Voices from French Ontario


201 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0405-2




Marguerite Andersen is a professor of French studies at the University
of Guelph.


Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos, co-author with Dominique Clift of The English Fact in Quebec, in its French version the winner of the 1979 Governor-General’s Award for non-fiction, has long been concerned with English/French relations. The Montreal journalist and sociologist is presently the only anglophone member of the Québec government’s Conseil de la langue française. In Voices from French Ontario, Arnopoulos delivers a sensitive account of the feelings and spirit of Franco-Ontarians in Nouvel-Ontario and especially in its capital, Sudbury. Her analysis of the way in which francophones in Ontario are struggling to reconcile the divergent demands of two languages and cultures is absolutely brilliant.

While Arnopoulos has great respect for the flowering of Franco-Ontarian theatre, music, and poetry, she does not ignore the fact that the French minority in Ontario must come to terms with the realities of industrial society, if it is to survive as more than an ethnic group. Arnopoulos gives a fine evaluation of the work and influence of the Cooperative des Artistes du Nouvel Ontario, with such driving forces as André Paiement (from CANO-Musique), Robert Paquette, Gaston Tremblay, and Hélène Gravel.

Arnopoulos acknowledges that it is difficult for the people of Nouvel-Ontario to create a place for themselves in the economy. Such businessmen as Gaston Demers, Jacques de Courville Nicol, Gérard Lafrénière, and what Arnopoulos calls the “Quebec connection” are, however, becoming part of a nationwide business network that, like the Montreal economy, operates only in French. With humour and admiration Arnopoulos tells the story of the self-made millionaire Robert Campeau and that of Paul Desmarais, both models for a bilingual, bicultural entrepreneurial class in Canada.

Thus, a young and confident leadership is encouraging a Quiet Revolution in the cultural and economic life of Nouvel-Ontario. But bitter memories survive, as Arnopoulos was able to see in the frequent visits to the region, during 18 months of research. English-Ontarians closed all French schools in Ontario from 1912 to 1927; many are still intimidated by the English and continuously repress their French nature in public. In chapter 4, Arnopoulos analyzes the history of the French high school in Penetanguishene, as well as the play La parole et la loi, which dramatizes the conflict. She is very critical of the attitude toward French of the Ontario government as well as of the many anglophones in Ontario who “see French as a galloping disease” and “want to put bilingualism under lock and key.” Because of such discriminatory attitudes, many Franco-Ontarians still treat their French as a “closet-language,” a fact of which Arnopoulos cites many moving examples.

In general, though, and in spite of alarming statistics concerning la survivance of French in Ontario, Arnopoulos is optimistic. She believes that young francophones and anglophones are beginning to develop friendships; French immersion, federal bilingualism, and the expansion of French business across the country seem key factors in the survival of French communities. She sees men like Campeau and Desmarais as bilingual, bicultural hybrids, but, like the German sociologist Simmel, she celebrates the creative powers of “marginal man.”

The book, written with passion, compassion, and intelligence, is completed by various statistical tables and also comprises an excellent bibliography. It should add a lot to the understanding of the French fact outside Quebec.



Arnopoulos, Sheila McLeod, “Voices from French Ontario,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38922.