Five years ago, September 25 was formally declared as Franco-Ontarian Day, a day to "officially recognize the contribution of Ontario's Francophone community to the cultural, historical, social, economic and political life of the province."
The day also marks the anniversary of the first raising of the Franco-Ontarian flag in 1975. The flag was the second symbol adopted by Francophones outside Québec (the first being the Acadian flag, first raised in 1884). Divided into two halves, the fleur-de-lis represents the Francophonie, while the trillium denotes Ontario; the green signifies summer, and the white represents winter.
And it is especially important this year, as Ontario also celebrates 400 years of the Francophone presence in Ontario. Although Étienne Brulé—who forged connections with the Algonquins and learned their language—was the first European to set eyes on the Ottawa Valley, Georgian Bay, and four of the Great Lakes, it was Samuel de Champlain's meeting with the Huron-Wendaat chief in Toanché (now Penetanguishene), on August 1, 2015, that is considered the official date marking the French presence in Ontario. Over the year he spent in Ontario, Champlain was able to establish close ties with the Huron-Wendaat, laying the foundations of Ontario's fur trade—not to mention its Francophone communities.
After France's relinquishment of its North American possessions to Great Britain in 1763, and again following Confederation in 1867, divisions between the French and English have led to periods of assimilation. But Ontario's Francophone communities have remained strong in their demands for equal recognition and education rights. Today, the Franco-Ontarians number over 611 000 (nearly 5% of the province's population), representing the largest Francophone community outside of Québec. It is also a diverse community, with 10% representing newcomers from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Franco-Ontarian Day deserves more than a footnote; the Francophone presence in what is now Ontario shares continuity and antiquity with Québec itself, and its legacy is at the very heart of the country we call Canada. It reminds us of the common history of all Canadians. So join us this Friday in recognizing that history and waving the Franco-Ontarian flag!
Kirsten McPhersonSources and Further Reading: