The Franco-Ontarian flag is the second symbol embraced by francophones outside Québec, the first being the Acadian flag, which was adopted in 1884. The Franco-Ontarian flag was created at Laurentian University in Sudbury in 1975 by Gaétan Gervais, a historian, and Michel Dupuis, a student. It is divided into two halves, with one half consisting of a white fleur-de-lis on a green background and the other a white trillium with a green border on a white background. The fleur-de-lis symbolizes the Francophonie and the trillium symbolizes Ontario, while the green colour represents summer, and the white, winter.
Gaétan Gervais, one of the co-creators of the flag, played a part in the founding of three organizations that have played a significant role in asserting and strengthening the Franco-Ontarian identity: the Institut Franco-Ontarien, the Centre franco-ontarien de folklore, and the Société historique du Nouvel-Ontario. In June 2013, he received the Order of Canada. The recognition of Franco-Ontarian studies as a distinct field of historical research is due to Gervais, as previous research work on francophones in Ontario accounted for only a tiny portion of francophone studies, which were largely centred on Québec.
It was in this context that the flag was created as an emblem of the Franco-Ontarian identity. Gaétan Gervais was part of the Franco-Ontarian cultural vibrancy that gave birth to Éditions Prise de parole, the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario, and Nuit sur l'étang. His writings on the Franco-Ontarian identity highlighted the need for a distinct Franco-Ontarian movement in the face of Franco-Ontarians’ rejection by nationalist Québécois, who viewed francophones outside Québec as being inexorably on the road to assimilation or as federalists hostile to Québec sovereignty.
Adoption by the Community
Within two years of its creation, the flag had taken hold in the Franco-Ontarian community. Soon schools were raising the Franco-Ontarian flag alongside the Canadian and Ontario flags.
A symbol of cultural affirmation, the flag flew at the École secondaire de la Huronie in Penetanguishene during the fight for funding for a French high school. It was also very much on display during the SOS Montfort campaign in Ottawa, the fight to save the only francophone hospital west of Québec.
Today the flag is flown at every occasion celebrating the Franco-Ontarian fact, including at Franco-Ontarian festivals associated with Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (24 June), on the Journée internationale de la francophonie (20 March) and during music festivals, parades and demonstrations.
It took decades before the Franco-Ontarian emblem was officially recognized by the provincial government.
As a result of a motion introduced by Jean-Marc Lalonde, the MPP from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Queen’s Park officially recognized the flag on 21 June 2001.
In 2003, following the tabling of a petition asking that the flag be flown at Sudbury’s city hall, Jim Gordon, the mayor at the time, put the question to a vote of the city councillors, who refused to grant the request. In 2006, Sudbury’s new mayor, John Rodriguez, overturned that decision and ordered that the Franco-Ontarian flag be flown.
The emblem’s acceptance did not occur without some negative reaction. In September 2008, Peter Shurman, the Conservative MPP for Thornhill, called the flag a divisive symbol.
However, because the flag had been flown for the first time at the University of Sudbury on 25 September, the provincial legislature proclaimed that day Franco-Ontarian Day in 2010.