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.


New Brunswick’s Shifting Population

New Brunswick’s population has seen a relative, but modest, rise in the past 25 years compared to other provinces in Canada. New Brunswick has continually ranked 8th (out of 10, rising to 13 provinces and territories) in total population for over 100 years between 1911 and 2011.

Between 1991 and 2011 NB’s population has increased from 723,900 to 751,171. PEI has seen a fairly steady annual rise in its population, climbing from 129,765 to 140,204 in that same time period. Nova Scotia has climbed from 899,942 to 921,727.These numbers easily pale in comparison to larger provinces in the country which routinely bring in thousands of new citizens each year (which is another issue altogether revolving around immigration).

Most important amongst these numbers is the urban/rural division of population. It’s became a large trend in the 20th century and is only now beginning to pick up steam in Atlantic Canada…the biggest reason for this would be the economies of which Atlantic Canada was based upon: Agriculture, Fishing, Forestry. These are all very rural economies in comparison to, for example, manufacturing.

Urban/rural division is important because it can significantly alter how a province delivers its services and how it runs on a day to day basis. Nova Scotia has one very large urban centre which accounts for nearly half of its provincial population (Halifax) and as such most of Nova Scotia’s major institutions, schools, and services are found in this centre. New Brunswick, on the other hand, has three smaller urban centres which do not reach half of the province’s population (although they’re getting closer) which leads to services, institutions, and schools being spread throughout. It’s a bit more expensive and cumbersome when a province is trying to grow when everything is spread out.

The Canadian national average in 2011 was 81% Urban and 19% Rural. NB sat at 53/48, with only PEI having a lower % of urban population. The biggest difference between Canada’s largest provinces and its smallest? Canada’s largest provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, BC) all have Urban percentages north of 80%. In fact, ONT and QC haven’t been at NB’s 53/47 split since 1921 and 1911 respectively. To put it one way, NB is a century behind the urban/rural development split of Ontario.


NL 59/41
PEI 47/53
NS 57/43
NB 53/48
QC 81/19
ONT 86/14
MB 72/28
SSK 67/33
AB 83/17
BC 86/14

NB’s rural population hit a high of 378,686 in 1991 and has been falling ever since [1991 is a convenient year as it’s the earliest Census data that I have access to]. Between the five-year census periods NB’s rural population has fallen anywhere between 16K and 1K in each period. The Urban population, on the other hand, has risen from anywhere between 15K and 6.5K. During the period of 1991-2011 NB’s Urban % has gone from 48% to 53%, with rural of course going in the opposite direction.

For definition’s sake, StatCan refers to population centres of under 1,000 or with less than 400 persons per sq. km as “rural”.

But we can get deeper than just province-wide numbers. Where is that rural population depleting? Where is that urban population increasing? What are the pros and cons to this shift?


What i’ve done with the data is fairly simple. I’ve gone into each City, Town, Village, and Parish in NB and tracked their population through each census between 1991 and 2011. Using that, i’ve grouped the province into 55 units focused around a town or population centre. In 2011, the smallest centre in population would be “Canterbury”, which consists of the area roughly of Canterbury Parish, Canterbury Village, Meductic Village, and North Lake Parish. The largest population centre is Moncton, consisting of the City and the Parish of Moncton.

The subregion with the biggest % drop in population between 1991 and 2011 is “Gloucester Nord”, consisting of New Bandon, Saint-Leolin, Maisonette, Grande Anse, and Bertrand. Collectively they’ve gone from a population of 5,566 in 1991 to 4,131 in 2011. This area loses roughly 500 people each five years. As Bertrand and New Bandon were both over 1,000 people in 2011 it is entirely possible for both of them to drop from “Urban” to “Rural” for 2016, further exacerbating rural drop (at least in the eyes of StatCan).

The runner-up subregion for population lost between 1991-2011 is “Sainte-Anne – Saint-Leonard” in Northwest NB. Declining -20.90% in those twenty years, or roughly 1% per year. The biggest fallers in this subregion are Ste-Anne-de-Madawaska, Saint-Andre, Riviere-Verte, and Notre-Dames-des-Lourdes

Other subregions with significant population drops from 1991-2011 include Balmoral (-18.74%), Campbellton-Dalhousie (-17.97%), Rogersville (-15.39%), and Shippagan (-15.11%). See a trend in any of these?


On the flipside, some areas have grown by leaps and bounds. Dieppe, in another universe to all others, increased by 118.87% between 1991 and 2011 (10,650 to 23,310). Harvey-Kingsclear by 33.38% in this time period. Kennebecasis (Quispamsis/Rothesay) by 22.40%. Moncton by 20.59%. See a trend in any of these?

Saint John was the only of the Big 3 Cities to show a decline during this period. Saint John’s decline is supplemented by an increase in its surrounding suburban areas, particularly in Quispamsis.

