According to the 2016 Canadian census, there were 490,715 people living in Ontario who declared French as their mother tongue, and 277,045 Ontarians who declared French as their language that they speak most often at home. Over 1.4 million Ontarians reported themselves as bilingual, and 1.3 million Ontarians reported French ethnic origins. French-speaking Ontarians constitute the largest French-speaking community in Canada outside Quebec, as well as the largest minority language group within Ontario, and French is the fourth most common ethnic background in the province after English, Scottish and Irish.
The francophone population is concentrated in Eastern Ontario, in Ottawa, Cornwall and many rural farming communities, and in Northeastern Ontario, in the cities of Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins and a number of smaller towns. Other communities with notable francophone populations are Hamilton, London, St. Catharines, Lakeshore, Windsor, Penetanguishene and Welland. Most communities in Ontario have at least a few Franco-Ontarian residents.
Ottawa, with 128,620 francophones, has the province's largest Franco-Ontarian community by size. Among the province's major cities, Greater Sudbury has the largest proportion of Franco-Ontarians to the general population at 29 per cent, and Timmins has the largest proportion among the smaller sized cities at 41 per cent. Prescott and Russell United Counties has the highest proportion of Franco-Ontarians to the general population among the province's census divisions, with about two-thirds of the population being francophone.
Some smaller communities in Ontario have a francophone majority. These include Hearst, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Embrun, St. Charles, Sturgeon Falls, Rockland, Casselman, Dubreuilville, Vankleek Hill and Hawkesbury.
The French presence in Ontario dates from the mid-17th century. Early settlements in the region include the Mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons at Midland in 1649, Sault Sainte Marie in 1668, and Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit in 1701. Southern Ontario was part of the Pays d'en-haut (Upper Country) of New France and was later part of the province of Quebec until Quebec was split into The Canadas in 1791. However, prior to the Articles of Capitulation of Quebec, which handed control of New France from France to Great Britain, modern-day Ontario had only very limited European settlement, apart from a few military forts. Modern Franco-Ontarians are instead descended primarily from people who moved to Ontario from Quebec or New Brunswick in the 19th and 20th centuries.