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“Our 32 accents” Series: ONTARIO x 5 (or 6??) – Post 2 of 7 – (#87)

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In the last post “Canadian French Accents – Post 1”, we looked at a map of 32 identified regional French accents across Canada.

In this post, we’ll begin to explore these accents in a bit more in detail, corresponding to numbers of the first map.

In some cases, there may not be a specific scientific name for a regional accent.  I therefore tried to provide as accurate a name as possible (such as the Ontario Nickel Belt – Superior East Shore accent, encompassing area 2 of Ontario).

Some accents may be in serious decline, others may not.  I’ll try my best to notate their degree of decline based on my own experience and encounters.   If any of you may have additional insight, your comments would be most welcome (ie: if the accent is commonly heard, if the accent is seemingly on the decline, or if the accent is at risk of disuse due to only older generations speaking it).

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accents français french legend

ONTARIO

1.  Northern Ontario:

This accent is found in Ontario’s far Northeast, predominantly along Highway 11.  It’s an area dotted with many communities which are 80% – 90% Francophone.  Some of the better known communities include Hearst, Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins, Iroquois Falls, and Kirkland Lake.

It incidentally also happens to be one of the most Francophone areas in Canada — which usually comes as great surprise to people outside Canada who often have incorrect beliefs that French in Canada only equals Québec.  Along the same lines, I’m not even sure that most people in Québec even realize that there are parts of Ontario which are just as francophone (and sometimes even more francophone) that most regions of Québec.  This is a perfect example of how the Two Solitudes exists, even between Francophones (those inside Québec & those outside Québec).   In the same vein, Anglophones elsewhere in Canada, even in other areas of Ontario, are not necessarily aware of this reality.

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I was in a taxi the not long ago in Toronto.  The taxi driver immigrated to Canada 20 years ago, but only recently drove the 13 hours straight North from Toronto to get to the most Francophone regions of Ontario.  He told me he had no prior idea that Northeast Ontario was completely French – and he said with a smile that he tried to fill his car with gas at a rural gas station, but they couldn’t speak English.  It was a big eye-opener for him. (this is a perfect example of the Anglo-Franco Two Solitudes – but fortunately it’s something that can be corrected with a little better education).  It’s kind of crazy (and a bit sad actually) if you think about it.

A combination of numerous factors have needlessly and artificially created these types of Francophone-Francophone and Anglophone-Francophone Two Solitudes.  I won’t go into the numerous factors in this series, but needless to say, it’s something that can be overcome (the barriers can be torn down), but it takes a degree of awareness before people can act on it.  The fact that you’re reading this demonstrates your desire to become more aware, and that’s the kind of openness that’s needed – on all sides, from all angles.

“Tant à Découvrir”: The Ontario Government’s French Licence Plates issued to the public… Seen on vehicles across Ontario. If you keep your eyes open for them, you’ll spot them around Toronto, and the North and the East of the province.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Ontario can sometimes be said to be a tale of two provinces – much like New Brunswick – with French in the North and English in the South).   It is these regions which carry much of the bulwark of this tale.

Here are some maps of the most Francophone regions of Ontario (as Francophone as many regions of Québec).

h11

In this clip, you will hear an example of the Northern accent:

If you want another sample of the accent, you just have to listen to the wildly popular music star, Marie-Maispeak French.  Although she was born in Varennes, Québec, she spent much of her life in her early years in her father’s town of Moonbeam Ontario, on Highway 11.  Her accent is somewhat representative of this region.

A video of Marie-Mai, her mother, and her father speaking with their Northern Ontario accents can be viewed below (being interviewed in Kapuskasing, Ontario during a concert tour back home in Northern Ontario).   The interviewer (a radio host from Kapuskasing’s CKGN 87,7) also has a very similar Northern Ontario accent.

2.  Ontario Nickel Belt – Superior East Shore:

For the most part, the accent of this region follows the path of Highway 17, along the East shore of Lake Superior, through Sault-Ste-Marie, Sudbury, and North Bay.   If you want to hear this accent, check out some YouTube videos of Sudbury Comedian Stef Paquette.   TFO (La télévision francophone de l’Ontario – Ontario’s public French television station) has an official YouTube video with Stef Paquet.  You can view it HERE.

