Franco-Ontarian youth have always been on the forefront of resistance.
The youth who, after Jeudi Noir in 2018, took to the streets from Toronto to Kapuskasing to demand funding for the Université de l'Ontario français and the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, paving the way for the largest public mobilisation in Franco-Ontarian history.
The youth who, in 1992, demonstrated in the thousands for a network of Francophone colleges in the north, south, and east of the province. And who, during the 1970s, led the fight for our French-language secondary schools. The youth who, at the beginning of the 20th century, would resist Règlement 17 by ignoring the law that prohibited teaching in French in Ontario.
Young people were on the frontlines. Here we are again, our struggle unfinished.
Two years ago, the Université de Sudbury returned to its Francophone roots, forging a path to the future through more than a century of contributions to French-language education and the construction of Northern Ontario’s Franco-identity, setting out its desire to be an institution “par et pour” (“by and for”) Francophone Ontario.
This institution’s future is being determined as we write these words – and we must once again take action for French-language university education. We must demand federal and provincial funding for the Université de Sudbury, to achieve the dream of generations of young people in Northern Ontario.
In order to understand our needs and aspirations, the university consulted hundreds of young people, parents and members from Franco-Ontarian communities.
We were part of that collective.
In these consultations, we expressed what our generation demands of its institution — because if it is to be “par et pour” Francophones, this university must also be “par et pour” Franco-Ontarian youth.
It must be anchored in good governance and transparency, reporting on the funding provided on behalf of our Francophonie and putting that funding at work to protect our gains.
It must demonstrate continuous communication with us, the students, ensuring its modernity so that it can adapt to the changing environment of the labour market.
It must be wholeheartedly committed to truth and reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in N’Swakamok, a relationship that must be based on the recognition of the unique character and social needs of Northern Ontario as a hinterland colonised with great cultural diversity.
It must be multicultural and rich in the accents of our mosaic, a beacon of opportunity for all young Franco-Ontarians, whether they were born here or elsewhere.
It must forge ties with the community in order to ensure the future of French in the region, firmly anchoring us in the Francophone society of northern Ontario and elsewhere in the Canadian and global Francophonie.
It must prioritise the student experience – in French. Not only must it offer French-language services, it must cultivate the heart and soul of our Francophonie, offering us the richness of a culture on campus that allows us to assert ourselves as young Francophones.
It must not “perdre le nord,” or “lose the north” as we say in French – and we should not be forced to leave Northern Ontario to study in French at the university level. It must be indebted to the young people here, a city where French is the language spoken by a third of its population.
This university is our manifesto. This institution is l’Université de Sudbury.
We are the heirs of those who have been shaped by this institution of knowledge. Young rebels who played Moé j'viens du Nord s’tie (I’m from the North, damnit), who organised the Congrès Franco-Parole, who founded the Association des étudiantes et étudiants francophones (AEF), and who created and flew the Franco-Ontarian flag, imbued by the experience, the dynamism and tradition of the Université de Sudbury.
At the end of this month of La Francophonie, as the future of post-secondary education in Sudbury is being determined, Franco-Ontarian youth must speak up. They must demand their university – and its immediate federal and provincial funding. Because it is this institution that will nurture our most extraordinary dreams and inspire the folly of the collective – that of daring to dream and learn in French.
Marie-Pierre Héroux is a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. She is a former student of the defunct Histoire program at Laurentian University. Philippe Mathieu is a Franco-Suburian artist, teacher and journalist. He is an alumnus of Éducation and the defunct Music program at Laurentian University.