Historian who helped design Franco-Ontarian flag dies at 74

Gaétan Gervais, an author, historian and professor who helped design the Franco-Ontario flag, has died. He was 74.

Gaétan Gervais didn't just write history, he contributed to it, commissioner says

Gaétan Gervais, who helped design the Franco-Ontario flag, has died. He was 74. (Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario/Twitter)

Gaétan Gervais, an author, historian and professor who helped design the Franco-Ontario flag, has died. He was 74.

His sister Joanne Gervais announced his death in a Facebook post on Saturday.

"It's with great sadness that the sisters, nieces and nephews of Gaétan Gervais announce his passing today, October 20, 2018. He was surrounded by his family when he passed on after a long and difficult battle with Parkinson's," her post reads.

A French-language high school in Oakville, Ont., École secondaire Gaétan-Gervais, part of the Conseil Scolaire Viamonde school board, is named after him.

Born on Aug. 10, 1944 to a working class family in Sudbury, Ont., Gervais was educated at Collège du Sacré-Coeur, Laurentian University and the University of Ottawa.

Gervais began teaching history at Laurentian University in 1972. Three years later, he created the Franco-Ontarian flag with Michel Dupuis, a student at the time. Dupuis died in January.

The flag, which depicts a green and white trillium flower, was first raised in front of a hopeful crowd at the University of Sudbury back on Sept. 25, 1975.

Awarded for Francophone contribution​s

A strong advocate for the rights of Francophones in Ontario, Gervais received awards during his career largely due to his contribution to Ontario's Francophones.

In May 2013, he was became a member of the Order of Canada. 

Gaétan Gervais was a strong advocate for the rights of Francophones in Ontario. (Facebook)

According to the Governor General's website, Gervais received the award "for his contributions to the advancement of the French fact in Ontario, notably as a founder of organizations and as a historian."

Gervais wrote several books and articles on the history of the Francophone community in Ontario.

He was co-editor of Dictionnaire des écrits​ de l'Ontario français: 1613-1993 (The Dictionary of French Writings) with the ethnologist Jean-Pierre Pichette. The book lists, through descriptive articles, 2,537 French-language works written by more than 900 Ontario-born authors who have lived in Ontario or whose works deal with Ontario.

Gervais was also involved in the founding of the Institut Franco-Ontarien and the relaunching, in 1977, of the Société historique du Nouvel-Ontario. 

Combined passion for history with vision of identity

Ontario's French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau paid tribute to Gervais​ on Saturday.

"Gaétan Gervais left an invaluable legacy for Francophone citizens of Ontario. In Francophone Ontario, he is a model for having successfully demonstrated the value of Franco-Ontarian studies, by combining his passion for history with his vision of Franco-Ontarian identity," Boileau said.

"He raised that famous green and white flag for the first time on September 25, 1975. Forty years later, this rallying symbol not only helped shape the future of the French language, but also instilled a sense of pride and solidarity in Francophones everywhere across the province," he added.

Gaétan Gervais created this flag with Michel Dupuis. It was first raised in front of a hopeful crowd at the University of Sudbury back on Sept. 25, 1975. (Erik White/CBC)

Gervais contributed "immensely" to research and development of Franco-Ontarian studies, particularly with the creation of the Franco-Ontarian Institute, the Revue du Nouvel-Ontario and Cahiers Charlevoix, Boileau said.

"Historians write history. In addition to writing history, Mr. Gervais played an important role in our history."

Dupuis, in a 2015 interview with Radio-Canada on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the first flag raising, explained the significance of the flag he created with Gervais.

"Just as Quebec lived a cultural revolution in the 1960s, French-Ontario was going through its own awakening in the '70s with the emergence of writing collectives, songwriters and Franco-Ontarian theatre. The flag was simply an extension of that cultural awakening," Dupuis said.

Tributes are pouring in on Twitter.