Francophone Immigration in Canada: a part of our history

From the banks of the Atlantic to the shores of British Columbia, Francophones have had a huge impact on Canada’s history. For centuries, Francophones from Europe and Africa founded vibrant communities, not only in Québec, but across Canada.

“French Canadians” are actually the descendants of French pioneers. These Acadians, Quebecois and other French-speaking people established Francophone communities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Immigration has contributed to Canada’s demographic growth, cultural richness and socio-economic development.

Collaboration between all levels of government and the francophone minority communities is essential to successfully attract, welcome and integrate French-speaking newcomers into our communities, our workplaces, and our lives.

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The history of francophone immigration in Canada

1760-1839: The settlers

After the cession of Acadia and New France to Great Britain, the immigration of French-speaking colonists to the new continent slowed considerably. Between 1760 and 1840, fewer than a thousand people immigrated. However, these newcomers had close relationships with the Acadians and French Canadians. French speaking teachers, doctors and lawyers were especially welcome because educated people were rare at that time.

Some of these new subjects came from Belgium and Switzerland, as well as from Jersey and Guernsey, Anglo Norman isles where French was spoken. They included bankers and entrepreneurs who developed and operated cod fisheries in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

1760-1839: The settlers

1840-1869: The clergy

Following the rebellions of 1837-1838, the British Crown replaced the Constitutional Act of 1791 with the Act of Union in 1840. This fourth constitution of Canada united Upper Canada and Lower Canada and created a single province. It promoted Protestantism and the use of English as the only official language in the administration of public affairs in the colony.

This new law encouraged the Catholic Church to recruit from dozens of congregations and religious communities in France, Belgium and Switzerland, according to their particular vocations, in order to build a vast network of schools, hospitals and orphanages for French Canadians from east to west. For example, the Oblates established missions in the Northwest, while the Jesuits, the Holy Cross Fathers and the Eudists founded classical colleges in Saint Boniface, Manitoba, Sudbury, Ontario, Memramcook, New Brunswick, and Pointe-de-l’Église, Nova Scotia. Thanks to these clergy, literacy among French Canadians jumped substantially, from 26 percent in 1840 to 87 percent in 1910.

1870-1939: Agricultural El Dorado

In 1869, the first immigration law in the Canadian confederation sought to attract British colonists, but without prohibiting Catholics and Francophones. Under this law, French speaking European adventurers could reach the gold deposits in the Klondike and professionals were able to establish a few Francophone communities, including in Victoria, British Columbia.

In the mid-19th Century, the land in the Canadian prairies was found to be extremely fertile. The completion of the transcontinental railway and Ottawa’s efforts to promote a farming “El Dorado” convinced French priests to help recruit French-speaking immigrants from Europe. Many immigrants from Brittany, Auvergne, Jura, Fribourg and Savoy settled outside of Quebec, including in Grande-Clairière and Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, Manitoba, and Ponteix and Saint-Brieux, Saskatchewan, where they built churches and schools and started newspapers and cultural associations.

1870-1939: Agricultural El Dorado

1870-1939: Agricultural El Dorado

1870-1939: Agricultural El Dorado

1940-1969: Economic immigration

In 1948, the federal government designated French-speaking European immigrants as being as desirable as the British and Americans. In 1967, the government stopped using place of origin as an immigration criterion, instead seeking to attract professionals speaking either English or French. This stimulated immigration to Canada outside Quebec by Caribbean, Arabic and African Francophones.

At that time, the Canadian government wanted to highlight the benefits of linguistic duality and multiculturalism in order to reflect the changing reality of Canada’s racial and ethnic diversity in its policies.

1940-1969: Economic immigration

1970-Today: Contemporary immigration

Contemporary Francophone immigration helps stimulate established institutions and create new ones. The Official Languages Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act set out the federal government’s commitment to fostering the vitality and development of minority language communities across Canada.

These days, numerous settlement programs and community organizations support the welcoming efforts of Francophone communities outside Quebec and help promote the local and regional culture to attract French-speaking newcomers and ensure their successful integration into our communities, our workplaces and our lives.

Learn more at Voyage en Francophonie Canadienne. (Only in French)

Testimonials

Modern French pioneers

These newcomers contribute significantly to the diversity and multiculturalism of Canadian society. Today, approximately one in five Canadians was born outside Canada.

Lauren Manekin Beille and Patrick Beille

Didier Rabesoa

Virginie De Visscher

Dorra Gdoura

Jonathan Mpunge

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