French Manitoba’s History
Walking into the footsteps of La Vérendrye, who reached in 1738 the future site of Saint-Boniface, the first Europeans to reach the West in the 18th century were Francophones. One hundred and fifty years before Manitoba became a province, the territory had many French place names: Fort Rouge, Fort LaReine, Fort Maurepas, Fort Dauphin, Fort Bourbon. These were some of the fur trading posts visited annually by voyageurs and coureurs des bois. Having migrated from their homes in what would become Lower Canada, they established a Francophone presence in Manitoba.
Resulting from the permanent settlement of these newcomers within native communities, the Metis nation came into being at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The Metis asserted themselves in the mid-19th century by challenging the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company. Resisting the Government of Canada's plans for settlement in the region caused many of them to disperse in the Canadian West. Since then, the Metis have existed on the fringes of other populations in the region, distant from their French origins.
The Red River colony founded by the Metis was established with the help of the Church and became one of the main centres of Francophone life in the West. With the arrival in 1818 of canadien settlers led by two priests, Norbert Provencher et Sévère Dumoulin, a strong Francophone community was established on the eastern shore of the Red River near the Assiniboine, before spreading throughout the future province. Saint-Boniface became the catholic and Francophone capital of the burgeoning Red River colony.
Manitoba's Francophone community owes its existence mainly to migrations beginning in the second half of the 19th century, a time during which Francophones of diverse origins settled in the province. The majority were French Canadians, either from Quebec or Acadie, a number of them having lived in the United States prior to moving to Manitoba. Others were French, Belgian and Swiss settlers.
The Red River colony became the Province of Manitoba in 1870, following a popular democratic movement led by Louis Riel. The Manitoba Act, which is the province's constitutional document, acknowledges the linguistic and cultural duality of the new province. English and French enjoy equal status in Parliament and the courts of law.
Between 1870 and 1885, the Metis and Francophone Canadians rapidly found themselves in a minority situation. Ontarian and British immigration vastly surpassed the number of Francophone immigrants. More than half the population in 1870, Francophones represented only a little more than 10% of the Manitoban population by 1886.
In 1890, the Manitoba Legislature made English the only official language of the province. During the same period, a Bill to abolish religious duality was passed. After a protracted dispute, the teaching of languages other than English won limited acceptance, but all compromises ended in 1916 with the Thornton Act. The Francophone community mobilized and founded the Association d'éducation des CanadiensFrançais du Manitoba. The status of French was not re-established until 1979 and Manitoba Francophones did not regain control of their schools until 1993.
The Société franco-manitobaine, established in 1968 to replace the Association d'éducation des Canadiens-français, is today the official political representative of the Francophone community.