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Non-official languages flourishing in Greater Victoria

Speakers of French and non-official languages on the rise in Greater Victoria
The Canadian Francophone Games, here in New Brunswick in 2017, would have brought together French-speaking students from across the country in a variety of competitions to Greater Victoria in 2022. What would have been the most western host city has a small but flourishing Francophone community and a growing number of residents, whose mother tongue is a non-official language. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Francophone Games)

English remains the dominant language among the residents of the Victoria Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) but almost 16 per cent of residents claim a mother tongue other than one of Canada’s two official languages, English and French.

In 2016, the corresponding figure was 13.3 per cent, showing that Greater Victoria has become a more linguistically diverse during the last census period. At the same time, it remains behind British Columbia (31.2 per cent) and Canada (24.2 per cent).

Among non-official languages, Mandarin leads the way with 11.4 per cent followed by Cantonese (8.6 per cent), Tagalog (8.6 per cent) and Punjabi (8.3 per cent), reflecting larger shifts in Canadian immigration toward countries from the Asia-Pacific region.

Among non-official languages rooted in Europe, Spanish leads the way with 7.2 per cent, followed by German with 6.7 per cent and Portuguese with 3.1 per cent.

Residents who claim French as their mother tongue account for 2.2 per cent of Greater Victoria residents, hardly a surprising figure given the region’s distance to the heartland of French-Canada and colonial history. The corresponding figures for British Columbia and Canada are 1.6 per cent and 20.9 per cent with the overall number of French-speakers in Canada on the decline.

RELATED: Proportion of French speakers declines nearly everywhere in Canada, including Quebec

This said, the number of French speakers in the region has gone up since 2016, when 1.7 per cent of residents claimed French as their mother tongue. This increase points to the small but flourishing community of French speakers in the region, which would have been the most western region to host the Canadian Francophone Games in 2020, only to see them cancelled not once but twice because of COVID-19.

Looking at Indigenous languages, 0.1 per cent of residents of Victoria CMA — 325 people — claim one as their mother tongue. The corresponding figure for British Columbia is 0.2 per cent and 0.5 per cent for Canada. These figures, too, reflect the demographic and institutional legacy of European colonialism, including the residential school system, which the federal government had introduced shortly after Confederation in 1867 with the last schools closing in the mid-1990s.

According to Statistics Canada, 189,000 individuals across Canada reported having an Indigenous mother tongue, alone or in combination with another language, and 183,000 said they spoke an Indigenous language at home on a regular basis in 2021. Of these, 86,000 spoke predominantly an Indigenous language at home.

Statistics Canada has also found that the number of individuals reporting an Indigenous mother tongue, alone or with another language, declined 6.8 per cent in 2021 from 2016. The number of individuals reporting they could converse in an Indigenous language also decreased by 3.3 per cent during the same period.

This said, several programs to revive Indigenous languages have emerged in recent years, both on the local and national level to help revive those languages.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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