Statistics Canada released the latest round of 2011 Census information last week, this time focusing on questions of language. Predictably, the results reflected Canada's growing multicultural landscape and recent immigration trends.
Overall, the last Census found that 6.6 million Canadians — roughly 20 per cent of the population — speak languages other than French or English. A significant number — over 2.1 million people — speak languages other than French or English at home, which represents 6.5 per cent of the population.
The number of bilingual (French and English) speakers increased by a tenth of a per cent, and in 2011 some 17.5 per cent of the population (over 5.8 million Canadians) spoke at least two languages in the home.
Vancouver numbers stood out in Canada with roughly 711,515 people — about a third of the population of Greater Vancouver — speaking an immigrant language at home. The most common languages were Chinese and Punjabi. Only Toronto had a higher percentage of non-English or non-French speakers with 32.4 per cent.
Debra Pool, the president of Canadian Parents for French B.C. and Yukon, welcomed the 10 per cent increase in French speakers in the region since 2001. "French immersion enrolment has been increasing in British Columbia for 14 consecutive years," she said. What (the Oct. 24) census report shows is that French second language education has been a real success story here in Canada's most western province."
Currently there are 46,800 students enrolled in French Immersion programs, representing 8.1 per cent of the student population in B.C. and the Yukon.
In Whistler, 80.6 per cent of the population (7,915 people) reported English as a mother tongue while 90.6 per cent (8,900 people) reported that they spoke English at home. Some 5.7 per cent reported French as their mother tongue, while 12.1 per cent grew up speaking a non-official language.
Just 2.7 per cent spoke French only at home, and 4.9 per cent spoke another non-official language.
That's a higher percentage of English-at-home speakers than the provincial average of 80.5 per cent. The number of French-at-home speakers was also higher than the provincial average of 0.4 per cent.
The census of 9,825 Whistler residents included 7,915 English speakers, 560 French speakers and 1,185 non-official language speakers.
Of the non-official languages, 2.5 per cent of the population (245) spoke Japanese, 1.9 per cent (190) spoke Tagalog (Filipino) and 1.8 per cent (175) spoke German.
Where Whistler gets high marks is in bilingualism. Some 17.8 per cent of residents could speak both English and French, representing some 1,745 residents.
While English remains the dominant language, there's no denying that Whistler is more multicultural. Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) is already working to provide more services to newcomers who don't speak French or English.
Outreach worker Jackie Dickinson said that the WCCS is working to engage frontline workers that are new to the community, and language is becoming a greater barrier than before.
"It's pretty clear that in the last three years or so we've seen a real increase in the multiculturalism of the community, and we're spending a lot of time looking at ways to remove the language barriers for people that want access to services or have issues," she said.
One thing that WCSS is working on is creating variations of the Whistler Survival Guide in different languages. Through a partnership with Capilano University and ESL teacher Carole Stretch, they are talking to newcomers to get a sense of what kind challenges they face and what kind of information they need.
"Things like getting a social security number or opening a bank account, understanding health and medical benefits plans," said Dickinson. "We did a survey of new immigrants and asked them what were the biggest issues they faced, and to get a sense of what other languages we should have. Japanese is one of them, and we have a growing Filipino community.
"Right now it's a huge barrier that we don't have an interpreter, although if we needed one for whatever reason we could do that," said Dickinson.
As well as a survival guide, the Howe Sound Women's Centre — including the Whistler Women's Centre — is launching a multicultural program, on Nov. 6 at the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Centre in Spring Creek, where WCSS is based. "The idea is to bring out the women that are new to the community where English is not their first language, and get a sense of what services they need," explained Dickinson.
École La Passerelle, Whistler's French language school, based at Spring Creek Community School, provides all-French instruction for students from Kindergarten through Grade 7. To enter a child in the program at least one parent must be fluent in French.
Director Michel Tardif said the francophone community in Whistler is healthy and growing.
"This is our highest Kindergarten enrolment to date with 15 students, and our projection next year is to have another big class as well," he said. "It's something that's also true for Pemberton, with our highest enrolment there as well. We have 12 students in the Pemberton Valley."
École La Passerelle and other French language schools in the corridor have their own school board and district under Le Conseil scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF), which oversees 37 public schools across the province in 100 communities. Whistler has had a French language school for more than 20 years now, and École La Passerelle goes back to 1995. They rent space from the Resort Municipality of Whistler to host elementary school programs, and are currently working with the Sea to Sky School District to offer more French language classes at Whistler Secondary — something Tardif hopes will be a reality by next year. Given the growing number of francophones, he said it's just a matter of time.
"The francophone school board and (CSF) are negotiating for next year, and we're feeling quite optimistic regarding that possibility," said Tardif.
Tardif said most families enrolled at École La Passerelle are mixed. Currently 87 per cent of families have one parent that speaks English and another that speaks French. "That creates a few challenges for us to ensure the development of the linguistic part," said Tardif.
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