Our Francophone heritage

St-Antoine-de-Padoue Cathedral, Timmins (Photo from the collection of the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre)

Photo: St-Antoine-de-Padoue Cathedral, Timmins (Photo from the collection of the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre)


Karen Bachmann

Francophone heritage, Community

Published Date: Jun 12, 2008

Fauquier. Moonbeam. Kapuskasing. Hearst. Val Gagné. Belle Vallée. Sudbury. Timmins. Sturgeon Falls. The history of northern Ontario cannot be told without looking at the contributions made to the area by Franco-Ontarians.

The French first came to Ontario in 1610, when they chose to explore the Great Lakes basin. Their first permanent settlement occurred in 1701 at Fort Ponchartrain, near Windsor-Detroit. Eastern Ontario development came next and, while many French coureurs de bois travelled regularly throughout northern Ontario, a permanent Francophone community did not come into being until the settlement of the mid-north areas (North Bay and Sudbury) around 1880. This development happened because of the construction of railway lines and the increased interest in mineral exploration. Once those communities had been organized, it was time to look northward again, and the settlements around Temiskaming opened up the area in the early 1900s. By 1910, Anglophone and Francophone communities were springing up between Matheson, Cochrane and Hearst, thanks to the Porcupine Gold Rush and the burgeoning lumber industry. It is important to note that today, there are more than 120,000 Francophones living and working in northern Ontario and that 22 per cent of Ontarians living in the northeast claim a Francophone heritage.

Fortunately for us, there exists a myriad of tangible sites that celebrate the Francophone culture in northern Ontario. While there is currently no museum devoted solely to Francophone history, we can see this living culture every day in many of our northern communities. This history is notably visible in the local architecture, which includes religious institutions, businesses and local shops, public buildings and industrial sites. Agricultural communities like Val Gagné and Fauquier are practically living history museums in themselves, devoted to both preserving and developing a living Francophone culture.

Just such an example of tangible, Franco-Ontarian history can be found in Timmins. St-Antoine-de-Padoue cathedral still graces the hill on Pine Street and continues to be an intricate part of our local heritage. As with many institutions in this community, it was the Hollinger Mine – and more importantly, Noah Timmins, owner of that mine – that saw to the construction of the local hospital and the beginnings of this church. While Father Alexandre Pelletier was responsible for the first small chapel, it would be Father Charles-Eugène Thériault’s responsibility to grow the church and see to a new structure. The cornerstone of the new church was blessed by Bishop Latulipe in 1922; the ornate church would unfortunately burn to the ground in 1936. By 1937, the new stone structure, created in a solid Romanesque style, was ready for the community.

The church in Timmins is only one example of Francophone culture in northern Ontario. Consider this an open invitation to explore this rich culture in this part of the province!