EAA Edmund A. Aunger
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Canadian Ethnic Studies = Études ethniques au Canada 25 (1993), 65-83.



The Decline of a French-Speaking Enclave:

A Case Study of Social Contact and Language Shift in Alberta





This study examines the sociological and demolinguistic factors that have lead to the decline of a French-speaking enclave.  The principal focus is on the links between regional dispersion, social integration, social contact, and language shift.  Migration and marriage were found to be particularly useful in explaining recent changes in language use.  The data are drawn largely from a 1989 survey conducted in St. Paul, Alberta.


Notre étude dresse un bilan des facteurs sociologiques et démolinguistiques qui ont contribué au déclin d'une enclave francophone.  Elle met en évidence les liens entre la dispersion régionale, l'intégration sociale, le contact social et la mobilité linguistique.  Les changements observés dans l'emploi de la langue française s'expliquent surtout par la migration et le mariage.  Cette étude s'appuie en grande partie sur une enquête-sondage menée à Saint-Paul, Alberta, en 1989.



            The imminent disappearance of the French-speaking population living outside Quebec was predicted more than two decades ago in Richard Joy's (1972) pioneering study of Canadian language contact.  Subsequent works have repeated this prediction with such convincing regularity that the outcome almost seems a foregone conclusion, notwithstanding the determined resistance of a resilient minority.1  Joy classified Canada's regions into three categories--French-speaking, bilingual, and English-speaking--and concluded that "the language boundaries in Canada are hardening, with the consequent elimination of minorities everywhere except within a relatively narrow bilingual belt" (p. 21).  The so-called "bilingual belt," including parts of northern New Brunswick, southern Quebec and north-eastern Ontario, encircled the French-speaking heartland of interior Quebec.  Outside this narrow belt, and most particularly in the farthermost outreaches of western Canada, Joy observed that the population was almost universally English-speaking; and he concluded that "the French-speaking population of the West appears well on the way toward final disappearance" (p. 21).

            In a subsequent update, Joy (1978) reiterated this conclusion, noting that "les minorités francophones du Canada anglais sont sur le point de disparaître" (p. 6) and that "il semble inévitable que la tendance des minorités à disparaître s'accélère encore" (p. 15).  More recent demolinguistic studies have tended to avoid such dire unequivocal predictions while noting, nevertheless, the continuation of a trend now several decades old: French-speakers are increasingly concentrated in Quebec, and English-speakers outside Quebec.  Lachapelle and Henripin (1980), in their definitive study of the Canadian demolinguistic situation, concluded that the position of French-speakers outside Quebec remained, after decades of decline, extremely fragile (p. 61).  The results of the 1986 census indicate that this decline continues: French-speakers make up only 2.4 percent of the population of Canada's English-speaking regions, compared to 3.4 percent in 1951 (Lachapelle 1989, pp. 14-15).

            Demolinguistic research has attributed the relative decline in the French-speaking population outside Quebec to one dominant factor: language shift.  Simply put, an increasing number of French-speakers are adopting English as their principal language.  Migration, mortality and fertility have had, by comparison, only marginal effects.  (See, for example, Lachapelle 1989, p. 17.)  Ecological studies have convincingly demonstrated that this language shift is strongly correlated with regional dispersion or, inversely, that language retention is strongly correlated with regional concentration (Lieberson 1970, p. 47; Joy 1978, p. 23; Lachapelle 1986, p. 131; Laponce 1985, p. 168).  The lower the proportion of French-speakers in a region, the greater the shift from French to English.  French-speakers are thus caught in a vicious downward-spiralling circle: minority status leads to language shift, which leads to increased minority status, which leads to further language shift.  Hence Lachapelle's (1986) pessimistic conclusion: "En l'absence d'apports extérieurs, il n'y aurait finalement aucun point d'équilibre stable autre que l'effacement de la population minoritaire" (p. 123).

            Such studies—based almost exclusively upon the ecological analysis of census data—are unable to provide a detailed description of the mecanisms that link regional dispersion and language shift.  Nevertheless, most suggest that the crucial intervening variable is "social contact" and, more specifically, the frequency and degree of personalisation of contacts with members of other language groups (Lachapelle 1986, p. 131).  This line of reasoning suggests three logical steps.  First, regional dispersion contributes to social integration.  As French-speakers become dispersed over a given territory, they are integrated into the same networks and institutions as English-speakers.  Second, social integration contributes to social contact.  As French-speakers are integrated into common institutions, they interact with English-speakers in a wide variety of social relationships.  Third, social contact contributes to language shift.  As French-speakers interact with English-speakers, they adopt English as their principal language.

            This article uses the case study method to examine the relationship between regional dispersion, social integration, social contact and language shift.  The value of this method for understanding the decline of the French-speaking population in Canada has been amply demonstrated by Li and Denis (1983) in their study of Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan.  Our study looks at language shift in St. Paul, Alberta.


