“Sometimes the battle to gain respect for the French language can revolve around a simple acute accent.”1 Journalist and blogger Pierre Allard explains why the issue of an accent has become so important for French speakers in Orléans. He describes transformations experienced by the former village of Orléans, in Ottawa’s eastern suburbs, where urban sprawl has completely reversed the population ratios. Francophones, formerly in the majority, have been overtaken by Anglophones who now form two-thirds of the population. “And Orléans then starts to lose its acute accent ... in the municipality, on institutional signs, on commercial banners.”2
But citizens are concerned and take action. They urge the two municipalities with jurisdiction over Orléans – Gloucester in the west and Cumberland in the east – to rule in favour of using the accent in the name. In the summer of 1990, both councils adopt the resolution to include “Orléans” with an accent in the official registers. They intervene with the Ontario Geographic Names Board to make a decision, which eventually comes to pass. But it takes another four years for “Orleans,” without the accent, to be removed from official uses of the name.
Orléans officially recovers its acute accent in 1994. But businesses are slow to conform to official toponymy. The Société franco-ontarienne du patrimoine et de l’histoire d’Orléans, founded in 2011, steps in to take up the cause of the accent. Studies conducted in 2012 reveal that its use remains rare in businesses whose name includes “Orléans.”
Why place so much importance on an accent? Louis V. Patry, who has led the fight for the accent for years, explains: “Orléans with the accent represents the roots of Orléans, its founders, its Francophone cultural heritage, and reminds us that Orléans was, during most of its history, predominantly Francophone.”3