Fernie’s Francophone Community Grows – The Free Press
Fernie’s Francophone population is experiencing modest growth, with a 36% increase in the number of residents able to speak French between 2016 and 2021.
The number of residents who can speak both English and French has increased from 585 to 800 (and from 405 in 2011) according to data released by Statistics Canada from the 2021 census.
Fernie remains overwhelmingly English-speaking, with 5,430 of the town’s 6,240 residents (who answered the official languages question) knowing only English and 5,955 of the community’s residents speaking English at home.
Association francophone des Rocheuses du Sud (AFRoS) executive director Myriam Bourdeau-Potvin said the increase in the number of people able to speak French living in Fernie was not surprising, given the openness of the French language school, École Sophie Morigeau in 2013.
“When you have French as a second or first language and you have a family and children and are looking to relocate, (you would seek) accessibility to French language services and French schools,” Bourdeau-Potvin said.
“It is logical that since the opening of this school, it attracts people who speak French.”
The school opened in Fernie in 2013 after fundraising efforts and a growing number of locals interested in French-language education.
There is also a good representation of Francophone business owners in the community, with many local cafes and main street shops owned by members of the Francophone community.
One of those business owners, SimonLeFrançois of Alpine Springs, moved to the Quebec region in 2016 to work in the mines, and he hasn’t left since.
Instead, he started his own Kombucha brewery in Fernie with his partner in 2017.
Lefrançois said he’s noticed more French speakers in Fernie over the years, whether they’re visiting family or in the community.
“When I attend various events doing marketing or working in my store window, I can smell an accent, then I speak to them in French and get a response in French.
“It’s an experience that I’ve come to realize this year happens a lot more often,” he said.
LeFrancois said he was probably a rare exception in that he hadn’t heard of Fernie until he came here for work, but like many he fell in love with the area.
Many more come on vacation and never leave, in what Bourdeau-Potvin said is the “good old story” for many who come to Fernie.
“They visit for one winter and then stay for 15 years.”
Data on language statistics are available on the Statistics Canada website. The data also showed that no residents responded that they consider an Aboriginal language their mother tongue, while 380 respondents indicated a non-official language (neither English nor French) as their mother tongue.
Of these 380 responses, the most common responses were German and Italian (45 each), Tagalog (40), and Spanish (35).
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