Let’s continue this mini blog-post series on Francophone Ontario. I recognize that the next couple of posts will be controversial. If you agree with what I’m about to say, then wonderful. If you do not, then just take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. Regardless, I hope you find them insightful and through provoking.
The first post in this mini blog-post series put forth a number of statistics concerning Francophone Ontario (see “Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention”). I also discussed that Francophone Ontario is often greatly overlooked by other Anglophones and Francophones – both within and outside of Canada. In many ways, Francophone Ontario unjustly gets the short end of the stick in terms of national or international recognition.
I highlighted the fact that Acadian culture and language often garners much more attention than Francophone Ontario…
- despite that Acadia’s population being less than half that of Francophone Ontario’s,
- despite that the rate of growth of French as the spoken home language in Ontario (9.5% growth from 2006 to 2011) far outpaces that of Acadia’s (and even Québec’s), and
- despite the fact that Ontario’s drive towards bilingualism has reached the point that almost 1,500,000 residents in Ontario are now able to hold a conversation in French (the above numbers all come from Statistics Canada, 2011).
Based on the statistics, Francophone Ontario is seemingly leaving Acadia behind to eat its dust (strong words – and I do not mean to “slight” Acadia in any way. But on the surface, the statistics seem to indicate that Ontario’s weight in this respect far outpaces Acadia’s on many fronts).
So why then does Francophone Ontario (and why do Franco-Ontarians) not receive more attention and recognition outside Ontario – or at least as much attention as Acadia?
This is the magic question. It is also a very controversial question. I believe it all comes down to nuances. I’ll let you know some of my thoughts on the various reasons:
1. Institutional Dilution
Although Ontario has institutions throughout the province which provide medical, long-term healthcare, post-secondary education, banking, commercial, transportation, and other services in French, there is a lack of institutions which provide services solely in French (there is no “Francophone” university in Ontario like there is in Alberta, New Brunswick, Manitoba or New Brunswick – something which absolutely boggles my mind considering the size of Ontario’s Francophone population). Francophone institutions tend to stand out and get more attention in people’s minds than “bilingual” institutions. Example: Everyone knows Université St-Boniface in Winnipeg or the Université de Moncton. They’re strong and loud symbols of a province’s Francophone nature.
Even though Franco-Ontarians can attend university in French at institutions such as Guelph University, the University of Ottawa, York University, Laurentian University, University of Sudbury, and others, these universities are first and foremost “thought of” as Anglophone universities – and most non-Francophones are not even aware of their bilingual nature. (L’Université de Hearst is the sole university in Ontario which operates completely in French – but it is small, remote, and most people have not even heard of it).
Unilingual minority-language operated institutions can vastly bolster a minority’s presence, vitality and notoriety. McGill and Concordia Universities in Québec are perfect examples. They operate in English in a minority language setting in Montréal – and everyone knows of Montréal’s and Québec’s Anglophone community (which is even smaller than Ontario’s Francophone community!).
Regarding health care services, there is one French-first-language hospital in Ontario, Hôpital Montfort in Ottawa, but considering that Ontario’s Francophone population is greater than Regina’s, Saskatoon’s and Moncton’s total Anglophone and Francophone populations combined, you would think there would be more than just one Francophone hospital in Ontario. More hospitals certainly would add more visibility.
2. Population Parcelling
Ontario’s Francophones are spread throughout a vast land. Ontario is huge. If you were to enter Ontario at its Westernmost point on the Trans-Canada, it would take 25 hours of straight driving (two to three days at 8 to 12 hours every day) to reach the province’s Easternmost point (where the Ontario 417 or 401 expressways enters Québec).
Unlike Acadia’s Francophones, or Québec’s Anglophones, Ontario’s Francophones are not (for the most part) concentrated in one single area. Because of this (with the exceptions of Eastern Ontario and the Highway 11 corridor), you would not necessarily hear French every day when walking down the street in Ontario. This leads to an inaccurate perception of “invisibility”. Toronto may have tens and tens of thousands of Francophones, but their presence is diluted by the sheer size of Toronto’s Anglophone population (in terms of numbers, Toronto has the second or third largest Francophone population in Canada outside Québec, but at first glance you would not necessarily notice it owing to the dilution of the Francophone population by the size of its Anglophone population).
3. Geographic Remoteness
The most Francophone communities in Ontario tend to be quite remote, in the sense that they are very far from Ontario’s most populous regions. This has given rise to a phenomenon of a “parcelling” of Ontario’s Francophone population, of its accent zones, and its various lifestyles (city versus rural, North versus South, East versus West — all with huge distances in between).