Most important in these numbers is the strong growth in the suburbs of the Big 3. Dieppe’s growth is (partly) due to its proximity to Moncton. The growth in the Kennebecasis Valley can be attributed to its proximity to Saint John. The growth in Kingsclear to Fredericton. We can look at these numbers and come to the conclusion that the City of Saint John is losing population but that statement would neglect the growth that’s occurring just outside of its border. Although these suburbs are not “urban” it is much easier to service them than someone living in a much more rural, distant area.

(The Finn Report (2008) actually touched on suburban citizens leeching off of urban services in the cities; which would in turn raise taxes and fees on those living in the cities. It’s a fascinating read.)


All of the largest fallers were located in Northern New Brunswick. All of the largest climbers were located in Southern New Brunswick. It’s no secret that the North is losing population and the South is gaining population. Are the two related? Perhaps.

Northern decline can be linked to the relative age of its population and the lack of a substantial, dependent, widespread economy and industry. Northern New Brunswick is older and more rural than their counterparts in the south. Restigouche has a median age of 48.7, with over 20% of its residents over 65. Gloucester county has similar numbers.

To put this plainly: The rural areas of the province that are declining are also its oldest, meaning that this decline is only going to continue at a faster rate as the baby boomers enter retirement. How quickly this decline will quicken remains to be seen, but without any sort of youth injection in these areas it seems unlikely they’ll ever recover from their current trajectories.


Jean-Guy Finn makes a quick note about cost-servicing as age increases:

“Shifts in population will also impact the nature of services delivered. As populations in some communities age, service requirements will also change. For example, recreation programs and facilities may need to be adjusted, transit systems may have to be improved or made more accessible, and land use plans may have to be adjusted to better reflect evolving housing needs.”

Although Finn’s Report highlights the need to coordinate local governments better to be more effective for the taxpayers within them it also highlights a changing environment in New Brunswick. That environment is that suburban and urban centres are growing whilst rural centres, and unincorporated areas, are declining.

The following is a list of all 55 subregions i’ve created for the purpose of this examination:


The common trend is gains made by the Big 3 Cities and their suburban units with big falls to more rural urban centres or northern centres. Not a single subregion that could be classified as “Northern” grew in population for the period 1991 to 2011. In fact, many of them dropped a fifth or sixth of their 1991 population. These trends will continue due to the relative average age of these areas, either through relocation or, more glumly, attrition.

On the other hand, the Big 3 and their suburban units fared very well and shared almost all of the population growth for this period of twenty years. In Oromcto, despite the Town of Oromocto declining in population, both Lincoln parish and Burton parish increased at a faster rate than Oromocto declined.

In Westmorland you can almost see the ripple effect that Moncton is having on that county. Moncton’s 20% growth became 118.87% in Dieppe, which becomes 21.88% in Shediac, which becomes 6.82% in Westmorland East. By the time we reach Sackville, the growth tapers off to 0.58%. The same is true in the Western direction as well, with growth being seen in Petitcodiac/Salisbury. These can almost be attributed to distance to the major urban centre, with high growth seen within a sort-of half hour circle of the city. By the time we reach Sackville, Hillsborough, or Bouctouche that growth tapers off due to relative distance from the City.

Another area that is worth investigation is the shared areas between the Big 3 cities. Are they growing? The answer is yes (and no). The corridor between Moncton and Saint John, which i’ll refer to as the Kings County Corridor (KCC) has been growing steadily for the past twenty years. Kennebecasis saw 22.40% growth, Central Kings 8.42% growth, Sussex 2.11% growth. Petitcodiac/Salisbury 7.04% growth. This distance phenomenon occurs again: Growth dissipates as you exit Saint John and bottoms out roughly 45 minutes away in Sussex before increasing again as you near Moncton. Sussex is almost exactly halfway between the two and that subregion has the lowest growth of the KCC. It’s no coincidence.

The corridor between Saint John and Fredericton is a bit different as the majority of it is a very large military base, Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. There isn’t much room for development here. The corridor between Moncton and Fredericton is a bit different, however. The area of Grand Lake, consisting of  Cambridge-Narrows and Coles Island on the Trans-Canada Highway has still seen steady decline despite being between the two. The major decline in Grand Lake is due to the decline of Chipman and Minto, which are separated from the Big 3 and on no real route to anywhere of major urban importance. If our distance theory is correct this is due to the fact that these areas are in excess of 30/45 minutes from the major centres. Oromocto, which lies on the route to both Moncton and Saint John from Fredericton, has seen steady growth.

What we can discern from these numbers is that the Big 3, the large urban, suburban, and exurban areas are driving all of the growth in New Brunswick and will continue to do so. It’s areas like Minto, Chipman, McAdam, Campbellton, and Shippagan which no longer have relatively strong local economies and are not convenient to major urban centres that are going to continue their decline. Centres like Miramichi, Bathurst, Edmundston, and Grand Falls-Grand Sault are simply too separated from larger, growth-driven areas to benefit from any of that periphery growth themselves.

The 2016 Census is going to be a continuation of this trend and it’s going to be great for some areas and very poor for others. If the Provincial government were wise it would be looking at these numbers with both hope and concern and would be altering the service models in order to accommodate these changes.