May 27, 2017 2 min to read

What was Ontario Regulation 17 and why did Québec care about it?

Category : Education, History, Politics

In July 1912, the Ontario Conservative government issued Regulation 17 which in effect restricted French as a teaching language to the first 2 years of grade schools, therefore forcing all of the French-language Catholic schools to close.

A lot of the articles on this site talk about discrimination against French-speakers in Canada in the 1700s or 1800s, but this is horrible discrimination occurred only a little more than 100 years ago, well after the 1867 act of Confederation had made Canada officially bilingual.

Worse, this regulation wasn’t short lived, but rather, stayed in place until 1927, fifteen years later!

Even worse, the repeal of regulation 17 didn’t fix anything. It only removed the banning of French schools. In reality, it’s not until 1968 that French-Languages would once again be recognized by the ministry of education of Ontario, a full 56 years after they were initially banned!

In Québec, the regulation was met with outrage, as many Québecois had moved to Ontario to get better jobs and now, wouldn’t be able to send their kids to French-Language schools, forcing them to assimilate in English and lose their culture.

This is part of the reason, according to many sources, why the French-Canadians didn’t want to enlist into the World War I efforts just a few years later, and who could blame them?

The French-Canadians, whose ancestors had founded Canada, were being asked to risk their lives for a country which wouldn’t let them raise their kids in the language of their ancestors?

To makes things even more horrible, the only reason Regulation 17 was even repealed, was because the new prime minister of Ontario (Howard Ferguson), needed help from the province of Québec in a fight against the federal government!

Ferguson wasn’t feeling pity for the French-Speakers of Ontario or remorse for the actions of his predecessor. He needed a political favor from Québec and agreed to lift the regulation which was angering a potential ally.

In fact, Ferguson was a vocal opponent of bilingualism and only lifted the regulation reluctantly.

When you wonder if the Québec nationalists are paranoid about the perceived threat of assimilation, you have to remember that, in the province next door (Ontario), where a significant French-speaking population lives, French-Language schools were not recognized until 1968….  the same year the Parti Québécois party was founded!

My own father-in-law was from a French-Speaking family in Ontario and was forced to attend English-language schools until his family, fed up, decided to move back to Québec.

But not all French-Speaking families could afford to move to the province of Québec, or even stayed French-Speaking families!

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Comments (2)

  • avatar image
    ReplyRichard Pelland January 18, 2019

    First, I would like to say that when my family settled in Ontario, they were not Québécois; they were French Canadians. A Québécois was someone from Quebec City at that time, not merely a resident of Quebec. I do not have Québécois ancestry and do not consider myself Québécois in any way; I have French-Canadian ancestry. When my family left Ste-Élisabeth in Joliette County, separatists had not yet created divisions between the different parts of French Canada; we were one people regardless of where we lived. Second, while publicly funded French-language schools did not arrive until the provincial government authorized them in 1969, there were many French language separate schools run by the Catholic church, including institutions such as Collège Sacré-Coeur in Sudbury, which offered a traditional classical education and was founded in 1913 and run by the Jesuits. This is one of the reasons the Quiet Revolution did not resonate in Ontario because the Catholic church was viewed as one of the main promoters of the French language and culture in Ontario. The Parti Québécois has done a lot of harm to Francophone communities outside Quebec, as it has worked hard to reduce the rights of Quebec's official language minority. It deserves no credit for the state of French-language schools and services in other provinces. The PQ's policies have, however, created a lot of animosity towards French Canadians living in predominately English-speaking areas. When Francophones were fighting to open their schools to immigrants, separatists in Quebec were fighting to limit access to English-language schools. The interests of Quebec do not always align with the interests of the rest of French Canada.

    • avatar image
      Replympf March 16, 2019

      Excellent points! Thank you for your comments!