An illustration of the special historical ties between Canada
and France, this Museum was built in the small town of Tourouvre, in the Perche region of Normandy.
In the early 17th century, Perche was the point of departure for many French emigrants going to settle in “New France.” A number of major families in Canada—such as the Pelletiers, Gagnons, Tremblays, Rivards, Fortins, Bouchards and Drouins—can trace their roots back to this particular region.
In the 21st century, these families from the Perche region can claim some illustrious descendants on the other side of the Atlantic : Céline Dion, Lynda Lemay, Isabelle Boulay, even Madonna. The Museum is an interpretation centre for emigration from France and the Perche region to Canada, and aims to be the latest in scientific expertise on the phenomenon of French emigration prior to 1760, a gathering place, and a gateway to the future and to the forging of new relationships. The Museum of French Emigration to Canada is a site of memories, but its mission is also to develop ties between French citizens—be they from Perche or elsewhere—and their North American descendants, through exhibits, meetings, genealogical exchanges, cultural events and youth activities. Demographic and genealogical data available at the Museum will allow visitors to piece history together and gain a better understanding of the social and individual context of the French emigrants who left their country to build a new one.
Between 1634 and 1666, 246 inhabitants of Perche left their
native land to settle in New France. Many of them came from the parish of Tourouvre. They were among the first inhabitants to build their houses and clear the immense land. Thousands of emigrants
from all regions of France joined them.
départ de Julien Mercier pour la Nouvelle-France, vitrail de l'église de Tourouvre
Thus developed the country that Jacques Cartier, on his second expedition in 1535, had named “Canada.” Men and women, alone or with their families, artisans, lumberjacks, labourers, “filles du roi” (young women sent to New France under royal auspices), monks, nuns, soldiers, mariners… all arrived in the 17th century and were the first to populate Canada. They left France, confronted the ocean, defied difficult winters, cleared the land and built the first houses on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. With great courage, they faced the challenges of the New World, and they succeeded. They settled in Quebec City (1608), on the Beaupré Coast, on the isle of Orleans (1634), and in Montreal (1642).
Under the influence of the apothecary Robert Giffard and the
Juchereau brothers, rich merchants from the Perche region, Tourouvre was one of the most active emigration centres. It was not the only one: Mortagne-au-Perche, Saint-Cosme-en-Vairais (now in the
département of Sarthe) and some thirty other parishes of the region (today situated in the département of Orne for the most part) were also very active. The legacy of the adventure of these men
and women is still apparent in modern-day Canada: it is a bilingual country, with French being one of its official languages.
The distribution of the 7,135,000 Canadians whose mother tongue is French (24% of the population) varies widely from one end of the country to the other. In Quebec, more than 80% of the population is Francophone; in New Brunswick, approximately one third. After Quebec, Ontario has the largest number of residents whose mother tongue is French (530,000), followed by New Brunswick (240,000). These two provinces are home to more than three quarters of the Francophones living outside Quebec. Manitoba’s Frenchspeaking population numbers around 50,000; Alberta and British Columbia have 65,000 Francophones each; Saskatchewan has 20,000; Nova Scotia, 35,000. The other provinces and the three territories have a smaller number of Francophones. Canada’s French-speaking community also includes all people who have mastered the “language of Molière” and who, alongside those who count French as their mother tongue, bring Canada’s Francophone community to life. There are 850,000 such people in Ontario, 215,000 in British Columbia, 145,000 in Alberta, 70,000 in New Brunswick—in all, there are more than nine million people in Canada who speak French.
It is estimated that there are 23 million people with French lineage in North America.