For the first time since Lord Selkirk arrived 200 years ago, a non-European language is one of the two primary languages spoken in Winnipeg.

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Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press 
Teacher Emmarie Santiago (second from right) teaches grade 2 to 6 children at Lord Nelson School the Filipino language at an after-school program run by the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press Teacher Emmarie Santiago (second from right) teaches grade 2 to 6 children at Lord Nelson School the Filipino language at an after-school program run by the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers.

For the first time since Lord Selkirk arrived 200 years ago, a non-European language is one of the two primary languages spoken in Winnipeg.

There are now more Filipino-speaking residents -- whose primary language is Tagalog -- than French, which was the first European language uttered on the northern plains.

According to the 2011 census, nearly five per cent of Winnipeggers said they speak the Filipino dialect at home, compared to 3.4 per cent in 2006. The number of French speakers fell to 4.1 per cent from 4.4 per cent in 2006.

"There's the phenomenon of immigration," said Denis Ferre, superintendent for the Franco-Manitoban School Division. "Most of our (French-language) immigration comes from Africa and north Africa, but the percentage of anglophone immigration is always going to be higher."

Holding strong at No. 1 is English. Nearly 73 per cent of Winnipeggers say it is their mother tongue, down from nearly 75 per cent in 2006.

The Filipino dialect saw the largest increase of all languages in Canada. Nationally, nearly 279,000 people reported speaking it most often at home, compared with 170,000 in 2006, an increase of 64 per cent.

Despite the increase, keeping the language alive hasn't been easy, says the head of a group that has operated Filipino after-school programs in Winnipeg for decades.

"Our enrolment in the after-school program is dwindling," said Gemma Dalayoan, president of the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers.

Once a week, students in grades 2 to 6 attend classes in Filipino language and heritage at 14 schools in the inner city and northern part of the Winnipeg School Division, where there are large Filipino populations. The instructors are volunteers who receive a small honorarium, the retired vice-principal said.

The editor of Pilipino Express, one of Winnipeg's several Filipino newspapers, said the language will decline once immigration from the Philippines declines. "... Ultimately, it will decline naturally like the earlier immigrant languages, such as German and Ukrainian," said Emmie Joaquin.

For now, knowing Tagalog is the second most spoken language in Winnipeg is kind of a vindication for one of the city's most well-known Filipinos.

"It was really a struggle to make this language stay alive at home," said Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism Minister Flor Marcelino.

She and her husband emigrated from the Philippines and gave all five of their kids Filipino names at a time when many newcomers were adopting western names.

The kids' first language was Tagalog. They learned English when they went to school, but they were rewarded for speaking Tagalog at home.

"We really encouraged them to speak that language," Marcelino said.

Dalayoan said Filipino was a core subject in the Winnipeg School Division and taught during school hours in the '70s and '80s. When it was phased out, the Filipino teachers' association started the after-school program.

"Embedded in language are all our values and traditions, which cannot be translated in English," said Dalayoan.

Kids need to know their cultural background to develop a sense of identity and self-esteem, she said.

"We live in a multicultural country. Our culture is respected and language is respected, too. Let's keep our language and not be shy."

Meanwhile, Ferre said French's future in Manitoba is stable, particularly with immersion enrolments rising steadily every year for the last decade.

Raymond Hébert, professor emeritus at the Université de Saint-Boniface, said the prevalence of Tagalog could be due to first- or second-generation immigrants who still speak their native tongue as a first language. The same phenomenon happened in the past, with German and Ukrainian immigrants' mother tongues overtaking French in historic census figures.

"The hardcore ethnic figures show that the percentage of people who use French 100 per cent of the time hasn't changed. It's 19,700 this time and it was about 20,000 in the last census," Hébert said.

 

-- with files from Alexandra Paul

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

English 2011: 529,405 73.4% 2006: 512,225 74.7%

French 2011: 29,675 4.1% 2006: 30,110 4.4%

Tagalog (Filipino) 2011: 35,620 4.9% 2006: 23,285 3.4%

Source: 2011 Census

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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