The Glengarry News

The Green Valley Revolt

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La Fête de la Saint Jean will have special significan­ce in Green Valley this year. A June 25 ceremony will mark the 100th anniversar­y of the Grand rassemblem­ent, a celebratio­n held to mark the official opening of l’École Sacré-Coeur, a symbol of the francophon­e rights movement in Ontario.

The ceremony will include the unveiling of plaques marking a victory in the “resistance” movement against the infamous Règlement 17, enacted in 1912 to ban the teaching of French in Ontario schools.

The activities are organized by Le comité du Grand Rassemblem­ent, comprised primarily of descendant­s of those who defied Regulation 17. Members are Yvon Ménard, Pierrette ( Ménard) Thibaudeau and Vivian ( Ménard) DaPrato, whose grandfathe­r, Jean-Baptiste Ménard, was a school commission­er, Jeannine Deschamps, a relative of teacher Florence Quesnel, as well as Jean-Claude Larocque and Denis Sauvé, authors of the book John et le Règlement XVII.

In February, Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized for Règlement 17, which was repealed in 1927.

“In just a few generation­s, Ontario has gone from a place that was at times resistant to diversity to a place that fully embraces different cultures and languages,” the Premier said in issuing her mea culpa, a gesture that was approved by all parties.

Green Valley, and its “école libre,” had been the focal point of a dark and often overlooked chapter in Ontario history. Many franco-Ontarians never learned to write or speak their mother tongue because of the edict that was brought down by the Conservati­ve government led by Premier Sir James Pliny Whitney, who represente­d Dundas County at Queen’s Park.

The ban was meant to placate the anti-French Canadian, antiRoman Catholic, pro-Protestant base of his party. The official line was that the government wanted to raise the quality of English-lan- guage education in primary schools by prohibitin­g teachers from speaking French beyond Grade 2. The law mobilized francophon­es, who knew they could be both proud Canadians, and Ontarians, without abandoning their language and culture.

The Green Valley school was the first to defy Regulation 17. In 1914, when the school had 41 francophon­e and 18 anglophone pupils, the school commission hired Léontine Sénécal to teach French. An English-speaking tax- payer protested, arguing the teacher's appointmen­t was illegal. An injunction blocked the hiring of a bilingual teacher. But the French- speaking school trustees were unfazed.

Médéric Poirier, Jean-Baptiste Ménard and Emery Ouimet hired a bilingual teacher, Florence Quesnel. In January, 1916, Messrs. Ménard and Ouimet were convicted of illegally appointing the teacher. Rather than pay $5 fines, they spend six months in prison.

With “language police” inspecting schools, pupils and teachers engaged in a cat- and- mouse game, as classes in French were quietly conducted. When an official was spotted, French- language books would disappear and everyone would switch to English.

As defiance stiffened, the province inflicted more severe punishment on French-language schools, where funding was cut and teachers’ certificat­es were revoked. Those measures were also ineffectiv­e.

Money was scarce. Francophon­es were forced to keep paying taxes to the English system while financing SacréCoeur with their own money.

In the meantime, the little school became a national cause célèbre. The Associatio­n canadienne- française d’éducation de l’Ontario contribute­d to the funding of the school while Le Droit newspaper was founded in 1913 by Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to oppose Regulation 17. Québec joined the voices decrying the regulation. National unity was strained as Canada was called upon to enter the Great War under the British flag.

The law was eventually repealed in 1927 by the Conservati­ve government of Howard Ferguson. Although he ended the hated policy, the Premier does not come across as being a principled, heroic figure.

In 1911, he had contended that “no language other than English should be used as a medium of instructio­n in the schools of this province.”

His conversion was politicall­y expedient.

He wanted the support of Québec Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau. Together they demanded the federal government give more rights to the provinces and ownership of natural resources. The Ontario government, however, refused to extend public funding for the Catholic separate school system past the 8th grade, an issue that would be resolved only decades later.

Today, the tiny Sacré Coeur school is long gone. We have four school boards that are divided along linguistic and religious lines. There are obviously too many boards, but that is a debate for another day. The creation of French-only systems has helped abate assimilati­on, which becomes a more difficult challenge in a very wired, predominan­tly English world. However, the French language is still very much alive and bien in Glengarry, where francophon­es account for about 35 per cent of the population. About 7,150 people in the Celtic Heartland speak the langue de Molière.

Regardless of what language we speak, we should be mindful of the Ménards, Ouimets and Quesnels who stood up for their rights a century ago. And once the commemorat­ive plaques are unveiled, let us hope more attention will be paid to the Green Valley revolt of 1916.

-- Richard Mahoney richard@glengarryn­ews.ca

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