A French-Speaking Enclave in Decline

            St. Paul is located in north-eastern Alberta, about 210 kilometres north-east of Edmonton.  The St. Paul region is defined here as the immediate trading or market area of the Town of St. Paul; it includes a population of almost 12,000 persons, located within a radius of 15 to 40 kilometres.  The region corresponds roughly to the western half of the County of St. Paul, and has the Town of St. Paul at its heart.  The town, although relatively small with a population numbering only 5,000 people, serves as an important regional centre in Alberta, providing a wide range of government and commercial services to the surrounding, largely rural, population.

            The town of St. Paul has the largest proportion of French-speakers of any major population centre in Alberta.  According to the 1986 census, 22.7 percent of the town's population had French as their mother tongue; this included 3.8 percent who had both French and English as their mother tongues.  When the surrounding rural population is added, the proportion of French-speakers is considerably higher.  According to our 1989 survey, 31.0 percent of the region's population have French as their mother tongue; this includes 11.2 percent who have both French and English as their mother tongues (see Table 1).  Most French-speakers are also fluent in English.  For example, while 28.3 percent of the region's population claimed to speak French well, only 1.2 percent claimed that French was the only language spoken.


Table 1.  St. Paul Region: Linguistic and Ethnic Composition, Single and Multiple
Responses, 1989


Category                %English        %French      %Ukrainian     %Other                 Total

Ethnic origina
 a. inclusive                   25.3                 39.1                 25.9                 39.4                 129.7
 b. exclusive                  13.8                 24.4                 17.2                 15.0                   70.4

Mother tongue
 a. inclusive                   63.2                 31.0                 16.7                   8.2                 119.1
 b. exclusive                  45.3                 19.8                 11.2                   4.6                   80.9

Spoken languageb
 a. inclusive                   98.8                 28.3                 16.1                   4.3                 147.5
 b. exclusive                  51.4                   1.2                   0.0                   0.0                   52.6

Home language
 a. inclusive                   87.8                 22.5                   7.5                   2.2                 120.0
 b. exclusive                  68.1                 10.3                   0.6                   0.9                   79.9


N = 329

NOTE: The "inclusive" category includes multiple responses: it counts all respondents who claimed the language (or origin), including those who cited two or more languages (or origins).  For this reason, the total responses exceed 100 percent.  The "exclusive" category includes only single responses: it is limited to those respondents claiming only one language (or origin).

a When English origin is indicated in this table, it includes, for the sake of convenience, all those who replied English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh.  British Isles would be a more appropriate designation.

b The respondents' spoken languages are any languages that they claimed to speak well, very well or perfectly.


            The French-speaking population has experienced a substantial decline since its arrival in the region.  In 1909, after the St. Paul colony had been newly opened to homesteaders, the area's four townships had a combined population of 1,800, and this was about 95 percent French-speaking (see Aunger 1989a).  The provincial constituency of St. Paul, known at first as Pakan, had a population of 10,000, estimated to be 75 percent French-speaking.  In 1911, a visitor to the area observed: "Cette partie du pays, c'est-à-dire, d'une centaine de milles de long sur cinquante de large, est d'un bout à l'autre colonisée par des Canadiens-Français.  On l'appelle la petite province de Québec" (Z.G. 1911).  In 1920, a census of the Roman Catholic population in the parish of St. Paul counted 1,317 adherents; 89.1 percent of these were listed as French-speaking (Archevêché d'Edmonton 1920).  A year later, the first federal census of the village of Saint-Paul des Métis, as it was then known, recorded a total population of 869 persons, and 78.0 percent claimed French origin.

            Subsequent census results have shown a steady, and seemingly inexorable, decline in the French population, in relative proportions if not in absolute numbers (see Table 2).  No longer a French-speaking enclave, St. Paul is now an English-speaking multi-ethnic community.  The French population is still substantial.  It remains the largest ethnic group, surpassing the British, the Ukrainians and the Cree; but it is considerably diminished as a language group.  Some 63.2 percent of the region's population now claim English as their mother tongue, and 87.8 percent speak English in the home.


Table 2.  Town of St. Paul: Evolution of the French Population, Single Responses,


French                         French                         French                         French
Ethnic                          Mother                       Home                          Official
Origin                          Tongue                        Language                    Language

Year    N       %                      N       %                      N       %                      N       %


1921       678   78.0

1941       619   60.8

1961    1,580   56.0                 1,300   46.1

1981    1,190   25.3                 1,135   24.1                 790   16.8                    70   1.5

1986a   1,155   23.6                    950   18.9                 510   10.4                    70   1.4

SOURCE: Census of Canada, 1921-1986.

NOTE: In 1921, 1941 and 1961, the census recorded only single responses to each of these questions.  In later years, the census recorded multiple responses however the breakdown of some responses, in subdivisions such as St. Paul, was not published.  In 1986, in the town of St. Paul, 36.3 percent claimed multiple ethnic origins, 7.8 percent multiple mother tongues, and 7.0 percent multiple home languages.

a The census reported different total populations for the town of St. Paul in its various published tables.  The percentage for mother tongue is based on a population of 5,030.  The percentages for ethnic origin, home language and official language are based on a population of 4,900.


