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Western Canada trends in bilingualism (#68)

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The next few posts will cover some interesting statistics on bilingualism across Canada.   I took an open source creative commons map (credit to Lokal.Profil 2007), and colour-mapped it using open-source bilingual population statistics from Statistics Canada’s national 2006 census.  When loosely mapped based on the geography of the statistics, the results are interesting.

This first post will look at British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Yukon.

British Columbia (B.C.)

Despite my B.C. roots, B.C.’s bilingualism statistics came as a complete surprise to me.  Unlike the three Prairie Provinces, BC generally doesn’t have a strong Francophone history, nor does it have a history of waves of Francophone immigration, although there have been growing numbers of immigrants from France to the BC lower mainland (and there are a few small pockets of historic French communities, such as Maillardville east of Vancouver).   Yet, most populated areas of the province, particularly the interior, have surprising bilingualism rates.  The only thing I can possibly think of, apart from university programs, is that these numbers come from an assertive intensive FSL and French Immersion education system (my own bilingualism started as a result of education programs initiated between the B.C. and federal governments).  Now that two full generations of thousands of students have gone through the program’s system and have become adults, we must be now seeing the results in terms of statistics – from big cities, to small towns, to rural regions.

In real terms, the numbers are nothing short of impressive.  According to Statistics Canada:

In 1971, B,C. had a bilingual population of 101,400 (Fr/Eng)

In 1981, B.C. had a bilingual population of 154,200

In 1991, B.C. had a bilingual population of 207,200

In 2001, B.C. had a bilingual population of 269,400

In 2011, B.C.’s bilingual population was 296,700.   These are impressive French/English bilingual numbers for British-Columbia, considering Québec’s total anglophone population in 2011 was only 661,535 (as a mother tongue).

Below is the map (click to enlarge).



Alberta is interesting because it is the most Western province with a Francophone population that settled the land during the same waves as other settlers (notably from the old German-Prussian empires, and Austrio-Hungarian empires including Galacia of Western Ukraine, mixed with British Isle settlements).  Many place names in Alberta have French names, and there are 3 traditional areas of past Francophone settlement :  the Peace River district (with Francophone communities like Falher, Donnely Corner, and Rivière-la-Paix), the Central North East (with Francophone communities like Bonnyville and St-Paul), and the Edmonton area (with the older Francophone settlement of St-Albert, and the Francophone district of Edmonton, Bonnydoon).   Naturally, bilingualism rates are higher in regions with an indigenous Francophone population.

However, the rest of the province’s bilingualism rate, like in B.C., comes mostly from assertive French Immersion and intensive French programs.  There are however newer incoming waves of Francophone migration from New Brunswick and Québec to the Fort McMurray and Calgary regions — as well as many Francophone youth from Eastern Canada moving to the lower Rocky Mountain regions (such as Banff and Lake Louise).

You would think that Alberta’s indigenous Francophone population would be a major factor in Alberta’s overall rate of bilingualism.  Yet, Alberta’s Francophone community has generally remained constant as a percent of Alberta’s overall population.  Yet, the increase in bilingualism has outpaced Alberta’s population grown for many years (with the notable exception of more recent years which saw massive numbers of immigration to Alberta compared to other provinces).

According to Statistics Canada:

In 1971, Alberta had a bilingual population of 81,000 (Fr/Eng) (mostly Alberta’s indigenous Francophone population).

In 1981, Alberta had a bilingual population of 142,000.

In 1991, Alberta had a bilingual population of 167,200.

In 2001, Alberta had a bilingual population of 202,900.

In 2011, Alberta had a bilingual population was 235,600.  Most of these numbers are made of Anglophones who have become bilingual over the course of one to two generations.

Below is the map (click to enlarge).



Sasktachewan’s bilingual story is much the same as Alberta’s.   But interestingly, Saskatchewan was the furthest point West of La Nouvelle France.  Technically, La Louisiane (the original “Louisiana”) under administration of the Royal government of France, extended to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where they actually built a French government fort slightly to the East of the present city.

Like Alberta’s bilingual story, areas with indigenous Francophone communities have higher rates of bilingualism.  Bilingualism in Saskatchewan, unlike all other regions in Western Canada, has seen somewhat of a setback.  I’m not sure why this might be, but it would make for an interesting study when doing a comparison of best-practices between provinces for the promotion of bilingualism.

According to Statistics Canada:

In 1971, Saskatchewan had a bilingual population of 46,000 (Fr/Eng).

In 1981, Saskatchewan had a bilingual population of 43,700.

In 1991, Saskatchewan had a bilingual population of 58,000.

In 2001, Saskatchewan had a bilingual population of 49,000.

In 2011, Saskatchewan had a bilingual population was 46,600.

Below is the map (click to enlarge).



Manitoba’s bilingual story is not dissimilar to that of New Brunswick or Northern Ontario.

Manitoba originally was a Francophone territory before it was Anglophone.  Massive immigration from elsewhere, along with certain aspects of Canadian history last century, greatly diluted Manitoba’s Francophone community, to the point that Manitoba is now a province with a much larger Anglophone population than Francophone.  However, upon repatriation of the constitution in 1982, Francophone rights in Manitoba (which were previously disregarded), were re-introduced, and special “bilingual” regions were established… basically granting Francophones in those regions the same rights Anglophones have outside of those regions.

The Manitoba government’s official website is officially Bilingual, French/English.   You can access it here:  http://www.gov.mb.ca/

My first career had me temporarily live and work in one of these special bilingual regions in the late 1990s.   It was quite a unique experience to be able to live daily life in French in Manitoba (public signage, grocery shopping, the bank, aspects of my work, social time, etc.).   Below are a few pictures from the small town of St-Jean-Baptiste, Manitoba where I lived for a few months.


According to Statistics Canada:

In 1971, Manitoba had a bilingual population of 89,900 (Fr/Eng).

In 1981, Manitoba had a bilingual population of 80,000.

In 1991, Manitoba had a bilingual population of 98,800.

In 2001, Manitoba had a bilingual population of 102,800.

In 2011, Manitoba had a bilingual population was 103,100.

Below is the map (click to enlarge).



Over the last 40 years, the Yukon Territory has consistently seen the strongest growth in bilingualism of any jurisdiction in Canada.

Yukon and New Brunswick are the only territorial/provincial-level jurisdictions in the country which are officially French/English bilingual (only certain regions of Manitoba and Ontario are officially bilingual, and the NWT only designates certain services as officially bilingual).


If current trends continue, within the next 50 years, Yukon could be over 20% bilingual, making it one of the most pro-active regions for bilingualism in all of Canada.  In this regard, for such a small population (only around 34,000), Yukon is punching way above its belt.  It can serve as an example of what can be done; not just for its immediate neighbours (BC, Alberta, NWT), but for the country as a whole.

In 1971, Yukon had a bilingual population of 1,200. (Fr/Eng).

In 1981, Yukon had a bilingual population of 1,800 (a 50% increase in bilingualism)

In 1991, Yukon had a bilingual population of 2,600 (a 44% increase in bilingualism)

In 2001, Yukon had a bilingual population of 2,900 (a 12% increase in bilingualism)

In 2011, Yukon had a bilingual population was 4,400 (a 52% increase in bilingualism)

Below is the map (click to enlarge).






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