Statistics Canada says Kelowna bucked a national trend, growing the population that lists English as its mother tongue, but one woman who works closely with this community’s immigrants hears a lot of diversity that hasn’t shown up in facts and figures.
Joyce Brinkerhoff, the co-president of the Intercultural Society of the Central Okanagan, said news that 85.9 per cent of the population spoke English first in 2011— compared to 84.7 per cent in 2006—doesn’t mean a drop in cultural variety. Rather, it’s a sign that the community’s immigrant population has grown roots.
“Just looking around, our city is becoming more diverse,” she said, noting there have been waves of immigrant populations coming to the city for years.
“Now, though, many people who speak other languages are second or third generation, and they’re speaking English first. They’re telling me that English is the language of commerce and of schools, so they speak that most.”
The country’s statistical agency didn’t fail to acknowledge that there are some Canadians who are conversant in more than one language.
There was even some growth among that portion of the population locally, though it was minimal.
Those who speak English and nonofficial language in the Kelowna Census Metropolitan area rose to 0.7 per cent in 2011, from 0.5 in 2006.
The figure, however, doesn’t seem to make up for the fact that 13.3 per cent in the 2006 census reported a first language other than English or French, compared to 11.8 per cent in 2011.
That, Brinkerhoff explained, could be chalked up to economic realities.
The years when Kelowna was calling upon Mexicans, Jamaicans and other immigrant groups to fill jobs that were going empty and threatening the economy passed when the economy tanked. Now those populations still have a presence, although they’re not likely to show up in the census, or plant roots in the community, as they may have in years past.
Canada’s other official language, French, was reported as the mother tongue of 1.7 per cent of the population in the Central Okanagan, but just 0.4 per cent said they speak it exclusively at home.
A number of languages were encompassed in the 11.5 per cent of residents living in the metro Kelowna area and identified a “non-official” language as their mother tongue.
Spanish accounted for 0.5 per cent of the population and Polish, Hungarian, Russian and the Filipino language of Tagalog accounted for 0.4 per cent each.
In total, the census found 132 different languages were identified as mother tongues here, that places Kelowna 18 out of 33 metropolitan areas in the country.
According to Statistics Canada, the drop here differs from other urban centres in the country where the proportion of non-official languages has risen since 2006.
The census pegged the metro Kelowna’s population at 179,839, with 117,312 living in the City of Kelowna. The total population of the metro area grew 10.8 per cent, nearly double the national average for the period.