Stef Paquette is well known to Ontario’s 600,000 strong Francophones.   He is a famous comedian, radio and media personality.  He regularly tours Ontario and other parts of Canada with his acts.

IMG_9626

(A pic of me with Stef Paquette)

I’ve personally driven highway 17 across Ontario a few times.  Even when filling the car with gas in small towns, I’ve noticed that the accent along this route has little variation (from the Wawa area all the way to North Bay).  If you compare Stef Paquet’s accent to Marie-Mai’s from the North Ontario region, you’ll notice a difference between the regions.

Official flag of Ontario Francophones and Francophiles - often seen flying province-wide in front of government institutions and by private individuals.

Official flag of Francophone Ontario. Often seen infront of government institutions and flown by individuals.

3.  Eastern Ontario:

This area includes the city of Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley. Largely because Ottawa is located in this region, this is where the bulk of Ontario’s 613,000 Francophones reside (approximately 200,000+ in this region alone).   In Ontario, this is the Franco-Ontarian accent we tend to hear the most often.  An excellent example of this region’s accent would be that of comedian Katherine Levac.   If you compare Levac’s accent to those of Stef Paquet and Marie-Mai, again, you’ll notice a difference between these three regions.

Ottawa's flag, where the majority of

Ottawa’s flag, where the majority of “Eastern Ontario French” speakers reside.

By this point, the richness of Ontario’s various accents should becoming clear.   A word of caution when looking for video clips of Levac’s French:   When she does her comedy act, she often plays the voice of a fictional person named Paige Beaulieu.  The accent of this character is NOT an Eastern Ontario accent (it’s almost an Anglicized accent when speaking French – a reality taking hold with many youth).   You need to find clips of Levac speaking in her natural voice.   Here is a sample video of Levac’s Eastern Ontario Accent (spoken in OTTAWA and surrounding area):

Another version of Ontario's government issued French license plates - available to anyone who wants them. I've seen this version more often in the Ottawa / Eastern Ontario region.

Another version of Ontario’s government issued French license plates – available to anyone who wants them. I’ve seen this version more often in the Ottawa / Eastern Ontario region.

24.  Windsor-Lake Shore :

This is quite a unique area in terms of Francophone Ontario. The francophone community here is physically cut off from the other major francophone regions of the province.   For the most part, they reside on the Eastern periphery of the city of Windsor, across the river from Detroit, Michigan, and around the shores of Lake St. Claire.  Yet again, the accent here is unique to this region.  If you want to hear an example of this region’s accent in its purest form, you don’t have to look any further than Paul Martin, the former Prime Minister of Canada.   Yes… he’s from Windsor, born and raised.  Ever notice the accent when he speaks French?  Many people do not realize he’s from Windsor, or even from Ontario.  I think Francophones from Québec generally assume he speaks with some type of Québec accent – but no… that’s Windsor, Ontario’s unique accent.  TFO (Ontario’s French TV station) has a video of him speaking French on their YouTube channel.

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As a side note, the interviewer, Gisèle Quenneville, is very famous amongst Francophone Ontarians (she’s a celebrity amongst Francophones in Ontario – but for some reason, people in Québec do not know her – Unfortunately there’s often even a “Francophone Two Solitudes” when it comes to how Québec interacts with Francophones elsewhere in Canada).   Quenneville is from the Southwest Francophone Ontarian village of St-Joachim, very close to where Paul Martin grew up.  Her French accent  is much more “neutral” than Paul Martin’s – likely owing to her career as a television anchor and interviewer.

However, if there is a Standard Ontarian French, Gisèle Quenneville’s accent would be it (different from Standard Québécois or Standard Acadian).

