Le Droit

On the morning of March 20, 2018, the Ontario Heritage Trust and Le Droit newspaper unveiled a provincial plaque at the École secondaire publique De La Salle in Ottawa to commemorate the newspaper.

The bilingual provincial plaque reads as follows:


    In 1912, members of the Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — a religious order of the Catholic Church — gathered in Ottawa to discuss the founding of a newspaper to protest Regulation 17, which — until it was no longer enforced in 1927 — severely restricted the teaching of French in Ontario schools. That initial meeting led to the establishment of Le Droit, a Catholic French-language daily newspaper. The first six-page edition of 10,000 copies was published near this location, on March 27, 1913, with Father Charles Charlebois as its editor-in-chief. Over time, Le Droit became a mainstream daily newspaper serving the French-Canadian community in Ontario. In 1997, the newspaper campaigned successfully with the Franco-Ontarian community against the closing of the Ottawa Hôpital Montfort — the only French-language teaching hospital in the province. Le Droit continues actively to support and defend Franco-Ontarian rights and aspirations.


    En 1912, des membres de l’Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario et des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée — une congrégation religieuse de l’Église catholique — se sont réunis à Ottawa pour discuter de la fondation d’un journal afin de protester contre le Règlement 17, qui — jusqu’à ce qu’il cesse d’être appliqué en 1927 — limitait considérablement l’enseignement du français dans les écoles de l’Ontario. Cette réunion a mené à la création du quotidien catholique francophone Le Droit. La première édition de six pages, tirée à 10 000 exemplaires sous la supervision du père Charles Charlebois, le rédacteur en chef, a été publiée près de cet endroit le 27 mars 1913. Au fil du temps, Le Droit est devenu un quotidien généraliste au service de la collectivité canadienne-française de l’Ontario. En 1997, le journal a mené, avec la communauté franco-ontarienne, une campagne fructueuse contre la fermeture de l’hôpital Montfort d’Ottawa, le seul hôpital d’enseignement de langue française de la province. Le Droit continue de soutenir et de défendre activement les droits et les aspirations des Franco-Ontariens.

Historical background

Certantibus futura: The future belongs to those who fight (1910-20)

The founding of Le Droit newspaper is closely tied to the battle for the French language in Ontario’s school system. As in other provinces, the government had been imposing restrictions on the use of French since the end of the 19th century. Those actions culminated in the adoption of Regulation 17 in 1912, an order by Ontario's Ministry of Education designed to eliminate French as a language of instruction and communication.1

The policy was merely the latest strike in an ethnic, ideological and religious struggle between imperialist and nationalist forces.2 The government of James P. Whitney aligned itself with the arguments of those who wanted to standardize the education system. For French-Canadians, the Roman Catholic faith and the French language were inseparable, assuring the survival of their culture. In the minority community, education was perceived as a bastion against looming assimilation. Consequently, the Francophone elite formed the Association canadienne-française d’éducation de l’Ontario (ACFÉO) in 1910. At the Association’s congress, the possibility of establishing a Roman Catholic French-language newspaper that would be independent of the political parties and would create a community of ideas and feelings was discussed.3

The militant response to Regulation 17 gave the project the impetus it needed to go forward. At a gathering on December 9, 1912, an alliance of lay and religious leaders decided to launch a daily newspaper to encourage resistance against the government’s policy, transmit watchwords across the province, and promote united action by militants.4 Incorporated in 1912, the Syndicat d’Oeuvres sociales, the newspaper’s publisher, issued a leaflet describing its goals:

    [Translation] For men of heart, rights are not given up; they are taken away. We have rights, and we will fight for them. French-Canadians have enough faith in the British justice system to be certain that their rights will be recognized when they are dealt with outside the circles affected by political intrigue and blind fanaticism.5

It was not until March 27, 1913, however, that the first edition of the paper was actually published. It had only six pages, and 10,000 copies were printed. The paper’s political agenda was outlined on the front page:

    [Translation] In view of the difficult situation in which our province’s French Catholic schools have been placed, the Syndicat’s directors felt that their primary duty was to publish a daily newspaper to better inform our people and prove to our adversaries that we intend to fight to the finish with honourable weapons. [...]
    But when the future of half a million French-Canadians is at stake, every available means of fighting must be employed. And what better weapon than a newspaper, especially a daily newspaper that serves, first and foremost, the Catholic religion, the French language and equal rights for everyone.6

Under the motto “The future belongs to those who fight,” the newspaper jumped feet first into the fight against Regulation 17. It made no secret of its independence from the political parties, in contrast to its predecessors.7 Instead, it remained close to the system of French-Canadian institutions, including the ACFÉO, to ensure a degree of financial security. Moreover, it became one of the beneficiaries of the solidarity of Quebec’s French-Canadian population, receiving a donation of $15,000 from the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal.8 With these tokens of solidarity and other contributions, the newspaper began to expand. It left the York Street garage that had served as its print shop and moved into its new head office at the corner of Dalhousie and George streets in 1915.9

At that time, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate held a large portion of the shares of the Syndicat d’Oeuvres sociales. Father Charles Charlebois was responsible for charting the course of the young daily. As editor-in-chief from its establishment until 1930, he was the first architect of the fight against Regulation 17. As director of the ACFÉO’s secretariat, he symbolized not only the alliance between faith and nationalism but also the partnership between the newspaper and the authorities of the network of lay and religious institutions.10

Modernization and vigilance (1920-60)

In the early 1920s, Le Droit was in transition between being a newspaper of opinion and being a mass media outlet.11 This shift increased the emphasis on general news.12 As historian Mario Gravelle notes, [Translation] “In about 1922, the appearance of the newspaper was changed to attract more readers. Content for women, sports and other features was introduced. The editorials were moved from the front page to page 3. From that point on, less attention was paid to language issues.”13

That does not mean, however, that religious, national and language questions were completely abandoned. The paper continued its efforts in the area of education. While French-Canadians were able to proclaim victory when Regulation 17 was suspended in 1927, other issues emerged. In 1921, for example, the paper took part in a fundraising campaign for the construction of a French school in Pembroke. In 1929, it demanded a fair share of education tax revenues.14 The quest for language equality spread to other parts of the government. For instance, the paper turned its attention to the federal public service and the percentage of French-Canadian employees.15

Aware of its regional context, Le Droit began providing more coverage of Quebec affairs. After dedicating a page to Hull news in 1914, it opened its first office in that city in 1920. The Syndicat d’Oeuvres sociales expanded its media presence on both sides of the Ottawa River by acquiring radio station CKCH in 1942. The paper had 15,000 subscribers, about half of whom were in Quebec.16

Despite the departure of Father Charbonneau, the Oblates continued to play a prominent role in managing the newspaper. In 1935, they became majority shareholders in the Syndicat d’Oeuvres sociales. During this period, the Oblates’ leadership had a substantial influence on the newspaper’s content, as Roxanne Dewy notes.17 A study of the women’s pages shows how they assisted in conveying maternalistic images and ideas.18 The same was true for the national and religious St. Jean Baptiste Day celebrations. Editorialists urged French-Canadians to emulate their patron saint’s apostolic spirit.19 Religion also affected labour relations. When the first dispute arose in June 1921, workers formed a Roman Catholic union. Since its establishment, Le Droit’s stance had always been in favour of the Church’s social doctrine.20

The period from the end of the Second World War to the early 1960s was one of growth for the newspaper. Its daily readership was close to 30,000. It moved to new offices at the corner of Rideau and Nelson streets in Lowertown Ottawa (1955). Its print shop was running at full capacity. In 1959, a regional edition was launched for readers in Northern Ontario. Le Droit’s ambition was to be a provincial paper. Offices were opened in Sudbury, Sturgeon Falls and North Bay. The experiment was shut down, however, in 1963 for financial reasons.21

A time of serious self-doubt (1960-2000)

The 1960s saw the winds of modernity blow through French-Canadian society. The growing secularization of social structures, the rise of the Quebec sovereignty movement, and the emergence of a new generation pummeled the French-Canadian identity. That, in turn, threw a monkey wrench into relations between Quebec and Francophone minority communities. Le Droit was both a participant in, and a witness to, the tensions and alienation between the two groups.

