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Québec trends in bilingualism (#70)

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This is the 3rd post on bilingualism trends in Canada.

Much as Francophones who live in Anglophone Canada are generally bilingual, Anglophones who live in Québec are generally bilingual (notable exceptions are relative newcomers to Quebec and students who are temporarily in Québec to attend Anglophone universities — often concentrated in the downtown core of Montréal — around Concordia or the “McGill Ghetto”).

According to Statistics Canada:

In 1961, Québec had a bilingual population of 1,338,900 (French / English)

In 1971, Québec had a bilingual population of 1,663,800.

In 1981, Québec had a bilingual population of 2,065,100.

In 1991, Québec had a bilingual population of 2,413,000.

In 2001, Québec had a bilingual population of 2,907,700.

In 2011, Québec’s bilingual population was 3,328,700.

For those who are not familiar with the linguistic landscape of Québec, the map below, based on collating Stats-Can statistics according to census regions reveals some interesting demographics (click to enlarge).


Region 1, Outaouis Region, is the area across the river from Ottawa.  It includes the city of Gatineau.  This region of Québec is intricately tied to that of Ottawa and the National Capital Region.  Thousands and thousands of people cross the Ottawa River every day to work side-by-side with Anglophones in Ottawa.  Many Anglophones also live in this region of Québec, and are mostly bilingual.  It should not be a surprise this is one of the most bilingual regions of Québec.

Region 2, L’Estrie (the Eastern Townships).  This used to be one of the most Anglophone regions of Québec, but most Anglophones have moved away over the last couple of generations, and it is now strongly Francophone.  That being said, the Francophones in this region have a tradition of being more bilingual, going back generations.  There is also much interaction with the United States (just a few minutes’ drive down the road).  It’s a heavy tourist region which sees Anglophones and Francophones consistently interacting with one another.  This is an area which has one of the highest concentrations of legally designated bilingual towns and villages.

Region 3, The Southern Shore of La Gaspésie region.   This is a very rural region, but one of Québec’s most beautiful.   It has traditionally been a mix of Anglophone and Francophone villages (New Carlisle, where René Levesque came from, had a large Anglophone population).  The Anglophone singer, Kevin Parent (who sings mostly in French) also is from Gaspésie.  Because of this English/French mix, it has traditionally had a higher bilingual rate than most regions in Québec.

Region 4, Côte Nord (the Far North Coast).   This region is dotted with many Anglophone villages.  Much of this area is not connected by road, which has allowed this rural region to keep vibrant Anglophone communities (much more so than many other rural regions of Québec).   It’s a region which sometimes has more contact with Newfoundland than the rest of Québec (earlier this year there was tongue-in-cheek talk the residents of Blanc-Sablon wanted the map to be redrawn so they could join Newfoundland).   Nonetheless, most people are very bilingual, both Anglophones and Francophone, and residents do feel very attached to Québec.

Region 5, the metropolitan region of Montréal.  Because Montréal is Québec’s “metropolis”, and so much of Québec’s economy, politics and culture is focused squarely on Montréal, language demographics in Montréal attract the most attention out of any region in Québec (perhaps even attracting a overly disproportionate amount of attention).  Unfortunately, it can sometimes receive lop-sided attention through the lenses of 1974 rather than 2014.  It’s very easy for language in Montréal to become a political hot-button issue.  When you think about it, there are a lot of people living in very close proximity within a one small region (essentially on an island together – both figuratively and literally) — and like in any large city, there are many people with very different views on life, different cultures, and different languages all confined together.  One one hand, the vast majority of the time, It makes for some of the best harmony and openness seen amongst people in Québec and Canada.  But unfortunately, because so many diverse personalities lives in such close proximity, some choose to view language as a divisive and provocative subject.  Others sometimes use negative arguments to to score political points (on both sides).   I’m not going to go into the language-politics of Montréal here, nor will I go much into the history of the language situation in Montréal, but I will quickly touch upon the bilingual demographics of the region.

