The Vanier Museopark is one of the 11 community museums in the City of Ottawa and one of the few francophone museums outside Quebec in Canada. Located in the heart of a 17.5-acre urban park, the Museopark enjoys an extraordinary setting.
Less than 5 km from the city center, Vanier is described as a francophone stronghold in Ontario, where the secret society of l’Ordre de Jacques-Cartier was created to defend the interests of French Canadians.
The Vanier Museopark offers physical and virtual exhibitions on municipal and provincial French events, workshops and interpretive tours as well as a complete program for people of all ages to discover the Francophone history and heritage of the neighborhood. The Museopark is also responsible for the activities of the Vanier Sugar Shack, whose activities should resume in the summer of 2022 once the reconstruction
is completed. While being an heritage of the White Fathers, African missionaries, it is also one of the few urban sugar shacks in North America.
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The Museopark’s exhibitions and interpretive tours
In October 2006, the Vanier Museopark opened its first permanent exhibition covering 400 years of history, from the First Nations to today, including the French explorers, the fur trade and the numerous educational institutions established in Vanier by religious communities. This first exhibition was replaced by another, focused more specifically on the history of Vanier since the mid-19th century: the arrival of the first colonists, economic life, politics, the defence of Francophone culture and current changes in the community, which is losing some of its Francophone population and becoming more diverse. Temporary exhibitions also address themes such as Franco-Ontarians past and present, and the Francophone community in Ottawa.
The Museopark offers four urban tours in which visitors can learn about Vanier’s heritage and its key Francophone historical sites. On the Richelieu Park tour, patrons visit the once swampy land that the White Fathers transformed into a magnificant park. Another tour follows Beechwood Avenue, home to Église Saint-Charles built in 1908, which consolidated the Francophone settlement. It is in this church’s rectory that the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier was formed. Yet another tour explores Montreal Road, built in 1869. Montreal Road was the first road from the Rideau River through the heart of the district, and now leads to the only fully Francophone hospital in Ontario, Hôpital Montfort, which remains open after Franco-Ontarians mobilized to keep it from closing in 1997.
The public talks, CreActivity Club workshops for children and Eastview breakfasts (Vanier used to be known as Eastview) are extremely popular. Once a month, people who grew up in the neighbourhood are invited to share their stories about sports, commerce, taverns, the corruption of a memorable priest or parish rivalries. These conversations are recorded, and this invaluable intangible heritage will be used to create new exhibitions. The Museopark is currently preparing for the future promotion of the past.
The Vanier district: A tenacious Francophone centre
In 1836, when the first bridge went up across the Rideau River, the mostly Francophone inhabitants of Lower Town (then Bytown), began settling in what would become the Vanier district of Ottawa. In 1887, male and female religious orders began settling there, offering religious, educational and health and social services in French, which would partially make up for the restrictions imposed on the French language in Ontario, in particular Regulation 17 in 1912, which prohibited teaching in French.
In 1926, the creation of the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier secret society was spearheaded by Father François-Xavier Barrette and French Canadian public servants, who wished to ensure the common good of French Canadian Catholics through the creation of a radical elite. The society would spread across Canada from Eastview, which would eventually become Vanier.
In 1969, when Eastview changed its name to Vanier in honour of Georges-Philias Vanier, the first French Canadian Governor-General of Canada, more than 60% of the city’s 20,000 residents were Francophone. The 1971 census put the proportion of Francophones in Vanier at 67%, and the 1991 census, at 55%. In 2001, the last year for which there are official statistics before Vanier merged with Ottawa, 49% of the population spoke French as a first language. Although there has been a decline in the proportion of Francophones, Vanier is still an important Francophone centre in Ottawa and in Ontario. Recent studies indicate that the increasingly mobile Francophone population continues to leave Vanier to settle in other districts. Ottawa has a proportionately larger Francophone population than any major city in Canada outside Quebec and New Brunswick, with 16.6% of its 980,275 inhabitants speaking French as a first language, according to the 2016 census.