Growing up in the U.K., we all learn French in school, go on camping holidays in France and head out on the obligatory French exchange program. The memories that the latter evokes are more about the crispy baguettes, hot chocolate and wine rather than the language.
When I arrived in Whistler I heard French accents that were very different from what I was used to in Europe. Some I could understand, while others left me completely lost. In the last few months I met a new Francophone friend who has brought me a new understanding of what it means to speak both English and French.
Before this encounter I had no idea what the Saint-Jean-Baptiste was about, but the 'joie de vivre' of this group left me intrigued. Saint-Jean Day celebrates the Francophone culture and is held every June, this year on Thursday, June 24. This time I intend to raise my own glass and get better acquainted with our Sea to Sky Francophones and what they contribute to our eclectic Whistler lifestyle.
French as a Mother Tongue
The Francophone community in Canada comes from a tiny French-speaking population of about 2,500 settlers, whose descendents have now grown to around eight million people. Although the majority of these speakers reside in Quebec, French-speaking Canadians are found coast to coast.
My first question was how many Francophones are there in the Sea to Sky Corridor? I realized that it wasn't an easy question to answer since many of the Québécois, coming only for the winter months, were gone by the time the census came around in May 2006. But according to Statistics Canada, there were just over nine hundred people who indicated that their mother tongue was French, which would represent 3.5 per cent of the region compared with 1.3 per cent for the province. The highest Francophone population is in Whistler with 5.3 per cent of its population speaking French as a mother tongue. This is almost a full percentage point higher than Banff, which is also an important ski destination for Francophone speakers - especially as it is in a National Park that requires many of its employees to be bilingual.
A look at the number of students studying in the three French schools of the corridor is also a good way to track the Francophones in the community. At present there are 193 students spread between Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.
Speaking both official languages
It's interesting when we look at the other statistics that give us an idea of the number of people who learned French as a second language. Again, our area surpasses the rest of the province with 12.8 per cent of our residents speaking both official languages. This number jumps to 17.7 per cent in Whistler, which is more than double the B.C. bilingual population of 7.2 per cent. From my research I found that this was the highest percentage of the two official languages in B.C.