Languages Spoken at Home in New Brunswick

Language is the most controversial topic in New Brunswick. More than sports and their supporters, more than education or healthcare, and more than the Irvings. Language debates trump them all. As the only province in Canada where both languages are the official languages perhaps this isn’t all that surprising – it’s a tug-o-war where both are given podiums rather than a clear preference for one or the other. It’s an important facet of life, from dealing with government services to running a business to sending your children to school in First Grade.

Everyone has stories and everyone has anecdotal evidence one way or the other about the current (or past situations) of language in New Brunswick. Through all that anecdotal evidence there must be some hard statistics, right? Some concrete numbers to look at, to trend, to analyze. Surprisingly, hard statistics on the subject are difficult to come by. Many different categories are used, from knowledge of languages to usage of both languages to bilingualism rates – for this exercise I was looking for something more straightforward.

What i’ve found in the past is that when language statistics are reported they’re very rarely contrasted to past numbers. There’s very rarely a graph, or a table, or any sort of distinguishing pattern to work off of or to develop. Language statistics are more often than not presented as a current (at the time) figure. Something like “Bilingualism has increased 5% in the past five years” will be used with no qualitative or quantitative detail – 5% from what? Amongst whom? Where? So many questions.

The numbers i’ve used for this process are StatCan Census numbers reported as “Language Spoken at Home”. Each Census, StatCan will question residents on languages they speak at work, languages they can speak overall, and languages they prefer to use at home. Home languages are the easiest to base off of as a base population living in an area. Whatever language is more natural or your most comfortable is what you would use in your own personal space.

These numbers used in this are for single responses only, meaning households which reported speaking multiple languages at home were not included. These multiple responses are so infrequent (oftentimes less than 0.50% in any given area) that I saw fit not to include them in this exercise. These StatCan responses are compiled using a sample of 20% of respondents in any given area, so numbers are rounded. Some areas will exceed 100% in a given year whilst some may be under.

Again, i’ve utilized data sorted by County for New Brunswick. Counties are a consistent measure and their boundaries have not changed through any of these reporting periods. They provide for a reasonable sub-provincial level of analysis whilst being evenly split enough to provide for differences in trending.

Data is taken from the 1996 Census, 2006 Census, and 2011 Census. Data is unavailable for 2001 as the Language at Home question was not asked.

Anyway! On to the data:

The following map outlines the total number of English and French speakers by County in 2011. This map shows the heavily Anglophone-dominated South and Southwest and the Francophone dominated North and East. It’s important to note in this that Francophone majority counties do feature sizeable English populations (not including Madawaska) but the reverse is not true (not including Westmorland). Anglophone majority counties are heavily Anglophone with very small (relatively-speaking) Francophone minorities.


However, this map is static for 2011, so let’s look at the change in reporting numbers from 1996 to 2011.


Here the demographic picture begins to form. Francophone majority counties Madawaska, Restigouche, and Gloucester saw large decreases in both Francophone and Anglophone speakers. Anglophone majority counties like York and Kings saw big increases for Anglophones with minimal increases in Francophone numbers. Westmorland saw proportional growth for both linguistic groups.

Kent County is the outlier in this exercise. It is the only county where one language grew while the other declined. Between 1996 and 2011, Kent grew by 1,625 Anglophone respondents while Francophone respondents decreased by nearly 3,000. A change like this has a big impact on the proportion of people that speak each official language in each county.


Immediately with this map we can see the impact. In 1996 Kent County’s split was 21% Anglophone and 74% Francophone. In 2011 that has shifted to 28% Anglophone and 68% French – A 7% increase for Anglophone and a 6% decrease in Francophone respondents. Most other changes in the province were minimal. The increase in Francophone proportion in areas like Victoria and Restigouche is interesting to note. Both major linguistic groups decreased in these areas but the rate in which Anglophone decreased was greater than the rate that French decreased, even if the Francophone numbers decreased by a higher total number. Northumberland saw a 2% swing towards Anglophones at the expense of Francophones in that county.


York, Westmorland, and Saint John counties are home to New Brunswick’s three largest urban centres (Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John respectively). In these areas, minimal movement is seen with the major languages. An Anglophone proportional decrease in York with a raw number increase; A raw number loss and proportion loss for both official languages in Saint John; and raw number growth for both languages in Westmorland with a slight proportional swing towards Francophone.

