History of the French Presence in Ontario since 1615

The French presence in Ontario dates back officially to August 1st, 1615, the date of the first meeting between Champlain and the Huron-Wendaat chief in Toanché (now Penetanguishene). Champlain spent a year in what became Ontario in 1615 to develop close ties with the Huron-Wendaat and to help establish the fur trade in what is now Ontario.

Champlain’s sojourn in what became Ontario in 1615 set the foundations not only for the fur trade, but also for the establishment of the first Jesuit mission at Sainte-Marie-Among-the-Hurons in 1639 and eventually to the creation of the Province of Ontario, which plays a central role in the Confederation.

The French were the first to explore the province and establish permanent settlements. They are an integral part of Ontario’s history.

The values of friendship, commercial development and exploration held by Champlain correspond to canadian values.

The story of the French presence in Ontario begins with the explorations of young Étienne Brulé in 1610. The French were the first Europeans to use the natural and economic resources of the land that would become Ontario and the first to forge alliances with its Native peoples.

However, following wars with the Iroquois and the British, the French positions were weakened and France ceded all its North American possessions to Great Britain in the First Treaty of Paris (1763).

Under British rule, Francophones played a role in the economic and social development of Upper Canada and became more autonomous. Efforts by religious communities resulted in the creation of the first French-language educational institutions.

After Confederation in 1867, Ontario experienced a period of immigration and prosperity as a result of industrialization and the construction of the railways. French Canadian settlement followed the rail lines. At this time, internal divisions increased amongst English Canadians leading to further assimilation. French Canadians called for equal status. French Canadian leaders demanded equal recognition of their religious and educational rights.

When Ruling 17 (1912) made English the only language of instruction in Ontario’s public schools, Francophones protested and created a separate school system. The crisis abated in 1927 when bilingual schools were re-established.

From 1910 to 1960, Ontario’s Francophones created numerous organizations to defend their rights and promote their culture. During this time, the Association canadienne-française d’;éducation de l’Ontario(ACFÉO), the first Francophone caisse populaire (1910) and a daily newspaper, Le Droit (1913), were founded.

In 1969, Ontario’s laws authorized French language schools at the elementary and secondary levels. In 1970, the administration of French language government services was entrusted to the Office of the Government Coordinator of French-Language Services (which would become the Office of Francophone Affairs in 1985). The 1970s represented a time of tremendous artistic and cultural creativity, particularly in the Sudbury area. The Franco-Ontarian flag was created and raised for the first time at the University of Sudbury on September 25, 1975. This event has since become an important symbol for the Franco-Ontarian community and is celebrated each year.

In 1980, TVOntario began to offer programming in French. In 1984, the Courts of Justice Act gave French the same official language status in the courts as English. In 1986, the Government of Ontario adopted the French Language Services Act. The Act gives French legal status in the Legislative Assembly and guarantees the public the right to receive government services in French.

The 1990s and 2000s were marked by many advancements and accomplishments, such as the creation of twelve French-language school boards in 1997 and the recognition of the Franco-Ontarian flag by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as an emblem of the Francophone community of Ontario in 2001. The anniversary of the Franco-Ontarian flag has become a symbolic date and is celebrated every year by francophone communities across the province.

(Partial source : Office of francophone affairs)