Linguistically, and in the most general of terms, metropolitan Montréal can be divided into 6 regions:

  • West Island / Vaudreuil-Dorion / Hudson: This is the western third of Montréal Island, as well as the land off the island directly to the West of Montréal.  Traditionally, this was an Anglophone enclave, and today it still remains heavily Anglophone compared to the vast majority of regions elsewhere in Québec.  Until the late 1970s / early 1980s, many of the Anglophones in these areas did not speak French and had little interaction with Francophones (the old Two Solitudes).   With a re-affirmation in law of the French fact in the 1970s, most unilingual Anglophones left Québec for Ontario and other places in Canada.  The Anglophones who remained were much more open minded, functionally bilingual, and often worked (and continue to work) side-by-side with Francophones.
  • Greater downtown: This is a converging point of work for Francophones and Anglophones.  National and international business is conducted downtown, and thus the pressure to be bilingual is stronger here than elsewhere in Québec.  The downtown core also hosts Montréwood’s entertainment districts which attract Francophones and Anglophones alike, it hosts two major Anglophone universities (McGill and Concordia), a major Anglophone college (Dawson), a major Francophone university on its Eastern Fringe (UQAM), a major Francophone business college (HEC), Montréal’s main Francophone hospitals, Montréal’s main Anglophone hospitals, and is the main transportation hub for Montréal.  Thus Anglophones and Francophones meld together in work, play, and language – this is likely the most actively bilingual area in all of Canada.
  • East Island – This is the most Francophone region of Montréal (East of Downtown all the way to the Eastern tip of the Island – about 20kms long by 8kms wide). Those who live here tend to be less bilingual, unless they work downtown.  With a couple of notable exceptions (the Eastern “McGill Ghetto” and Mile End), It’s one of the most non-English, French speaking regions of the city with relatively few Anglophones, and much lower rates of bilingualism.
  • Northern-Central part of Montréal Island (along the river separating Montréal with Laval, and a part of the Côte-des-Neiges district along the North of Mont-Royal mountain). This has some of the largest allophone and immigrant populations (non-English, non-French mother tongue populations).  People here generally speak French plus a foreign language, or a trilingual combination of French, English and a foreign language.
  • Laval Island: This is the Island directly to the North of Montréal on which sits Québec’s second largest city, Laval.  Mostly Francophone, it has very large Allophone population (those which a 3rd language mother-tongue), and a notable Anglophone population.  Whereas downtown Montreal can be considered an area for mixed work and play, Laval is an area for mixed living.  Despite the diversity and mix, language issues which are sometimes brought to the surface in downtown Montreal are generally are not felt in Laval (personally, I think Laval is a great city… it’s a nice place to visit and to easily feel comfortable in – which is probably why it’s so popular with Francophones, Allophones and Anglophones).
  • The Crown, or Couronne de Montréal (the North Shore and the South Shore off the islands) to the North of Laval Island, and South of Montréal Island. These are the most Francophone regions of the greater Montréal Metropolitain region, with some of the lowest levels of bilingualism.  These lands were farmland just a few decades ago, but a major exodus of Francophones from the Island of Montréal, seeking a suburbian lifestyle, lead to the rapid growth of these areas.  The Crown is now composed of some of the largest cities in Québec (Longueuil, Brossard, Terrebonne, Repentigny, etc).  When the move-to-suburbia trends took hold 30 years ago, Anglophones chose to generally move further West on Montréal Island, and did not move into the Crown regions – thus leaving a stark linguistic contrast between the West Island and the Crown.

Click map to enlarge.


Map showing the freeway interconnectedness between all the Islands and regions of the Metropolitan Montréal.  Despite the interconnectedness, language still largely remains a question of geography in and around Montréal Island itself.



Elsewhere in Québec (outside the above 5 regions), bilingual rates hover anywhere from under 5% to over 20%, but rarely exceeding 30% – with the lower numbers much more in line with bilingualism in many other regions of Canada.





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