In these three major urban areas non-official languages are becoming more and more prominent.




Non-Official Languages are considered any language that is not one of the two official languages. This includes aboriginal languages as well as foreign languages, primarily spoken by immigrants. In all three of these areas non-official languages (immigrants) has grown by leaps and bounds compared to past decades. The total number of non-official languages spoken at home has more than doubled in New Brunswick in the past fifteen years. In York it has more than doubled; in Westmorland it has more than tripled, and in Saint John it has more than quadrupled. With Syrain refugees set to impact futue Census data, these figures should only increase as each of these cities have taken on hundreds of newcomers.

In fact, Non-official languages increased in 12 of NB’s 15 counties. Only Kent County, home to New Brunswick’s largest First Nations Reserve (Elsipogtog) saw a substantial decrease in non-official language usage at home.




Looking at Counties or large urban centres are ways of processing language data – but  we can always go deeper:


The town of Richibucto saw one of the larger swings for a municipality of significant size in New Brunswick. The usage of English as a home language increased from 27% in 1996 to 40% in 2011, with French decreasing from 72% to 57% in that same time span. Richibucto is one of many municipalities in the Moncton sphere of influence that saw similar trending, although to lesser degrees. Beaubassin-Est, Shediac (Town), Saint-Paul (Parish), and Dundas (Parish) all saw increases in English spoken at home. It is possible that Moncton’s suburban and rural growth is triggering an expansion of the English language in areas formerly dominated by Francophones.

As for Moncton, its numbers increased across the board as its population has increased. English increased by 6,500, French by 1,600, and Non-Official Languages by just shy of 1,000. Proportionally, English sits at 72%, French at 24%, and Non-Official at 2%. The following is for the Moncton CMA, areas immediately within Moncton’s sphere of influence, and areas heavily dependent on Moncton according to StatCan:


With these out of the way, we can take a quick look at Provincial numbers as a whole:




New Brunswick’s population in 2016 should continue to trend in a manner similar to how it trended between 2006 and 2011. There will likely be a non-official language bump consistent with current trending.

English spoken at home continues to increase where there is growth in New Brunswick. In NB’s three major cities, suburban growth is overwhelmingly Anglophone.

French spoken at home will likely continue to decline as Northern New Brunswick, consisting primarily of Restigouche and Gloucester counties, have shown no signs of rectifying their continued decrease in population. Part of this decrease is due to the relative age of residents in Northern New Brunswick compared to their Southern counterparts, but continued stagnation will affect this region’s population negatively. Estimates released by StatCan in the leadup to Census 2016 have shown no signs of these decreases slowing.

The continued growth of York, Kings, and Westmorland counties should contribute to an increasing proportion of New Brunswickers using English at home as a spoken language. With the continued decline of Gloucester, Restigouche, and Northumberland it is likely the proportion of French used as a spoken language at home will decrease. Non-Official languages should continue to trend positively in 2016, perhaps showing its strongest growth ever.

What we’re witnessing is a slowly growing span between the proportion of English and French in New Brunswick. With current trending that span looks to continue to grow with no reason to believe it won’t continue at a faster pace so long as Francophone counties continue to be of a higher median age with imminent decreases immediately thereafter.

The most interesting county to watch will be Kent County, at least from the numbers i’ve seen. Will it continue its shift towards English? The affect that Moncton’s boom in the Southeast is having on its environs can be seen in the increase of English as a spoken language on its border with Kent County. Parishes featuring Moncton commuters, Saint-Paul and Dundas among them, are becoming increasing Anglophone, while major centres within the county (Richibucto) are trending in that direction as well. Parity in Kent County may be closer to reality in 2016 than ever before in its history.

These statistics are important in attempting to find a trend in New Brunswick’s demographics. All language communities are vital to the nature of the province and the province would be lesser without them. The purpose of this exercise was to answer a couple of questions:

  • What affect is New Brunswick’s population increase having on Official Language usage and spread?
  • What affect is the growing number of immigrants having on local communities?
  • What affect is New Brunswick’s regional population decline having on Official Language usage and spread?

Part of this exercise was to build a framework to be in place for the release of the 2016 Census figures (due to begin releasing in February 2017). Once those numbers are released i’ll be able to plug them into these tables  and quickly find trends on provincial, regional, and local levels in New Brunswick relating to language use.


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