This week, the Attorney general and Minister for francophone affairs in Ontario, Madeleine Meilleur celebrated the 400 year of French presence in Ontario at the beautiful residence of the the Canadian ambassador in Paris.
When one thinks about French speakers in Canada, Quebec comes to mind but there are still 300000 speakers in Ontario. It all started 400 years ago, when the French Samuel de Champlain, landed in the lake region. The sailor, cartographer, and former quartermaster in the army of King Henri IV, « who had witnessed had terrible atrocities, as adherents to the Catholic and Protestant faiths battled for religious supremacy »1, managed to keep his humanist values while colonizing this part of Canada, called « New France » at the time.
The French language survived over the years even to what is called the « regulation 17 », the law was voted by the Conservative government in 1912. By this regulation, the French language could only be used as a language of instruction for the first two years of school. This aimed at assimilating the French speakers so that everybody in Ontario would speak only English. The regulation was only repealed in 1927 when the Ontario governement needed to form an alliance with Quebec against the federal governement.
Though the French service act voted in 1986 garantees Ontario citizens to receive services also in French, the Franco-ontarians know that they need te remain vigilant and all have in mind « SOS Montfort ». When the health service structuring commission decided in 1997 to close the only French speaking hospital, Montfort Hospital, in East Ontario was threatened to close, they fought until 2001, when at last the court of appeal of Ontario decided the hospital was to remain open. Happy anniversary Ontario !