Home Français
Background Image

History of Canadian Bilingualism

Are you a new professor at the University of Ottawa? This is for you!


The University of Ottawa welcomes professors from all around the world. You might be wondering why we are asking you to strive to be bilingual in Canada’s two official languages, French and English. The reason is rooted both in the present-day intellectual culture and mission of the University of Ottawa and in the history of Canada.

Canada was founded by two European colonial powers, France and England. The French were here first but the English won the conflict for the territory on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and subsequently became the majority.

Without deliberate efforts, the francophone minorities seemed destined to disappear. Measures, acts and laws were put in place by francophone advocates to protect francophone culture and heritage in Canada.

The University of Ottawa is an institution which keeps the spirit of these measures alive in order to protect the language and the culture of Francophones in Ontario and to promote official bilingualism across Canada. Conveniently located in the national capital, the University of Ottawa aims to prepare young people for bilingual positions in the Canadian workforce.

By making bilingualism a part of your academic life, you are helping the University of Ottawa to fulfill this important mandate. Accepting this challenge, many professors find that embracing bilingualism is a personally and intellectually rewarding journey. OLBI is here to support you as you accept this enriching opportunity to help create a campus and an intellectual community that are at the same time international and uniquely Canadian. 

Contact: profbil@uottawa.ca

Scroll down to see the timeline.


The 3 boats of Jacques Cartier, as well as Cartier's portrait in a medallion in a corner of the image

Jacques Cartier

Canada as a modern nation developed as a result of the exploration of two European colonial powers, France and England. The French explorer Jacques Cartier gave the name "Canada," likely deriving from the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata" (village), to the St. Lawrence Valley

Credits: BAnQ Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie - Cartes postales http://collections.banq.qc.ca/ark:/52327/2120

Les Anglais attaquent les plaines d'Abraham par bateau et des soldats escaladent la falaise vers les Français rangés sur la plaine.

New France

During the period of colonization, France and England were often at war. These conflicts eventually led to the British conquest of the Canadian territory of New France in 1759.

Credits : Hervey Smyth, 1797. Source: Bibliothèque du Ministère de la défense nationale (Canada)

Inhabitants of Lower Canada in the market square, in front of a church, side by side with English soldiers

French Canadians

Over time, French Canadians, who had initially been the majority, became a minority.

Credits : W. Walton.
Source : Musée McCord

Politicians of 1800 wearing white wigs debate while the public and the press listen from in the gallery.

Francophones' victory

Francophones, however, fought to preserve their language and culture, and measures were gradually put in place to give more presence and voice to French Canadians.

Credits : Charles Huot.
Source : Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

View of the City of Ottawa in 1857 from Parliament Hill, with the Rideau Canal and the Cathedral.

Canada's capital

Queen Victoria chose the then small town of Ottawa as Canada's capital because of its central location between French-speaking Quebec and English-speaking Ontario.

Source et Credits : Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Collection Charles R. Coutlee/c011261k

Politicians from the 1900 period discuss around a table in a luxurious salon with ornate ceilings and chandeliers.

Canada Day

On July 1, 1867, Canada officially became an independent country from England. Canada Day is therefore celebrated each year on July 1st.

Source et Credits : Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Confederation Life Insurance Company fonds/e011182255

Services French and English are required in many positions in Canada.

Bilingualism in Canada

About one hundred years after Canada gained independence, French was recognized as an official language alongside English, which created a strong demand for bilingual employees in the public service and in business.

Tabaret Hall, the emblem of the University of Ottawa which promotes bilingualism since its foundation.


Ideally located at the heart of Canada's capital, the University of Ottawa has, since its founding in 1848, trained students in both languages. Promoting official bilingualism across Canada is a part of the University of Ottawa's mission, as it continues to train the bilingual leaders of tomorrow.

Credits : Alex Onoszko.
Source : Gestion des documents et des archives, Université d'Ottawa

A student in a classroom holding a small blackboard which bears a symbol representing translation from French to English.

Bilingualism at uOttawa

By embracing bilingualism into your academic life, you will help the University of Ottawa fulfill this important mandate. Many professors find that adopting bilingualism is a fruitful opportunity for personal and intellectual development.

2019 +
A student writing on a whiteboard in a French class for adults.


OLBI is here to support you in this enriching journey that will help you contribute to the development of an intellectual community that is both multicultural and distinctly Canadian.