“My two children speak French, they go to French school, it gives us a lot of strength to continue our life here in Ottawa.”1
–Rola Jreij, Syrian refugee in Ottawa
Born and raised in the city of Homs in Syria, Rola Jreij, along with her husband and two children, arrive in Ottawa from Lebanon in December 2016. Members of the Maronite Christian community, they are sponsored by the Francophone parish of Saint-Louis-Marie-de-Montfort. The two children attend the École catholique Montfort, where they are fitting in very well.
Between 2012 and 2016, regional French school boards open their arms to newcomers. The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est takes in more than 600 students who, like the Jreij children, have recently arrived in Canada. During the same period, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario welcomes more than 300 students to its schools in the National Capital Region, including around fifty of Syrian origin. These young newcomers arrive in Ottawa from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They swell the ranks of the 28,000 Francophone immigrants in Ottawa in 2011, then already representing 18% of the capital’s Francophone population.
Like the family of Rola Jreij, recent Francophone immigrants are often also refugees, arriving from countries devastated by the war: Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A large number also come to Canada from the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Djibouti) and West Africa (Ivory Coast, Senegal) – so much that 40% of French-speaking immigrants in Ottawa identify as Black. To celebrate their contribution to French life and “divercity” in the capital, La Cité has been organizing a multicultural evening during Black History Month for nearly ten years.
Many of these Francophone immigrants are treading difficult paths. Low-income families, for example, are twice more likely to emerge from the Francophone immigrant group than from the Francophone population as a whole, and three times more likely among those who identify as Black. The proportion of precarious family situations is also higher, including a greater number of single-parent families. The geography of Francophone immigrants attests to their socio-economic vulnerability. They congregate in areas where housing is more affordable, such as former downtown French bastions abandoned by native-born Francophones, and multicultural suburbs in the south and west of Ottawa. Various programs are being established in schools and community centres there to promote the integration of new arrivals.
Ottawa welcomes a growing number of Francophone newcomers, who infuse French life in the capital with a new vitality. But involving them fully in French institutions, as both volunteers and employees, remains a challenge. Few individuals of immigrant origin rise to the ranks of leadership.
1ICI Ottawa-Gatineau, “Vivre en français à Ottawa: un défi pour les réfugiés syriens”, December 8, 2016 (translated from the original).
Mural depicting young people of various cultural origins, created by young people in the Vanier sector, unveiled on July 28, 2011. Produced at the initiative of several organizations in the community. The mural is located at 181 McArthur.
Source : Photograph printed in L’Express [Ottawa], vol. 28, du August 3, 2011 edition, murale-museoparc-vanier.