How has Ontario evolved since the arrival of the French?

From Paul Overy

The year 2015 marks the 400th anniversary of the “francophonie” – settlement of French origin — in Ontario. This presence grew from the arrival of Samuel de Champlain, an important French explorer recognized for, among many other qualities, for his skills as a cartographer, administrator and visionary leader in his peaceful relations with the First Nations people he came to know.

Champlain, au fil de l’eau !

« Champlain, au fil de l’eau ! » is an interactive show developed by Ecoloodi, where children share with Samuel de Champlain big aventures through time. Get on board in France in 1603 and allow yourself to be transported to 2015 in Toronto through a Wendat sweatlodge experience (the Wendat used to be called Hurons, a name now to be avoided) in 1615. The first performance will be on Monday, March 16 at 2 p.m. at the Fairview public library in Toronto. Read more


Here is a bit of context for this show…

The flow of history since the arrival of the French in Ontario

Official Languages Commissioner François Boileau presented a very interesting talk entitled (in translation) “A Discussion with Champlain on the Ontario of Today”, on Wednesday January 21, 2015 at l’Alliance française. He articulated many historian David Hackett Fischer’s ideas, from his book “Le rêve de Champlain” (Champlain’s Dream).


According to them, for Champlain, good interpreters were also explorers, linguists, businessmen, diplomats and anthropologists – we know them as “coureurs des bois”. Champlain trained dozens of these young interpreters – among whom Étienne Brûlé and Jean Nicollet were among the most famous – who then became part of growing waves of French explorers who discovered, through their European ways and perspectives, the territory of the Native peoples we today call Canada.

The role of water bodies…

The name Ontario means “beautiful shining water” in the Wendat language, and it is as early as 1641 that it is used to designate the easternmost territory on the north shore of the Great Lakes.


The role of bodies of water was significant, as much for the Peoples native to the land as for the French and their European successors. It is the richness of the Native lands in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water that initially supported the Europeans’ exploration and discovery of what was to become the Canadian territory. Then, progressively, these same bodies of water became the engines of development and exploitation of the massive natural resources in this territory, beginning with furs under the French regime, then shifting progressively toward lumber and minerals under the English regime

…and of canoes

One of the through lines in this relationship between humans and bodies of water is the canoe. This type of vessel, of Native origin and engineered according to the requirements of the various regions where it was created and used, made it possible for Europeans to navigate where and farther in areas where there boats did not allow them to travel.

Musée canot

The importance and evolution of the canoe and its role are described in an inspiring and engaging way at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough. It’s a jewel of a museum, telling the story of many First Nations peoples, including the Inuit, by means of describing how their canoes contributed to their way of being in the natural world, their trading relations with other First Nations, and their sharing of this essential technology with the Europeans. A visit there is recommended to anyone who is interested in the history of Canada and its peoples, as well as current lovers  of adventures on water….

Read this page in: French