of the French-speaking men and women who developed it, particularly from the 19th century onward.

The Francophone presence in Ontario grew steadily in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with settlements being established initially along the Ottawa River and then towards the interior. During this time, people settled mostly in Eastern (1810-1840) and North-eastern (1880) Ontario, drawn by land bordering rivers (eastern Ontario and Ottawa), the forestry industry (eastern Ontario), mineral exploration (North), or the development of the railway systems (North, West, and South). Settlement in the more northerly regions between Cochrane and Hearst began around 1910, while development in Timiskaming started at the turn of the 20th century.

The 19th century and the beginning of the 20th also saw the establishment of institutions, primarily religious, that supported a Franco-Ontarian elite that had to defend and protect the progress it had made while it continued to look to the future. This population was Francophone and Catholic in a land of Protestant Anglophones. The creation of the Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario (ACFÉO) in 1910, forebear of the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario (ACFO), demonstrated the population’s desire to establish its own identity, as did the founding of the newspaper Le Droitin 1913.

The adoption of Regulation 17 (1912-1927), which severely restricted the use of French as a language of instruction in schools in favour of English, and Regulation 18, which threatened the school boards and teachers who opposed Regulation 17 with reprisals, are the most striking examples of the confrontation that long defined relations between Francophone Catholics and Anglophone Protestants in Ontario. Today, French-language school boards are responsible for the education of young Franco-Ontarians, who now also have the opportunity to attend French-language colleges.

The Franco-Ontarian identity is reflected in symbols as well as actions. The Franco-Ontarian flag was unveiled for the first time on September 25, 1975, at the University of Sudbury. The government officially recognized it as the emblem of the Francophone community of Ontario in 2001.

The Franco-Ontarian identity is also reflected in legislation; for example, the adoption of the French Language Services Act(Bill 8), which came into full effect in November 1989, guaranteed that citizens could receive French-language government services in 25 designated regions. The Act was amended in 2007 with the addition of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.

This vibrant Franco-Ontarian community is not monolithic. Nowadays, it relies to a greater extent on immigration to ensure its prosperity and its future. Franco-Ontarians bear names like Levasseur, Matte, Cantin, Gauthier, Gervais, Lalonde and Roy, but also Diallo, Abdi, Brihmi, Ghaleb, Matulu and Nguyen. There are as many stories to tell as there are individuals and families, who have elected to live in what is for some a land of plenty, for others a promise for the future, and for newcomers a place of hope.

*Extract taken from the Ontario profile produced by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada



The French presence on the territory of modern-day Saskatchewan goes back to the time when France exerted an influence on almost all of North America. Between 1752 and 1755, Louis de la Corne and his cohorts explored the Carrot Valley region, in what is now the Centre-East region of Saskatchewan. They built the Fort de la Corne on the eastern side of the fork where the North Saskatchewan River meets the South Saskatchewan River. In some periods, this site, which was also named Fort Saint-Louis and Nippeween, marked the western extremity of a line of French fortifications in the Northwest. Garrisons at the Fort de la Corne in the middle of the 18th century started growing wheat, a harvest which Saskatchewan became renowned for in the 20th century.

The arrival in 1818 of the first representatives of the Catholic Church in the Northwest heralded the beginning of a new chapter for French. Their first visits to the trading posts in the Qu’Appelle Valley in the south and at the Churchill River in the north resulted in the establishment of permanent missions to serve the Métis population. In 1846, missionaries Alexandre Taché and Louis-François Laflèche established a catholic mission at Île-à-la-Crosse, a trading post and meeting place that attracted native tribes and a large Francophone Métis population. After he became bishop of St. Boniface, Alexandre Taché as well as his successors sought to build a Catholic French-speaking community spanning the Plains from St. Boniface to the foot of the Rockies.

Starting in 1870, new Métis communities settled in regions which later became part of the province of Saskatchewan. Talle-de-Saules (Willow Bunch), Saint-Laurent-de-Grandin and Batoche were created with the arrival of Métis families seeking to preserve a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Their dream of creating a society was lost following their armed resistance against the Government of Canada in Batoche itself in 1885.

