In 2010, the government of the Province of Ontario declared that every Sept. 25 would be la Journée des franco-ontariens, a day to celebrate the French language and the more than 1.3-million French speakers in the province.
Last year, several Sarnians (including myself) petitioned the city council to install green and white lights – the colours of the Franco-Ontarien flag – at City Hall, and to raise the Franco-Ontarian flag permanently in the downtown to honour that day.
We donated the flag and the lights to the city and council voted unanimously to proceed with the motion.
More than 800 people attended the raising of Franco-Ontarian flag, including dozens of students from all four of Sarnia’s French-language schools.
Sarnia-Lambton has long been a haven for French-Canadians. Indeed, Sarnia was originally founded by French-Canadian families in the early 1800s, and was a waypoint for many voyageur and Coureur du bois trading with their aboriginal and First Nation allies for almost two centuries before that.
In Sarnia’s Centennial Park and Waterfront Park in Point Edward plaques and monuments have been erected to the French fact in Lambton County; including the voyages of LaSalle, the founding of Sarnia and the contributions of our French-language schools.
The history of Sarnia is a history of French in Ontario. On the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the importance of the French language to our national identity, our history and our future place in an ever-changing world cannot be overstated. Indeed, many of Canada’s close allies and trading partners overseas are members of la Francophonie.
So on Sept. 25, take a moment out of your day to reflect on the green and white flag as it catches the breeze downtown, and maybe even say “Bonjour, comment ça-va?” to your neighbour as you get ready for work or school, just like the Sarnians of old would have done.
Or, take a moment to stop by the Centre communautaire francophone on Rapids Parkway.
You may be beginning a linguistic journey that will last a lifetime.
Christopher Ralph grew up in Sarnia, currently lives near Ottawa and holds degrees in Law and Political Science.