The French presence in Ontario can be traced as far back as 1610 and the voyages of Étienne Brulé. However, the French presence in Ontario officially dates back to August 1, 1615 when Samuel de Champlain met with the Huron-Wendaat chief in Toanché (now Penetanguishene), In fact, Champlain first arrived in the region two years earlier. He spent this period building ties with the Huron-Wendaat people and setting up fur trading outposts in the region.
In 1639, Champlain founded the first european settlement, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, which is located in present-day Simcoe County. This area would eventually become Ontario and would play a key role in Confederation.
The French were the first to explore the region and build settlements. They are an integral part of Ontario’s history.
The French were the first Europeans to form alliances with Indigenous peoples and discover the natural and economic resources of the region that would eventually become Ontario.
However, following a series of wars with the Iroquois and the British in first half of the eighteenth century, French positions were weakened and France had no choice but to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and cede all of its North American colonies to the British Empire.
Under British rule, francophones participated in the social and economic development of Upper Canada and were relatively independent. The first French-language educational institutions were created thanks to the efforts of religious communities.
After Canadian Confederation in 1867, Ontario experienced a period of high immigration and prosperity due to industrialization and railroad construction. Wherever new railroad tracks were built, French-Canadian colonization usually followed. Tensions rose during this period between English-speaking Canadians, who generally favored assimilation, and French-speaking Canadians, who sought equal status. French-speaking leaders wanted their religious and educational rights to be officially recognized.
20th century conflicts
In 1912, the Ontario Government adopted Regulation 17 and imposed English as the only language of instruction in Ontario’s public schools. In response, Franco-Ontarians organized a public resistance movement and created their own separate schools. This crisis came to an end in 1917 when bilingual schools were reestablished.
Between 1910 and 1960, Ontario’s francophones set up a number of organizations to defend their rights and promote their culture.
Many important organizations were created in the early twentieth century to defend francophone rights, including the first francophone “caisse populaire” in 1910 (a type of credit union), the Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario (ACFÉO) in 1910 (which became the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario in 2006), and the newspaper Le Droit in 1913.
In 1969, Ontarian law authorized the existence of French-language elementary and secondary schools. In 1970, the Office of the Government Co-ordinator of French-Language Services was created to oversee the availability of government services in French. This organization became the Office of Francophone Affairs in 1985, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs in 2017, and then the Office of Francophone Affairs again in 2018.
The 1970s were a time of significant cultural development, especially in Sudbury. The Franco-Ontarian flag was created and on September 25, 1975, it was raised for the first time in front of the University of Sudbury. This date has become an important symbolic anniversary for the Franco-Ontarian community, and is now celebrated every year.
Starting in 1980, TVOntario began offering French-language programs. Thanks to the 1984 Courts of Justice Act, French became an official language of the courts and was granted the same status as English. In 1986, the Ontario Government adopted the French Language Services Act, which meant that French had legal status in the Legislative Assembly and the public was guaranteed the right to receive government services in French in designated areas.
Significant progress was also made in the 1990s and 2000s. Twelve French-language school boards were created in 1997, and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario officially recognized the Franco-Ontarian flag as the emblem of Ontario’s Francophonie in 2001.