Hence, Francophone Ontario becomes a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. Example: Even though the towns all along the “Highway 11 Francophone Corridor” have populations which are 85% to 95% Francophone (even more “Francophone” than many parts of Québec), it is nonetheless a region which is a 12 hour drive from Toronto. Many people I met in Toronto have never even heard of Ontario’s Highway 11 Francophone Corridor (I was stunned when I moved to Toronto and found out that local Anglophone Ontarians had no idea of how Francophone Ontario’s far north tends to be. When driving through it, you could easily believe you were driving through Québec). Most people are ignorant to the fact that anything along a 300 kilometre stretch of highway 11 basically has French as its first operating language. From Toronto, you could drive to Nashville (Tennessee), St. Louis (Missouri), Charlotte (North Carolina), or Edmundston (New Brunswick) in the same amount of time (or less) than what it would take to drive to the Highway 11 Corridor. Like I said… “Out of sight, out of mind”.
4. A lack of a designation of “Official” Bilingualism
Unlike New Brunswick, Ontario has not declared itself “officially bilingual” (it has simply declared various “regions” of the province as officially bilingual). Because New Brunswick is “officially” bilingual as a whole, it garners a LOT of attention. There is instant recognition everywhere that there exists a reason why New Brunswick is officially bilingual.
Although Ontario offers “functionally bilingual” services at a provincial and municipal level, and although in practical terms there is not much difference between being “functionally bilingual” and “officially bilingual”, the difference in perceptions can be night and day.
Perceptions are formed from gestures, and actions speak louder than words. If the gestures are not there (such as declaring the province officially bilingual), then outside recognition of the French fact simply does not follow. It may not be fair, but that’s how it works.
5. A lack of certain types of “Highly Visible” popular mainstream television media in Francophone Ontario
Right or wrong, societies are often judged by the strength of their television media. If a country or society has a strong TV media presence with a very strong home-grown news and entertainment component, such societies tend to garner external recognition as being a strong, healthy, influential society (television is influence, and it serves as a statement in itself). Imagine if Argentina had no home-grown news networks or no major home-grown popular entertainment television networks, but if Chile did. The outside world’s perception of Chile versus Argentina would be very different (Argentina probably would likely be afforded very little thought).
Francophone Ontario is sort of facing a similar situation. There are three major Francophone TV networks operating out of Ontario; UNIS, TFO and Radio-Canada. However, despite having sizeable Ontario studios, UNIS and Radio-Canada are not seen as home-grown or Franco-Ontarian, since they operate everywhere in Canada and are viewed as “national” in character. TFO is considered too much of a specialty channel (an education channel with much of its focus on children’s programming or non-Ontario origin movies / shows). Thus is tough for Franco-Ontarians to be taken seriously as a strong, vibrant community in the eyes of others when such a community of this size doesn’t even have its own popular television networks which operate along the lines of TVA, LCN, or others.
6. A lack of a distinguished French “accent” when Franco-Ontarians make the pop-culture jump to Montréwood
When Franco-Ontarians make it big in Montréwood (ie: Marie-Mai, or Véronique DiCaire), they tend not to get labelled as Franco-Ontarians, and often are incorrectly labelled as Québécois. (It’s quite similar to a phenomenon which Anglophone Canadians face when they take Hollywood by storm, ie: how many Americans or people elsewhere in the world know that William Shatner, Justin Bieber, Pamela Anderson, Michael J. Fox, Jason Priestly and many many others are Canadian and not American?)
Because the style of French spoken in Ontario is of the same “branch” as Québécois French (a branch of French which exists from British Columbia, through the prairies, across Ontario, and all throughout Québec), Franco-Ontarian celebrities in Montréwood simply “blend in”. (Of course there are some exceptions, such as Katherine Levac who kept Her East-Ontario accent when she made the jump to Montréwood). However Acadian-style French is from a different branch of French and sounds completely different.
Therefore, when Acadians make it big in Montréwood, they tend to stick out like a sore thumb — just as the British do when they take Hollywood by storm, ie: Sean Connery or Adele.
The above offered you six reasons why I believe that Franco-Ontarians are not more visible on a pan-Canadian stage, or international stage. However, I believe there are five additional reasons — fivereasons which are much more controversial than the above reasons.
The next post will offer you what I believe are these five additional reasons.
SERIES: FRANCOPHONE ONTARIO & ONTAROIS (6 POSTS)
- ENG – “Les Ontarois”: More than double Acadia’s population, yet they rarely get outside attention (#219)
- ENG – Celebrating 400 years of Francophone history in Ontario (#220)
- ENG – Links related to everything “Franco-Ontarian” or “Ontarois” (#221)
- ENG – Why Franco-Ontarians are not better recognized in a pan-Canadian sense, or internationally – Part 1 of 2 (#222)
- ENG – Why Franco-Ontarians are not better recognized in a pan-Canadian sense, or internationally – Part 2 of 2 (#223)