Council approves measure this week; ceremony planned Sept. 20
Nation Valley News
BERWICK — North Stormont will fly the Franco-Ontarian flag as a permanent fixture alongside the Canadian and Ontario flags at municipal headquarters in Berwick.
The rural municipality has never hoisted a township flag to accompany the national and provincial flags in front of the County Rd. 9 office building, and officials insist that Tuesday night’s council decision does not mean the Franco-Ontarian standard is now the de facto flag of North Stormont.
The green-and-white emblem — featuring images of a fleur-de-lis and the retro stylized trillium symbol previously used by the Ontario government — will be raised Sept. 20 on an existing third pole at the site. Township CAO Marc Chenier says that school children from École Notre Dame du Rosaire in Crysler and École élémentaire catholique La Source in Moose Creek will be on hand for the ceremony.
The motion securing council’s endorsement to fly the Franco-Ontarian flag effectively divided the local politicians 3-2 when tabled by Councillor Randy Douglas and seconded by Frank Landry at the Sept. 12 meeting. The ensuing discussion lasted about 10 minutes and unfolded respectfully, without rancour.
Douglas asked if there were “any good reasons” to deny the request presented to council earlier this summer by Franco-Ontarian community advocate François Bazinet.
The lone voice of opposition, Councillor Jim Wert, countered: “Are there good reasons? I wish you had quantified that. We’ve got a great municipality, but we have many factions represented.”
Saying he preferred an “all or none” approach, Wert pointed out that council turned down special recognition for another local group by denying a requested road name change from United Empire Loyalist descendants earlier this year. “Because when we start to pick and choose, I’m not so sure how we make out on that,” the councillor warned. “Perhaps you guys see this differently, but I sort of see it in the same light.”
Councillor Landry argued the Franco-Ontarian flag ought to be present as a symbol of bilingualism. “As far as I know, we are bilingual … French and English are our two official languages, so that’s where I see supporting it.”
CAO Chenier offered that the third mast at municipal headquarters would also serve “for all kinds of flags” and that staff would bring additional requests forward as they arise. But Deputy Mayor Bill McGimpsey didn’t like that idea, arguing in favour of reserving the pole for the Franco-Ontarian flag alone.
“I’m kind of torn after what you just said,” McGimpsey replied to Chenier. “I don’t agree with the next groups coming in because we may be opening up a pandora’s box … you’ve got the Irish, you’ve the Scottish, then you’ve got the British Home Children, and you’ve got more and more and more.”
“I don’t think this should be offensive to people,” added the deputy mayor. “It is one of the two official languages and shouldn’t be political.”
Estimating the French-English split in North Stormont at about 50-50 and acknowledging his own ability to speak both languages, McGimpsey said the measure “doesn’t put fear into me that we’re being taken over by the French, or the French are being taken over by the English.
“It’s just simply a flag. But I don’t agree with all comers after this. There’s a reason for saying there are two official languages … Let’s limit it, at best, to this [Franco-Ontarian flag],” he concluded.
Mayor Dennis Fife didn’t raise his hand to vote one way or the other but later told Nation Valley News that he would have “left the empty flagpole there” — to be used by a variety of causes similar to the current practice at United Counties of SD&G buildings.
When contacted by NVN this week, François Bazinet expressed his pleasure at council’s decision.
The Finch resident described the Franco-Ontarian flag’s upcoming presence in Berwick as a “permanent installation” with the exception of individual days the township may grant to other groups for special occasions.
He said the initiative grew out of a “great conversation” and rapport with North Stormont Township during the 2015 International Plowing Match in Finch, where Franco-Ontarians paraded through the tented city with their flag on Franco-Ontarian Day on Sept. 25 of that year.
A number of Eastern Ontario municipalities, including Cornwall and most jurisdictions in Prescott-Russell, already fly the Franco-Ontarian flag, added the retired teacher and current chair of the region’s French Catholic school board.
While the flag itself “is not a symbol of bilingualism,” Bazinet clarified, a municipality flying the emblem effectively indicates that it offers services in French.
Designed in 1975, the provincial legislature formally recognized the flag as an emblem of Ontario’s francophone community in 2001.