The French presence in Newfoundland dates from the beginning of the 16th century, and starting in 1660 there was a French colony at Plaisance (Placentia). In 1713, with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, the colony fell under English control. However, France retained fishing rights on the northern and western coasts of the island until 1904. Throughout the 19th century, despite a ban on the establishment of permanent French settlements, French fishermen who came to fish for cod and lobster, as well as families from St. Pierre, settled on the "French Shore", mainly on the Port au Port Peninsula.

These French settlers were joined in the middle of the 19th century by Acadians in search of good farming land. They first went to the heads of the bays, settling in the Codroy Valley and Stephenville. The community quickly grew big enough to have the services of a priest. Francophones were not the only settlers in the region. Because of demographic pressures, Scottish settlers from Cape Breton also came into St. George's Bay, while Acadian settlement was slowing down in the 1860s. As well, some Acadians, attracted by the fishery, seal hunt, or local coastal shipping, left the island for the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Magdalen Islands.

The region's demographic balance was disturbed early and often, notably by the arrival of the railway at the end of the 19th century, and later, the trans-Newfoundland highway; by various industrial developments and, during the Second World War, by the establishment of an important American military base at Stephenville. All these activities brought many Anglophones to the area and resulted in massive assimilation of the Francophone population. As for Labrador, it underwent development during the 1960s with the discovery of significant mineral deposits and the construction of large dams for hydroelectric power.

The Fédération des francophones de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador, founded in 1973, encompasses five member associations. Its functions include political representation and the defence and promotion of the rights and interests of the Francophone community. Francophones in Newfoundland and Labrador established their first school at La Grand'Terre in 1984 and adopted a flag in 1986. Since 1992, when the provincial government officially recognized the Francophone community, the Journée de la francophonie is celebrated on May 30th every year. The date was officially recognized by an Order-in-Council on May 28, 1999. In 1996, the government recognized the Francophone right to a provincial school board, and in 1997 signed an agreement to this effect with the federal government.

On April 25, 2008, the governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec signed an agreement on Francophone matters, the goal of which is to better promote the French language and francophone culture. Furthermore, the agreement is a framework for cooperation and exchanges in various sectors: education, culture, youth, the French language, economy, communication, health, child care, justice, status of women and immigration.