110 years ago, the ACFÉO became the first flagship organization for all Franco-Ontarians

On January 20, 1910, in Ottawa, a promising new provincial organization concluded its inaugural convention and embarked upon its mission: to be the voice of its community and to defend the rights of Franco-Ontarians. 

From across the province, 1200 delegates attended the first-ever education convention held January 18 to 20, 1910, from which emerged the Association canadienne-française d’éducation d’Ontario (ACFÉO). 

Judge Albert Constantineau from eastern Ontario encouraged Franco-Ontarians to come together in a provincial association. He was supported by Father Alexandre Beausoleil. Together, they chaired a founding commission which convinced an impressive array of community leaders to join. 

The issue of the hour was education and there were many calls for improvements to the education system.

The convention was announced in 1908 in the newspaper Le Moniteur, published in Hawkesbury. A circular distributed in 1909 explained that the convention would lead to the founding of “a provincial association devoted to fair and legitimate demands for all of our rights and tireless vigilance for our national interests.”

In the decade of 1910, the French-speaking community in Ontario was rapidly expanding, especially in northern and eastern areas of the province. In 1911, Francophones represented approximately 10% of Ontario’s total population, a demographic high point.

The delegates (11% of whom were from “New Ontario”, the province’s northern districts) were chosen in assemblies held in every parish, township, district or county to represent their communities. The Franco-Ontarian population at that time was approximately 210,000.

At the convention, Senator Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt of Ottawa was unanimously chosen as the first president of the ACFÉO. 

In his acceptance speech, he stated that “we will happily welcome everyone who wants to help us with their advice and co-operation, regardless of their origins,” adding that “all those who want to contribute to the study, the knowledge and the dissemination of the French language will always be welcome.” At the convention, delegates also heard presentations about the state of affairs in various regions of French Ontario. Statutes and regulations were adopted. Two sumptuous banquets punctuated the convention.

The prime minister of Canada at the time, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and two of his ministers attended the convention, as did the leader of the official opposition, Robert Laird Borden. The Government of Ontario was represented by two ministers, Adam Beck and Francis Cochrane. 

Following the convention, the ACFÉO established itself as the primary provincial organization of Franco-Ontarians and extended its presence throughout the province by creating regional associations to serve as organizational channels for the head office in Ottawa. 

The ACFÉO changed its name and became the ACFO in 1969. Its current name, the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, was adopted in 2006.