As the term “Franco-Ontarians” became more common and the term “French-Canadians” lost its currency, Le Droit spoke out on a number of subjects that were important to linguistic minorities. It maintained its tradition as a newspaper that fights [Translation] “for bilingualism, secondary schools or to criticize Quebec sovereignty, multiculturalism or Ontario’s slow pace in acquiescing to Franco-Ontarian demands.”22 It also took part in the grassroots crusades of the period by supporting the C’est l’temps movement, which advocated more bilingual services in the justice system, and criticizing the urban development plan for Lowertown Ottawa, a neighbourhood with a large Francophone community. With the difficulty of making inroads in the National Capital Region’s English-language press, Le Droit was virtually the only print media outlet that put pressure on local government officials.23

The paper also continued to modernize its corporate structure. In 1970, the Syndicat d’Oeuvres sociales was renamed Le Droit Ltée. Radio station CKCH was sold as it was losing money. The Oblates played a diminishing role and, in 1976, they announced their intention to sell the paper. It changed hands in 1983, becoming the property of UniMédia. Three years later, it was acquired by the multinational Hollinger. The recession of the early 1980s and downsizing operations also affected the paper. Major labour disputes brought the publication to a standstill in 1982 and 1988. Then the paper switched to a tabloid format. Restructuring, modernization of production methods and labour disputes slashed its workforce from 400 in 1970 to about 100 at the turn of the century. In 2001, the paper was acquired by the Gesca group.24

Le Droit
never completely abandoned engaged journalism. In February 1997, the Ontario government announced its intention to close the Montfort Hospital, the only French-language teaching hospital in the province. The paper’s journalists took up the cause and campaigned openly against the closure.25 This event also helped the paper recapture the symbolic battlefield of French Ontario, as the majority of its readers were Quebecers.26

In 2013, Le Droit celebrated its 100th anniversary. Like the rest of the industry, it was dealing with fierce competition from the electronic media, falling advertising revenues and the popularity of social media. Despite all these challenges, it hoped to reach a new audience. In 2012, it had a readership of nearly 180,000 on its various platforms.27

Le Droit will forever be directly and indirectly associated with the political struggles of French Ontario. While its role in the battle over Regulation 17 or the Montfort Hospital crisis now belongs to history, the newspaper is an important source of identity for the French-speaking minority.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Dr. Marc-André Gagnon in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2018

1 Michel Bock and François Charbonneau (eds.), Le siècle du Règlement 17. Regards sur une crise scolaire et nationale, Sudbury, Éditions Prise de parole, 2015, 460 p.; Gaétan Gervais, “Le règlement XVII (1912-1927)”, Revue du Nouvel Ontario, No. 18,‎ 1996, p. 123-192.

2 Robert Choquette, La foi, gardienne de la langue en Ontario 1900-1950, Montréal, Bellarmin, 282 p.

3 René Dionne, “1910. Une première prise de parole collective en Ontario français”, Cahier Charlevoix, Vol. 1, 1995, p. 69.

4 Roxanne Deevy, Montfort et Le Droit, même combat?, Hearst, Le Nordir, 2003, p. 22; Jean Taillefer, Le Droit et son histoire, Ottawa, Édition Le Droit, n.d., [1955], p. 11.

5 [No byline], “Nos droits et nos devoirs”, Le Droit, January 17, 1913, 1 p.

6 [No byline], “Notre programme”, Le Droit, March 27, 1913, p. 1.

7 Paul-François Sylvestre, Les journaux de l’Ontario français, Sudbury, Société historique du Nouvel-Ontario, 1984, p. 4.

