Sudbury

Uprising of Franco-Ontarian community started a year ago with 'perfect storm'

It's been a year since Ontario Francophones rose up to fight service cuts from the provincial government and some say it has permanently changed the community's place within Canada.

Ontario government has since backtracked on plan to scrap French language university

A woman holds up a protest sign adorned with the Franco-Ontarian flag at a rally over French language service cuts in Ottawa on Dec. 1, 2018. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

It's been a year since Ontario Francophones rose up to fight service cuts from the provincial government.

The scrapping of the official language commissioner and a French language university was announced in last year's fiscal update.

Within weeks, there were mass protests across the province and the government quickly backtracked on the university funding.

"It was a perfect storm to create a moment in which there was a huge amount of militancy, of which we haven't seen or hadn't seen for decades," says Laurentian University professor Serge Miville, who is a research chair in Franco-Ontarian history.

Serge Miville is a Laurentian University history professor and research chair for Franco-Ontarian history. (Markus Schwabe/ CBC)

He says right before the service cuts were announced, well-known commentator Denise Bombardier made disparaging remarks about French Canadians outside of Quebec on the popular Radio-Canada television program Tout le Monde en Parle.

Miville says those sentiments had come out of Quebec for about a century, but he said the shift of Quebec politics away from separatism and toward nationalism, makes it easier for Franco Ontarians to relate to their neighbours to the east.

"The issue of sovereignty isn't such a hot topic, which allows these two groups to dialogue over a new relationship," says Miville.

"Never would I have dreamed of seeing the Franco Ontarian flag on the City of Saguenay, Quebec City or the national assembly."

Marie-Pierre Heroux is the president of the Regroupement Etudiant Franco-Ontarien, an association of Francophone post-secondary students in the province. (Radio-Canada )

Marie-Pierre Heroux, the president of the Francophone student organization Regroupement Etudiant Franco-Ontarien, says she never thought she'd seen Franco-Ontarians leading a St. Jean Baptiste Day Parade in Montreal, as they did this past summer.

"Two or three years ago, every time I'd go in another province they'd say 'Oh? There are French outside of Quebec? I didn't know about that,'" says the Laurentian University student. 

"But now they know about us."

Heroux, who herself was a rare Franco-Ontarian guest on Tout le Monde en Parle last fall, believes this past year will be seen as a watershed moment in the history of her community. 

"It's going to be remembered. So we've been talked about everywhere. We've been talked about in the New York Times. We've been heard all around the world, so I think definitely we did write history," she says.

Miville says Franco Ontarians are continuing to fight for the restoration of the languages commissioner's office and a refreshing of the 30-year-old French Language Services Act. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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