Back in July 2008, as part of a long post on the gradual assimilation of most Francophone minorities in Canada outside of Québec ("Demography and culture: French Canada's fall and Québec's isolation"), I mentioned in passing the possible role on Francophone immigration in bolstering Francophone numbers. The numbers involved would of necessity have to be substantial, especially given the strong pressure for Francophone minorities in the rest of Canada to shift to English. Even so, Francophone immigration to Canada is a real and growing phenomenon, and while Québec is the obvious focus of this migration--around a hundred thousand French immigrants are in Montréal alone--it is also a reality elsewhere. Here in Toronto, as Selena Ross' article in The Globe and Mail mirrored at 24news.ca noted, this has had a significant impact on the number of French-medium schools in Toronto. As Francophones continues to immigrate to Ontario and older-established Francophones start to make use of these facilities, the numbers of students keep rising.
Despite guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, French-only schools in Toronto have historically been few and far between. For decades, a real fear for many francophones settling in Hogtown has been that they would fail to pass on their language and culture to their offspring.
A once-in-a-generation opportunity is starting to change that, and it promises a bigger cultural shift in Toronto. As enrolment in English-language schools declines, a crop of school properties is being put up for sale and the region’s two French school boards have jumped to buy. What no one predicted is the snowball effect that has followed each new school opening, drawing “invisible francophones” out of a reluctant assimilation and making new connections between them.
Lianne Doucet, a mother of three in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, laughs and lowers her voice to a spooky register. “We always say, ‘We’re all around you.’”
The cultural isolation of Toronto-area francophones – whether by mother tongue or schooling – can be so extreme that many don’t know that Section 23 of the Charter promises French-language K-12 education for their children. The Toronto area’s first French-language school board was created in 1988, and there are now two serving the region, one public and one Catholic. Still, nearly 30 years later, the secular board, the Conseil Scolaire Viamonde, must diligently advertise its schools to get the word out, superintendent Sylvie Longo said.
It has had a lot of ads to put out lately: 12 new schools in the past eight years, with four more under construction. The board’s Catholic counterpart, the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud, has opened 10 in the same time span. The two boards’ enrolment rose respectively by 33 and 16 per cent from 2008 to 2014.
That’s in sharp contrast with the shrinking English system. The Toronto District School Board’s enrolment dropped by nearly 5 per cent in the same period.
And still, French schools consistently fill up faster than predicted. École Élémentaire La Mosaïque opened in Toronto’s Danforth area in 2008 and has already had to rezone, unable to fit in all the eligible children. École Ronald-Marion in Pickering opened in 2013 and now needs portable classrooms to meet demand, while a French Catholic school in Stouffville is at full capacity and hasn’t even opened yet.
“When we build schools, they come,” Ms. Longo said.
Toronto may be one of the world’s most diverse cities, but within Canada, it’s also a bastion of English – and Quebec, a more obvious destination for francophone immigrants, is just a few hours away. Who are the tens of thousands of Toronto-area residents itching for all-French education?
Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement's January 2014 report "Ontario Francophone Immigrant Profile: Immigration Trends & Labour Outcomes" (PDF format) took a look at the basic dynamics of Francophone immigration to Ontario.
From 2001 to 2012, francophone immigration nationally accounted for on average 9.9% of all immigration to Canada. Excluding Quebec, francophone immigration, on average, accounted for 4.1% of all immigrants. Francophone immigration to Canada remained stable with no average decrease or increase per year. When Quebec was removed, there was a slight decline.
[. . .]
[. . .] The average percent of francophones to Ontario (as a proportion of all immigrants) was 2.5%. This percentage ranged from a low of 1.9% in 2002/2003 to a high of 3.4% in 2010. Over the past two years, the percent francophone immigration has hovered around an average of 3.2%. There was an average growth of 0.1% per year, which is above both the national average growth (0%) and the national average growth without Quebec (-0.1%).
The provincial government has stated an interest in boosting Francophone immigrant numbers to 5% of the total. The promotion of immigration into Francophone minority communities actually has been a goal of the federal government and many provincial governments, a way to try to slow down or even reverse the language shift I described back in 2008. One factor of note in this goal, as the Ryerson report observes, is that the communities chosen by Francophone international migrants in Ontario do not necessarily correspond to the communities where Francophones currently live.
In order to gain an understanding of how francophone immigrants are contributing to existing francophone communities, a profile of francophone immigration to traditional francophone centres was constructed based on the 2011 National Household Survey. Traditional francophone centres are defined as places in Ontario with large French speaking populations relative to the total population. The CMAs [of Greater Sudbury, Hawkesbury, Ottawa-Hull, and Timmins] were chosen because they have high populations of francophones relative to the total population, ranging from 15.8% to 64.3%. In comparison, non-traditional francophone centres such as Toronto and Hamilton, which have received higher absolute numbers of francophone immigrants, only had francophone populations that accounted for 1.3 to 1.6% of the total population.
Amongst the traditional francophone centres, only Ottawa-Hull attracts a considerable proportion of francophone immigrants. Indeed, Ottawa-Hull was the second largest CMA destination for francophone migrants in Ontario. Outside of Ottawa-Hull, francophone immigrants are not settling in traditional francophone centres in Ontario but rather in traditionally-considered Anglophone cities like Toronto, Hamilton, and Windsor. Could this be part of some larger francophone movement towards non-traditional francophone centres? The latest results from the 2011 National Household Survey indicate that the answer is no. A comparison of the geographic distribution of francophones immigrants versus all francophones finds different patterns in their settlement. Shown as a per cent of the total of each group, a larger proportion (on average, 2.3%) of non-immigrant francophones reside in traditional francophone centres (such as Ottawa, Timmins, Sudbury, and Hawkesbury). Indeed, by this measure Timmins is the fourth largest francophone centre in all of Ontario.
According to this cursory NHS analysis, francophone immigrants show a spatial distribution that is consistent with the findings of this report. The largest proportion of francophone immigrants reside in Toronto followed by Ottawa and Hamilton. It is also interesting to note that a slightly larger proportion (3.5%) of francophone immigrants live in Ottawa as opposed to non-immigrant francophones.
Ottawa, it should be noted, not only is the second-largest city of Ontario by population with a Francophone population of its own both proportionately and absolutely large, but it is part of the National Capital Region, including strongly Francophone Gatineau on the Québec side of the Ottawa River. The other communities named--Timmins, Sudbury, Hawkesbury--are relatively smaller centres in the north and east of Ontario. If international migrants are not moving to these communities and are instead opting for Ottawa and the cities of southern Ontario, this might well note their sensitivity to poor economic conditions.
Is this working? In the specific case of Ontario, possibly. Statistics Canada's profile of Canadian Francophones noted that not only did Ontario's Francophone population grow between 2006 and 2011, but it nearly maintained its proportion of the total population. Selena Ross' article, quoted above, does suggest that international Francophone migration might well galvanize Francophone consciousness generally. Then again, as noted above, it's not clear that this international migration can do much for the older Francophone communities in the province. The November 2002 report "Official Languages and Immigration: Obstacles and Opportunities for Immigrants and Communities" notes that there are any number of ways in which Francophone international migrants can just not have a successful experience, with a lack of common ground between migrants and natives spoiling the project.