8 Robert Rumilly. Histoire de la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, des Patriotes au fleurdelisé, 1834-1948, Montréal, Éditions de l'Aurore, 1975, p. 235; Olivar Asselin, Lettre à Onésime Guibord, président du Syndicat d'Oeuvres sociales, May 3, 1913, University of Ottawa, CRCCF, Fonds Le Droit (C71), MCF 18-5.

9 Orfali

10 Marcel Laurence, “Les Oblats et le journal Le Droit”, Église canadienne, Vol. 31, No. 4, April 1998, p. 129-133.

11 Zoé Cadieux, Le Droit : à la découverte des enjeux idéologiques et identitaires des Canadiens français de l’Ontario durant l’entre-deux-guerres (1918-1939), Master’s thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 2016, p. 3.

12 Jean de Bonneville, La presse québécoise de 1884 à 1914 : genèse d’un média de masse, Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1988, 416 p.

13 Cited in Philippe Orfali, “100 ans d’histoire pour Le Droit”, Trente, Vol. 37, No. 2, Spring 2013, [online].

14 Dewy, p. 24.

15 Cadieux, p. 82.

16 Philippe Orfali, “Historique”, Le Droit : 100 ans d’information, d’implication, d’évolution, Ottawa, Le Droit, 2013, [online].

17 Dewy, p. 25.

18 Gertrude Pelletier-Lapointe, “De 1953 à 1970 à la page féminine du journal Le Droit”, Le Chaînon, Vol. 31, No. 3, Fall 2013, p. 22-25.

19 Marc-André Gagnon, “Le Canada français vit par ses oeuvres : la Saint-Jean-Baptiste vue par le journal Le Droit, 1950-1960”, Francophonies d'Amérique, No. 35, Spring 2013, p. 79-92.

20 Gaétan Vallières, “Le Droit, les franco-ontariens et le syndicalisme”, Bulletin du Regroupement des chercheurs en histoire du travail, Vol. 2, No. 3, October-November 1975, p. 7-25.

21 Philippe Orfali, “Historique”, Le Droit : 100 ans d’information, d’implication, d’évolution, Ottawa, Le Droit, 2013, [online].

22 Serge Miville, « À quoi sert au Canadien français de gagner l’univers canadien s’il perd son âme de francophone? » : Représentations identitaires et mémorielles dans la presse franco-ontarienne après la « rupture » du Canada français (1969-1986), Master’s thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 2012, p. 108.

23 Marie Hélène Eddie and Linda Cardinal, “Le Droit, le mouvement C’est l’temps et l’inscription de la problématique des services en français dans l’espace public ottavien (1975)”, Anne Gilbert, Linda Cardinal, Michel Bock, Lucie Hotte, François Charbonneau (eds.), Ottawa, lieu de vie français, Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 2017, p. 349-380; Anne Gilbert, Kenza Benali and Caroline Ramirez, “Le Droit et la rénovation de la Basse-Ville d’Ottawa : les balbutiements d’un journalisme engagé dans le dossier de l’aménagement urbain”, Francophonies d'Amérique, No. 35, Spring 2013, p. 117-139.

24 Dewy, p. 27; Philippe Orfali, “Historique”, Le Droit : 100 ans d’information, d’implication, d’évolution, Ottawa, Le Droit, 2013, [online].

25 Marc-André Gagnon, “SOS Montfort”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Toronto, Historica Canada, 2017, [online].

26 Lucie Tardif-Carpentier, “Le ‘parapluie du Québec’ : Le Droit de 1967 à 1994”, Jacques Cotnam, Yves Frenette and Agnès Whitfield (eds.), La francophonie ontarienne : bilan et perspectives de recherche, Hearst, Le Nordir, 1995, p. 309-326.

27 Philippe Orfali, “Historique”, Le Droit : 100 ans d’information, d’implication, d’évolution, Ottawa, Le Droit, 2013, [online].