French-language education in Ontario pursues an important social mission based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In addition to ensuring the success and well-being of its children and students, French-language schools are dedicated to conveying and promoting the French language and Francophone culture. French-language education offers a continuum of learning from early years programs to postsecondary education including, training programs.
French-language education offers a range of programs and services intended for people of all age groups, for example:
Education is a key element in the history of the Francophonie in Ontario.
17th - 19th Century
The identity of Franco-Ontarians is largely based on a unique educational experience that took place in the 17th century under the French regime.
The first major school-related debate in Ontario dates back to the end of the 19th century, and focused on language rather than religion.
In October 1844, Governor General Sir Charles Metcalfe named Reverend Egerton Ryerson Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada, the highest position in the province’s Department of Public Instruction.
1846 - 1890
During the governor general Charles Ryerson’s term of office, which lasted from 1846 to 1876, French-language schools were established throughout Ontario. Teachers were mostly native Quebecers and frequently used teaching materials from Quebec.
After the Ministry of Education was founded in 1875 and Ryerson retired in 1876, things became more complicated for Franco-Ontarians.
Over time, the creation and development of French-language schools in Ontario became the subject of political struggles. English-speaking Canadians of the time were dissatisfied with:
In 1885, English officially became a mandatory subject; in 1890, another law was passed to make English the language of instruction in Ontario’s schools except where it was impossible to do so. Schools therefore became bilingual.
Anglophones used political decisions to minimize the teaching of French, as well as instruction given in French.
1908 - 1910
In 1908, a commission led by F. W. Merchant, inspector of Ontario’s schools, revealed that the quality of the education and teaching of English were insufficient in bilingual schools. Merchant recommended providing better training to teachers and introducing English as the main language of instruction. More concerned with politics than education, the Government of Ontario focused on limiting the use of French in schools.
In 1910, after their numbers had grown, Franco-Ontarians organized l'Association canadienne française d'éducation d'Ontario to promote French-language interests. From the beginning, their ideas were met with opposition from advocates of English as the sole language of instruction.
1912 - Regulation 17
On June 25, 1912, the Ministry of Education of Ontario re-enacted Regulation 17 following an investigation carried out by F.W. Merchant, inspector of Ontario's schools. The highlights of this regulation:
All forms of tolerance and openness were eliminated. Although Regulation 17 signified the implementation of a policy to assimilate and integrate Francophones, it also catalyzed social mobilization and helped develop a sense of belonging to the French-Canadian nation, whose future was seriously threatened.
The next 15 years (up until 1927) were marked by struggles involving many political personalities and the clergy’s highest-ranking figures.
1927 - 1977
In 1927, following a report by the Scott-Merchant-Côté Commission, the Government of Ontario implemented a system of bilingual elementary schools in which French became the main language of instruction (from then on, French and English were given equal consideration as languages of instruction and communication).
From then on, the right to teach in French was established in elementary schools throughout Ontario. However, the struggle to obtain the same in secondary schools carried on until 1968.
In 1967, John Robarts, the Prime Minister of Ontario, announced the implementation of French-language public secondary schools in Ontario. Thus, as of 1969, Ontario legislation authorized French to be taught in both elementary and secondary French-language schools.
In 1977, the Ontario Ministry of Education appointed the first Assistant Deputy Minister of French-Language Education.
1981 - 1986
In 1981, the Centre Jules-Léger was created to provide for Francophone students with learning disabilities.
In 1982, Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted. The legislation granted official language minorities the right to have their children schooled in their mother tongue wherever the number of children justified this right.
In 1984, Francophones in Ontario received major support when certain provisions of the Education Act were judged unconstitutional by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Shortly after, the first French-language school board of Toronto was established. The French-language school boards of Ottawa-Carleton and Prescott-Russell followed.
In 1986, the Loi sur la gouvernance scolaire was enacted, which granted Francophones complete and exclusive governance of their French-language schools and teaching units.
1990 - 1998 - Creation of French-Language School Boards and Colleges
In 1990, the Cité collégiale (Ottawa) was created; it was the first French-language college of applied arts and technology in Ontario.
In 1991, the Ontario Ministry of Education created a French-language education Policy and Programs Branch. The branch’s mission is to establish policies and create or adapt the required programs and resources in order to offer quality education and services in all elementary and secondary French-language schools throughout the province.
Two French-language colleges of applied arts and technology opened in 1995: Collège Boréal and the Collège des Grands Lacs; a permanent site was also created for the Cité collégiale’s campus. In 2002–2003, the Collège d’arts appliqués et de technologie des Grands Lacs ceased its activity.
However, it was not until 1997 that the Government of Ontario created French-language school boards throughout the province, with the enactment of Act 104, the Fewer School Boards Act, 1997. These French-language school boards— 4 of them public and 8 of them Catholic — were created on January 1, 1998. The Act also ensured these school boards would receive the same funding as English-language school boards.
After many years of struggle, the Ontario Francophone community was finally authorized to manage its own French-language elementary and secondary schools.
2004 - 2008
In 2004, the Government of Ontario enacted the Politique d’aménagement linguistique (PAL) de l’Ontario pour l’éducation en langue française/Ontario’s Aménagement Linguistique Policy for French-language Education, to strengthen French-language education in Ontario. This policy’s objective is to promote the French language and culture, improve student performance, support the development of students’ Francophone cultural identity and contribute to the vitality of the Francophone community in Ontario.
Constantly striving to be welcoming and inclusive, the French-language education school boards reviewed their admission policy in 2009 as follows:
In 2011, the Government of Ontario launched the Politique d’aménagement linguistique de l’Ontario pour l’éducation postsecondaire et la formation en langue française / A Policy Framework for French-Language Postsecondary Education and Training in Ontario. The goal is to help provide Ontarians with more opportunities to study and train in French.