A migratory shift toward the Canadian Prairies began at the end of the 19th century and peaked around the 1920s. During this period, Francophones of various origins settled in the newly-created province of Saskatchewan. French Canadians from the St. Lawrence River valley, a good number of which had first settled in the United States, moved to the province under the direction of colonizing missionaries. They created small villages where they set up schools, parishes and businesses. An almost equivalent number of Francophones from Europe (French, Belgian and Swiss) immigrated to Saskatchewan, joining the French Canadians or establishing their own villages.

The opening of the territory with the construction of the railway brought an influx of Immigrants of mostly non-Francophone settlers to Saskatchewan, which the weak influx of French-language settlers was unable to counter. The act creating Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905 retained the earlier constitutional provisions regarding the use of French in public education, public administration and justice. However, these provisions were disregarded by the authorities. During the early decades of the 20th century, the right of Francophones in Saskatchewan to use French as a language of education was severely limited. They created associations to support their struggle for survival as a community: Le Patriote de l’Ouest, a French-language newspaper, was established in 1910, followed by the Association catholique franco-canadienne de la Saskatchewan in 1912. The Association des commissaires d’écoles franco-canadiens was created in 1918, at the moment when the threat to French-language education was at its highest. A French-language collège classique, the Collège Mathieu, was established in Gravelbourg the same year.

It was only in the 1960s that the necessary amendments to the Saskatchewan school act were made in order to allow French-language education. During the 1970s, the Fransaskois community established a series of cultural centres under the Conseil culturel fransaskois, which was created in 1974. It was about at this time that Francophones in Saskatchewan began to refer to themselves as «Fransaskois». A new weekly newspaper, l’Eau Vive, and an annual summer celebration, the Fête Fransaskoise, were also created.

The year 1982 saw the beginning of a judicial struggle for the full implementation of linguistic and constitutional rights. Fransaskois parents began a long process to obtain governance of their own schools, which became a reality in 1993.

*Extract taken from the Saskatchewan profile produced by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada


Newfoundland and Labrador

The French presence in Newfoundland dates from the beginning of the 16th century, and starting in 1660 there was a French colony at Plaisance (Placentia). In 1713, with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, the colony fell under English control. However, France retained fishing rights on the northern and western coasts of the island until 1904. Throughout the 19th century, despite a ban on the establishment of permanent French settlements, French fishermen who came to fish for cod and lobster, as well as families from St. Pierre, settled on the “French Shore”, mainly on the Port au Port Peninsula. These French settlers were joined in the middle of the 19th century by Acadians in search of good farming land. They first went to the heads of the bays, settling in the Codroy Valley and Stephenville. The community quickly grew big enough to have the services of a priest. Francophones were not the only settlers in the region. Because of demographic pressures, Scottish settlers from Cape Breton also came into St. George’s Bay, while Acadian settlement was slowing down in the 1860s. As well, some Acadians, attracted by the fishery, seal hunt, or local coastal shipping, left the island for the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Magdalen Islands. The region’s demographic balance was disturbed early and often, notably by the arrival of the railway at the end of the 19th century, and later, the trans-Newfoundland highway; by various industrial developments and, during the second World War, by the establishment of an important American military base at Stephenville. All these activities brought many Anglophones to the area and resulted in massive assimilation of the Francophone population.

As for Labrador, it underwent development during the 1960s with the discovery of significant mineral deposits and the construction of large dams for hydroelectric power. Francophones in Newfoundland and Labrador established their first school at La Grand’Terre in 1984 and adopted a flag in 1986. Since 1992, when the provincial government officially recognized the Francophone community, the Journée de la francophonie is celebrated on May 30th every year. The date was officially recognized by an order-in-Council on May 28, 1999. In 1996, the government recognized the Francophone right to a provincial school board, and in 1997 signed an agreement to this effect with the federal government.

*Extract taken from the Newfoundland and Labrador profile produced by the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada