According to the 2001 Canadian census, there were 485,630 francophones in Ontario (declaring a single mother tongue), comprising 4.3 per cent of the province's total population. A further 82,305 Ontarians declared French to be one of multiple mother tongues. Franco-Ontarians constitute the largest French-speaking community in Canada outside of Quebec, and the largest minority language group within Ontario. In addition to these francophones, there are a good number of Ontarians, usually with roots in francophone countries, who, despite being more at home in French than in English, are not regarded as francophone for official purposes because they are native speakers of languages other than French, such as Arabic, Haitian Creole, and various languages of West Africa. In total, over 1.2 million Ontarians — including a significant number who do not speak French on a regular basis — are of at least partial French descent.
The francophone population is concentrated primarily in Eastern Ontario (41.3 per cent — 226,705 francophones), in Ottawa, Cornwall and many rural farming communities, and in Northeastern Ontario (25.2 per cent — 138,585 francophones), in the cities of Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins and a number of smaller towns. Other communities with notable francophone populations are Toronto, Windsor, Penetanguishene and Welland. Most communities in Ontario have at least a few Franco-Ontarian residents.
Ottawa, with 128,620 francophones, has the province's largest Franco-Ontarian community by size. Greater Sudbury, 29 per cent francophone, has the largest proportion of Franco-Ontarians to the general population among the province's major cities, and Prescott and Russell United Counties has the highest proportion of Franco-Ontarians to the general population among the province's census divisions, with about two-thirds of the population being francophone.
The French presence in Ontario dates to the mid-17th century. Early settlements in the area include the Mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons at Midland in 1649, Sault Ste. Marie in 1668, and Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit (Detroit, Michigan), located opposite Windsor, in 1701. Southern Ontario was part of the Pays d'en-haut (Upper Country) of the French regime, and later part of the province of Quebec until Quebec was split into The Canadas in 1791. However, most of those with roots originating in Quebec or New Brunswick crossed over into Ontario seeking employment opportunities in the late 19th century well into the 20th century, while others migrated into New England.
In popular usage, the first meaning predominates and the second is poorly understood. Although most Franco-Ontarians meet both definitions, there are notable exceptions. For example, although Louise Charron was the first native-born Franco-Ontarian appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada bench, she was preceded as a francophone judge from Ontario by Louise Arbour, a Quebecer who worked in Ontario for much of her professional career as a lawyer and judge. As a result, both women have been referred to as "the first Franco-Ontarian Supreme Court justice", although the technically correct practice is to credit Charron, Franco-Ontarian in both senses, with that distinction.
Conversely, two of the most famous rock musicians from Ontario, Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette, are Franco-Ontarian by the second definition but not by the first, since they were born to Franco-Ontarian parents but currently work and live predominantly using the English language (both currently have residence in Los Angeles).
Further, former Prime Minister Paul Martin was born in Windsor to a Franco-Ontarian father (from Pembroke) and an Anglophone mother, although many Canadians consider him a Quebecer as he represents a Montreal riding in Parliament.
Both meanings can be politically charged. Using the second to the exclusion of the first may be considered offensive to some in that it excludes francophones born in or with ethnic origins from other countries, such as Haiti, Vietnam or Tunisia, from the Franco-Ontarian community. Using the first to the exclusion of the second obscures the very real ethno-cultural distinctions that exist between Franco-Ontarians, Québécois, Acadians, Métis and other Canadian francophone communities, and the pressures toward assimilation into the anglophone majority that the community faces. Intermarriage between Franco-Ontarians and people of other ethnic or cultural backgrounds is also quite common.
The Franco-Ontarian identity is further split into three groups according to historical waves of settlement/immigration. The first wave of settlement in the Detroit/Windsor area came in the 18th century during the French regime. Most settlers then came from what is now Quebec, including both full French and Métis. A second wave came in the 19th and early 20th centuries to the areas of Eastern Ontario and Northeastern Ontario. This was an immigration wave in the sense that Ontario was primarily British and mainly English-speaking, but the migrants can also be considered settlers, because they founded many villages or settled within already existing francophone communities. In the Ottawa Valley, in particular, some families have moved back and forth across the Ottawa river for generations (the river is the border between Ontario and Quebec), which results in a complex borderland identity. In the city of Ottawa some areas such as Vanier and Orleans have a rich franco-heritage where families often have members on both sides of the Ottawa River.
The third and most recent wave consists of Quebecers and other francophones (Haitians, Maghrebans, Europeans, etc.) who move to the larger cities and often preserve their original identity (Québécois, Haitian, etc.) as their primary cultural affiliation. Franco-Ontarians may also have historical ties to more than one of these three groups, which blurs the lines between these distinctions.
As a result, the complex political and sociological context of Franco-Ontarian can only be fully understood by recognizing both meanings and understanding the distinctions between the two.
The term "Ontarois", following the convention that a francophone minority is referred to with ending of -ois, for instance Algérois, is sometimes used to distinguish French-speaking Ontarians, while the general term for Ontarian in French is Ontarien.
Although Ontario as a whole is not officially bilingual, the Ontario government's French Language Services Act designates 25 areas of the province where provincial ministries and agencies are required to provide local French-language services to the public. An area is designated as a French service area if the francophone population is greater than 5,000 people or 10 per cent of the community's total population.
The French Language Services Act applies to provincial government services only. It does not require municipal governments to provide bilingual services. Municipal governments may, however, provide French language services at their own discretion.
The following census divisions (denoted in red on the map) are designated areas in their entirety:
The following census divisions (denoted in green on the map) are not fully designated areas, but have communities within their borders which are designated for bilingual services:
In May 2006, the city of Kingston was named the province's 25th designated area for bilingual services. With the three-year implementation period provided for by the French Language Services Act, Kingston will officially become a bilingual service centre in 2009.
The Office of Francophone Affairs is the government agency responsible for ensuring that French language services are provided. Francophones who live in non-designated areas can also receive French language services by directly contacting the Office of Francophone Affairs in Toronto, or in the nearest designated community. The cabinet minister currently responsible for the Office of Francophone Affairs is Madeleine Meilleur.
The judicial system in Ontario is officially bilingual in all areas, although in some parts of the province a legal matter involving francophones may have to be transferred to another region where francophone services are more readily available. A francophone who wishes to be served in French by the judicial system cannot be refused this transfer if he or she cannot be served locally in French.
There are 44 municipalities in Ontario which are officially or functionally bilingual at the municipal level. Most of these are members of the Francophone Association of Municipalities of Ontario, or AFMO.
One of the unfortunate effects of Regulation 17 is that a whole generation of Franco-Ontarians grew up without a formal education since the drop-out rate for francophones was quite high during this period. Franco-Ontarians thus opted for jobs which did not require reading and mathematical skills, such as mining and forestry, and were virtually absent from white collar jobs. Sociologically, it meant that education was not a value transmitted to younger franco-ontarians. Although this has changed somewhat in recent years, some effects of Regulation 17 can still be felt today. According to the 2001 census, francophones in Ontario tend to have a lower level of education than the general population.
Further, those with higher levels of education often pursue job opportunities in larger cities, particularly Ottawa or even Montreal, which can create a barrier to economic development in their home communities. As well, even today many students of Franco-Ontarian background are still educated in anglophone schools. This has the effect of reducing the use of French as a first language in the province, and thereby limiting the growth of the franco-Ontarian community.
Currently, Ontario has two exclusively francophone community colleges, La Cité collégiale in Ottawa, with a second campus in Hawkesbury, and Collège Boréal in Sudbury, with additional campuses in several Northern Ontario communities, and one in Toronto. Collège Boréal also operates a network of student access centres throughout the province to promote its programs and services. A third college, Collège des Grands-Lacs in Toronto, ceased operations in 2002. Its programs and services are now the Toronto campus of Collège Boréal. The Ontario Agricultural College has a francophone campus in Alfred.
Ontario has three universities which offer instruction in both English and French, Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Laurentian University in Sudbury and the University of Ottawa. York University in Toronto has a bilingual federated college, Glendon College, although the university is otherwise an anglophone institution. Laurentian University has a federated college, Université de Hearst, which, although not a fully independent university, is the only exclusively francophone university-level institution in the province.
Ottawa is also the home of the École secondaire publique De La Salle, the only franco-Ontarian high school with an arts concentration, similar to that of Canterbury High School.
The Franco-Ontarian flag consists of two bands of green and white. The left portion has a solid light green background with a white fleur-de-lys in the middle, while the right portion has a solid white background with a stylized green trillium in the middle. The green represents the summer months, while the white represents the winter months. The trillium is the floral symbol of Ontario, while the fleur-de-lys represents the French-Canadian heritage of the Franco-Ontarian community.
The flag was designed in 1975 by Gaétan Gervais, Yves Tassé and a group of university students in Sudbury, sewn by Jacqueline England and flown for the first time at Laurentian University. It was officially recognized as the emblem of the Franco-Ontarian community in the Franco-Ontarian Emblem Act of 2001.
Ironically, in 2003 a controversy arose in Sudbury when the city government voted against flying the flag at Tom Davies Square for St-Jean-Baptiste Day, claiming that it would be inappropriate for the city government to display on public property a symbol representative of only a portion of the city's population. In 2006, new mayor John Rodriguez reversed that decision, permitting the flag to be flown, but was again criticized by some voters for acting unilaterally.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Franco-Ontarian flag in September 2005, Prise de parole, a Sudbury-based publishing house, published a book titled Le Drapeau franco-ontarien (edited by Guy Gaudreau, a history professor at Laurentian University.)
On September 25, 2006, the largest Franco-Ontarian flag was unfurled in Ottawa. The historical park also known as Les Monuments de la francophonie d'Ottawa was built by the francophone community to commemorate francophone contribution in the development and well being of the City of Ottawa. This first of six Monuments de la francophonie d'Ottawa is dedicated to the subject of Education. The flag is 5 x 10 m and was raised on a 27 m pole.
In addition, the majority of Franco-Ontarians are, out of necessity, bilingual in English, a fact that encourages borrowing, as does the fact that the English language has a greater prestige in the province, due to its being a majority language. This means that Franco-Ontarian communities that have a small francophone population tend to have more English-influenced French, and many younger speakers feel more comfortable using English than French. On the other hand, the French spoken in French-dominant Ontarian communities (e.g., Hearst, Hawkesbury), or in those communities near the Quebec border (e.g., Ottawa), is virtually indistinguishable from Quebec French.
Furthermore, improved access to French language schools in Ontario and the establishment of bilingual universities and French language community colleges has improved French language proficiency in younger populations. In addition, the French taught in Ontario French-medium schools is an international French, which allows educated speakers to use standard forms in formal situations where it would be more appropriate.
The province has three Radio-Canada television affiliates, CBOFT in Ottawa, CBLFT in Toronto and CBEFT in Windsor, which have transmitters throughout the province. All three stations carry identical programming broadcast from Montreal, except for local news. CBOFT produces two separate newscasts, one for broadcast only in the Ottawa area and another for the rest of the province. The provincial government operates TFO, which has transmitters in 18 communities, but is otherwise available only on cable. In 2003, TFO produced and aired Francoeur, the first Franco-Ontarian téléroman. In 2008, TFO also began airing the first Franco-Ontarian sitcom, Météo+ — itself, in part, a satire of the Franco-Ontarian community's relative lack of access to local French language media.
TVA, TV5 Canada and RDI are available on all Ontario cable systems, as these channels are mandated by the CRTC for carriage by all Canadian cable operators. Where there is sufficient local demand for French-language television, Ontario cable systems may also offer French-language channels such as TQS, MusiquePlus and RDS, although these channels only have discretionary status outside of Quebec.
On radio, the Franco-Ontarian community is served primarily by Radio-Canada's Première Chaîne, which has originating stations in Ottawa (CBOF), Toronto (CJBC), Sudbury (CBON) and Windsor (CBEF), with rebroadcasters throughout Ontario. Espace musique, Radio-Canada's arts and culture network, currently broadcasts only in Ottawa (CBOX), Toronto (CJBC-FM), Sudbury (CBBX), Paris (CJBC-FM-1) and Windsor (CJBC-FM-2), with a transmitter to be added in Timmins in 2008.
Non-profit francophone community stations exist in several communities, including Penetanguishene (CFRH), Hearst (CINN), Kapuskasing (CKGN), Cornwall (CHOD) and Toronto (CHOQ). Many campus radio stations air one or two hours per week of French-language programming as well, although only CHUO at the University of Ottawa and CKLU at Laurentian University are officially bilingual stations.
Francophone commercial radio stations exist in Sudbury (CHYC) and Timmins (CHYK). The Timmins station also has rebroadcasters in Kapuskasing and Hearst, and a community group in Chapleau holds an independent license to rebroadcast the Sudbury station. Ottawa francophones are served by the commercial radio stations licensed to Gatineau, and many other Eastern Ontario communities are within the broadcast range of the Gatineau and Montreal media markets. One station in Hawkesbury (CHPR) airs a few hours per week of locally-oriented programming, but otherwise simulcasts a commercial station from Montreal, and CFSF in West Nipissing airs programming in both English and French.
Annual music festivals include La Nuit sur l'étang in Sudbury and the Festival Franco-Ontarien in Ottawa. Notable figures in franco-ontarian music include Robert Paquette, Marcel Aymar, En Bref, Chuck Labelle, Les Chaizes Muzikales, Brasse-Camarade, Swing, Konflit dramatiK, Stéphane Paquette and CANO.
The unofficial anthem of the franco-ontarian community is the song "Notre Place" by Paul Demers and François Dubé.
Notable Franco-Ontarian writers include Lola Lemire Tostevin, Daniel Poliquin, Robert Dickson, Jean-Marc Dalpé, François Paré, Gaston Tremblay, Michel Bock, Doric Germain and Hédi Bouraoui. The French-language scholar Joseph Médard Carrière was Franco-Ontarian.
Quebec writer Yves Beauchemin once controversially referred to the Franco-Ontarian community as "warm corpses" who had no chance of surviving as a community. In a similar vein, former Quebec Premier René Lévesque referred to them as "dead ducks". However, the Quebec government has since provided significant financial assistance to Franco-Ontarian cultural groups and organizations, as it has chosen to assist in supporting and protecting French-language minority communities throughout Canada.
On October 19, 2004 a Toronto lawyer successfully challenged a traffic ticket on the basis that the city had not posted bilingual traffic signs in accordance with the 1986 French Language Services Act, despite the fact that the Act had not previously been deemed to cover municipal government services.
Also in 2004, the province's Minister of Francophone Affairs, Madeleine Meilleur, became the province's first cabinet minister to attend a Francophonie summit, travelling to Ouagadougou with counterparts from Quebec, New Brunswick and the federal government. Meilleur also expressed the hope that Ontario would someday become a permanent member of the organization.
On January 10, 2005, Clarence-Rockland became the first Ontario city to pass a bylaw requiring all new businesses to post signs in both official languages. Clarence-Rockland is 60 per cent francophone, and the bylaw was widely supported within the community. City council, in fact, noted that the bylaw was intended to address the existence of both English-only and French-only commercial signage in the municipality.
In 2008, the provincial government officially introduced a French license plate, with the French slogan "Tant à découvrir" in place of "Yours to Discover", as an optional feature for drivers who wished to use it.