Here’s an interesting story about Windsor French, and why I think it’s so special.   In the time of New France, when France was the major landlord in North America (before England), there was one main accent from Montréal, stretching down to Detroit, and extending to St. Louis, Missouri.   Only 3 pockets from this original French still exist today;  Paw Paw French in Missouri, Windsor French in Ontario, and Montréal French in Québec.  Windsor’s French and Montréal French have still retained some of the characteristics of the original speech, as has Paw Paw  French in Missouri.   However, the Paw Paw accent has diverged quite a bit owing to a later cajun influence.  Nonetheless, Paw Paw has retained much of the original archaic vocabulary which was spoken over 250 years ago, a vocabulary which has largely been lost in Windsor and Montréal.  Unfortunately, Paw Paw French is on the verge of dying out.  Only a few people speak it today.  But a musician from Missouri, Dennis Stroughmatt, has taken it upon himself to learn this archaic form of North American French, and is fighting to preserve it.     You can hear a clip of Paw Paw on Youtube below.  (This video is worth a billion bucks in my books!… you’re about to listen to perhaps the rarest, most endangered form of French that remains on the planet – with some of the sounds of the oldest echos of New France.  Truly an amazing video – we’re so lucky his grand-daughter recorded it before he passed away).

And here is one of Dennis Stroughmatt here:

For the sake of comparison (just to prove my point)… the following link has a voice recording from 40 years ago of a Windsor accent.  Click it and listen to just how similar the Windsor accent is to the Missouri Paw Paw accent (in terms of rhythm and intonation).  Even after the Cajun influence on Paw Paw is taken into account (which greatly influenced a vowel shift in Paw Paw French), you can still hear striking similarities despite 300 years of geographic separation.  Amazing stuff !!!

http://www.francoidentitaire.ca/ontario/texte/A0016.htm

Click the map below to enlarge.

NwFrnc

ADDENDUM 29-07-2015:  

A possible 5th Ontarian French accent? 

I believe I may have identified a 5th Ontario accent.

I’ve made a couple of trips to Penetanguishene this year for short weekend day-drives.  It’s quite close to Toronto (only a 90 minute drive), and has the oldest French-language (and European) settlement in Ontario, Sainte-Marie-aux-pays-des-Hurons, founded by Samuel de Champlain in the first half of the 1600s (arguably the founder of Canada).

Penetanguishene (Penetang for short), and the municipality of Tiny are both designated bilingual communities (the road signs and all municipal signs / services are bilingual).

The more I hear people speak French in Penetang, the more I am certain that the region has an isolated accent, cut off geographically from Ontario’s other French accent zones.  I have searched high and low for recordings of the region’s distinct accent, and I think I finally found one.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PENETANG FRENCH ACCENT
(recorded in 1976 – wait for a few moments for the sound to start after clicking it)

Penetang3

Penetang6

Below are photos I took of Sainte-marie-aux-pays-des-Hurons:  Samuel de Champlain’s original French settlement from teh early 1600s where he lived.  This is also where settlement of Ontario began 400 years ago (the birthplace of Ontario).
Penetang4 Penetang5

And just to add to a bit more to this Ontarian language mix…

Is there a Standard French Ontarian accent (a possible SIXTH accent)?

Above, with reference to the video with Gisèle Quinville interviewing Paul Martin, I mentioned that Quinville’s accent perhaps could be considered a “Standard” Accent.   It is one which I hear more and more in Toronto and in Ontario Francophone media (coming from Toronto).

Thus the debate is on…

  1. is this the TORONTO French Accent?
  2. OR is this a STANDARD Ontario Accent?

Perhaps owing to the fact that it is not only coming from Toronto, but that it is also an accent we hear more and more often in Ontario’s Toronto-based French media, perhaps it is a bit of BOTH.

Here is another such video (from a theatre troop from Toronto travelling across Canada for their performances – in this case in Edmonton):


Before moving on to accents in Québec, if you want to check out a hilarious Franco-Ontarien comedy skit making fun of Ontario’s accent realities, you can catch the video link here:

The next post will have us move on to Québec.  We’ll continue to look at characteristics of regional accents of Canadian French found on the accent map.  See you soon !!

SERIES INDEX

OUR 32 ACCENTS (7 POSTS)

OTHER RELATED (2 POSTS)

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