A competition for Canadian francophone athletes is still one year away from coming to Greater Victoria, but organizers have already expressed concerns about the need for French-speaking volunteers.
Casey Edmunds, executive director of the Victoria 2020 Canadian Francophone Games, will appear before Saanich council Monday to highlight the need for French-speaking volunteers.
According to the group’s scheduled presentation, the organizing committee will need to recruit over 600 French-speaking volunteers from around Victoria to “ensure the success” of the games scheduled to run from July 14 to 18 2020. The competition will draw more than 1000 competitors aged 14 to 18 from Canada’s ten provinces and three territories.
According to the 2016 Census, the Greater Victoria is home to 5,890 people, who only consider French their first language. Another 975 consider English and French their first spoken languages. This means 6,375 — or 1.8 per cent — of the regional population consider French their first language. About 36,460 residents — or about 10 per cent of all residents — claim to have knowledge of both English and French.
The event happens every three years and Victoria will be the eighth and most western community to host the event. Quebec — the historic home of French-speaking Canada — and New Brunswick — Canada’s only province with official bilingualism — have each hosted the event twice since the inaugural competition in 1999.
Manitoba (Winnipeg), Alberta (Edmonton), and Ontario (Sudbury) have hosted the games once.
Victoria will be the host with the lowest share of residents, who speak French as their first language, when compared to the other host cities, including Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Sudbury.
When Winnipeg hosted the games in 2005, its share of speakers who considered exclusively French their first language was 4.3 per cent (based on 2001 census figures). When Edmonton hosted the games in 200, 2.1 per cent of the region’s resident exclusively considered French their mother tongue (based on 2006 census). When Sudbury hosted the games in 2011, more than 25 per cent of residents considered French their mother tongue.
Compared to other languages, French is a distinct minority language in the Greater Victoria area. For example, the area is home to 11,815 people, who considered either Mandarin or Cantonese their mother tongue.
Victoria is not even home to the largest number of francophones in the province. According to the Office of Commissioner of Official Languages, 58 per cent of B.C.’s francophones live in Lower Mainland-Southwest region of the province, with 20 per cent living on Vancouver Island and Coast. Other regions vary from 12 per cent (Thompson-Okanagan) to one per cent (North Coast and Nechako).
This said, the share of French speakers in Greater Victoria of 1.8 per cent is higher than the provincial average of 1.4 per cent, and demand for French language programs has increased in recent years, with demand outstripping supply.
The games themselves include three competitive sectors — arts, leadership and sports — and award over 400 medals across 13 official disciplines and more than 90 competitions.
Game locations include Willows Park for opening and closing ceremonies, Oak Bay high school, and the University of Victoria.