The first French colony on North American soil was established in 1604, at Port-Royal, Nova Scotia, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. According to the census of 1671, the colony included 320 souls. In 1714, the Acadian population was estimated at 2,500, and in 1755, at 16,000. In 1755, following the Great Deportation, Acadians were dispersed, settling in various parts of the continent, mainly in the British colonies on the American east coast, and in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec.

It is estimated that, at the turn of the 19th century, there were 8,400 Acadians in the Atlantic provinces. They formed numerous communities scattered all along the coast, where they were somewhat isolated from the dominant society. While there is no doubt that this isolation prevented them from taking full advantage of a burgeoning market economy, the Acadian culture was still able to develop. An Acadian elite emerged, with the help of the clergy, and this contributed to the establishment of colleges, convents, hospitals and charitable institutions.

It was against this background that a sense of Acadian nationalism began to emerge in the latter decades of the 19th century. This nationalism was particularly active in New Brunswick, the primary focus of the Acadians in the Atlantic provinces where, by 1911, they constituted 28% of the population. Their first demands were cultural, but soon became economic, as the Acadians were eager to find solutions to the problems of poverty, social inequality and a poor French-language education system.

The first Congrès mondial acadien (World Acadian Congress), held in 1994, and those that followed (Louisiana, 1999; Nova Scotia, 2004) confirmed the renewed sense of pride and affirmation of the Acadian community.

The next Congrès mondial acadien will take place in the Acadian Peninsula of New Brunswick in the summer of 2009.

Francophone Ontario

French colonists settled in Ontario, especially in the area around Detroit and on the shores of Georgian Bay, beginning in the early 18th century. However, Franco-Ontarian colonization did not begin in earnest until after 1850, thanks to the gradual arrival in Ontario of French-Canadians from the St. Lawrence Valley. They settled in the Ottawa Valley, up as far as Ottawa, in the Southwestern Ontario peninsula, the areas around Midland and Penetanguishene, around Lake Nipissing and then, in the early 20th century, the areas farther north, where they currently represent a substantial proportion of the population. These Francophones, organized around parishes, developed an essentially rural economy. While they joined the nascent capitalism in some areas, primarily in the forestry industry, only a very limited number of them reached management positions.

The Franco-Ontarian community centred primarily on the family and the Church. The number of French-speaking parishes rose, numerous schools were established, a cultural life started to emerge, beginning in Ottawa, then in other parts of the province. These accomplishments were soon called into question by the English Protestant majority, which saw a threat in the affirmation of the Francophones, a threat that was heightened by growing numbers of immigrants from Europe. In 1912, the prohibition on the teaching of French followed a series of restrictive measures aimed at French as a language of instruction. The community reacted vigorously. Female teachers organized clandestine classes in their own homes, for which they received no compensation. Dozens of charges were laid, and it was not until 1927 that bilingual schools were allowed to resume.

The struggle for French-language schools served as a background for the affirmation of the Franco-Ontarian community. This struggle was at the hub of a tightly knit network of groups to which can be attributed the various victories seen in the recent history of Francophone Ontario, including the establishment of 12 French-language school boards in 1998 serving the province's 100,000 French-speaking students. In 2000, the Franco-Ontarian community won an historic victory in its struggle to preserve the Montfort Hospital, which four years earlier had been threatened with closure by the Ontario government. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the hospital constituted a cultural institution that was essential to the community, a judgment which the provincial government accepted in early 2001.

In 2005, modern, diversified and especially strong in numbers, the Franco-Ontarian community established a new, highly democratic representation structure-the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario.

The Western Canadian Francophonie

Eager to explore the continent and drawn by the fur trade, the French became numerous on the Prairies as early as the 17th century. However, colonization did not begin in earnest until the arrival of the clergy, beginning in the 1820s. Francophone enclaves formed under Father Provencher and Father Dumoulin, then the Oblates and the Grey Sisters, around the middle of the century, in the portion of the Northwest Territories that was later to become Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. At the same time, in British Columbia, the French-Canadians who, in 1838 represented approximately 60% of the original European population, played a major role in the colonization of that province, a role which took on greater importance with the arrival of missionaries in 1840. Numerous colonies sprung up, among them the Red River Colony, which quickly became the primary centre of French life west of Ontario. The first school was established there in 1819, along with a sufficient number of other institutions that enabled the Francophone community to grow.

The first indicators of a French presence began appearing on the Canadian prairies during the first half of the 19th century with the founding of Francophone Metis settlements along the Assiniboine and Red rivers of Manitoba. This Francophone presence was strengthened in the middle of the century by its resistance to the Hudson Bay Company monopoly and then to the Canadian government, first in 1870 when Manitoba was created, and later in 1885. The significant role played up until then by the Metis Nation in the Western Canadian Francophonie gradually began to fade after these events and the repression that accompanied them.

Thus the Francophone communities of Western Canada are primarily associated with Francophone immigration from Quebec, which dates back to the farm migration movement to the Prairies, which began in the middle of the 19th century, and accelerated in the 1880s and 1890s, culminating in the first 15 years of the 20th century. The clergy played a central role in this movement, as colonization was often the result of initiatives by Catholic missionaries. Since the objective was to ensure a Francophone presence throughout Western Canada, numerous settlements were established. This resulted in a broad scattering of Francophone communities, especially in Saskatchewan, but also in Alberta, where there are numerous groupings of French-Canadian parishes. In the mountainous regions of British Columbia and Yukon, which did not lend themselves well to farming, it was the forestry potential that attracted settlers toward the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

Western Canada's Francophonie expressed its will to assert itself in various ways. The fiercest struggles took place in matters of official languages and schools. Western Francophones were also active on the matter of French-language radio. By the late 1950s they had already established four private radio stations, completely funded by their respective communities.

Today, the Western Francophonie is characterized by its desire to affirm itself in French and by the impressive growth of French-language institutions, especially in Alberta and British Columbia, where the French-speaking population has been growing significantly in the past decade.

The Northern Francophonie

The Hudson Bay Company was a dominant presence in the life of the North prior to Confederation. Large numbers of Francophones actively explored the territory and helped establish routes for the lucrative fur trade. In addition, the discovery of gold deposits attracted thousands of prospectors, beginning in 1870, and many of these were FrenchCanadians.

In 1869, the Hudson Bay Company ceded its territory to the new government of Canada. A significant portion of Quebec and Ontario and the entire West then became part of what was then known as the Northwest Territories. These were slowly but gradually carved away to allow for, first the creation, and then the expansion, of new provinces, the establishment of the Yukon Territory in 1898, and later Nunavut, in 1999.

Canada's desire to extend westward resulted in a change in the sociopolitical landscape of the region, which from then on came to be dominated by the Anglo-Saxon spirit and British culture. In 1892, the Northwest Territories passed a law making English the only official language. In 1901, it made instruction in English compulsory. It was not until 1984 that the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories established French once again as one of the territory's official languages.

In Yukon, it was not until 1984 that the first programs were taught in French. The Francophone community was given responsibility for managing the school system in 1990, and it was at this time that it opened a French-language-only school.

In Nunavut, the Legislative Assembly passed a new Official Languages Act in June 2008. This legislation provided for services to be delivered in French at the municipal level, and implementation of this law required the approval of, and funding by, the federal government.