            In this study of the decline of the French-speaking population, our principal source is a 1989 survey conducted in the St. Paul region.  An initial sample of 462 names was randomly selected from the electoral lists of the 28 provincial polling subdivisions making up the region.  This sample constituted 6.9 percent of the 6,688 electors enumerated on October 1, 1988.  A total of 420 persons from this sample were contacted and 78.6 percent of those contacted (330 persons) agreed to be interviewed.  Interviewing took place over a two-month period beginning on April 4, 1989.  Some 68 percent of the interviews were completed by April 28, and 94 percent by May 15.  While the length of the interviews varied greatly, the modal average was 15 minutes and the mean average 20 minutes.  In addition, 203 persons, or 61.5 percent of those interviewed, also returned a written questionnaire.  On the whole, it was found that the 1989 survey population closely resembled the 1986 census population for the principal categories compared.2  This finding is convincing evidence of the sample's reliability.  The data from this survey is supplemented, as appropriate, with both published and unpublished results from the Canadian census.


Migration and Regional Dispersion

            An important part of the decline in St. Paul's French-speaking population can be accounted for by migration.  French-speakers make up only a relatively small proportion (2.7 percent in 1986) of Alberta's population, and migration between the town and the rest of the province, has led to a net loss of French-speakers in St. Paul.  On balance, French-speaking out-migrants have been replaced by English-speaking in-migrants.  As elsewhere, local concentrations of French-speakers have diminished as residents migrate to other parts of the province.  Edmonton and Calgary have been the principal beneficiaries of this population movement.  More than half (60.0 percent) of the province's French-speakers live in these two metropolitan centres although, even here, they constitute only a small minority: 3.1 percent in metropolitan Edmonton, and 2.0 percent in metropolitan Calgary.

            Between 1981 and 1986, French-speakers made up 17.2 percent of all out-migrants, but only 8.3 percent of all in-migrants, in the town of St. Paul (see Table 3).  The impact of this gap on the French-speaking population was all the more important because of the high rate of population movement.  In only five years, St. Paul's French-speaking population suffered a net loss of 14.5 percent through migration.  The English-speaking population suffered a loss of 8.5 percent, while the Ukrainian-speaking population realised a gain of 3.5 percent.  Taken in isolation, population movement during the five-year period was sufficient to reduce the proportion of French-speakers in the town of St. Paul from 24.7 percent in 1981, to 23.3 percent in 1986.


Table 3.  Town of St. Paul: Population Migration, By Mother Tongue, 1981-86


        1981                          Out                              In                                Net
   Population                Migration                   Migration                   Migration

Tongue                N       %                      N       %                      N     %                       N     %




















































































SOURCE: Statistics Canada, special tabulation.

NOTE: These results are calculated from the 1986 responses of Canadian residents aged 5 years and older.  A total of 50 residents immigrated to St. Paul from outside Canada in 1981-86.  It is not known how many St. Paul residents left the country.


            The dispersion of the French-speaking population in Alberta is slowed somewhat by language-based differences in the propensity to migrate.  A French-speaker has a lower propensity than an English-speaker to move from a French-speaking region to an English-speaking region, and a higher propensity to move from an English-speaking region to a French-speaking region (Lachapelle 1986, p. 138).  This pattern holds for St. Paul.  For example, between 1981 and 1986, the propensity of French-speakers to leave the town of St. Paul was 21.9 percent, while that of English-speakers was 38.4 percent.3  Conversely, the propensity to move to the town of St. Paul was 2.5 times greater for French-speaking Albertans than for English-speaking Albertans: 9.1 per 10,000 compared to 3.7 per 10,000.  Nevertheless, these differentials have not been sufficient to compensate for the disparate sizes of the two language groups: the number of English-speakers in Alberta is 27.8 times greater than the number of French-speakers.

            Most migration to St. Paul originates from within the province.  Between 1981 and 1986, for example, only 26.3 percent of St. Paul's new arrivals were from outside Alberta.  Nevertheless, even this out-of-province in-migration tends to reinforce the English-speaking population of St. Paul.  For Canadian residents as a whole, the propensity to move to the town of St. Paul was 3.8 times greater for English-speakers than for French-speakers.  For immigrants from outside Canada, the propensity to move to St. Paul was 3.7 times greater for English-speakers than for French-speakers.

            The results of the 1989 population survey suggest that this imbalance is not a new development.  A disproportionate number of non-French-speakers have migrated to the St. Paul region during the lifetime of its current residents (Table 4).  About half (49.6 percent) of the permanent residents, that is, those who were born in the region and who have lived there for at least twenty years, are French-speaking.  However, only a fifth (20.5 percent) of those who have moved to the region are French-speaking; and only 13.5 percent of the most recent arrivals (those who have lived in the St. Paul region for less than 5 years) are French-speaking.  Perhaps equally significant, it may be deduced that the new French-speaking residents are also more anglicized: a majority (51.4 percent) claim English as a second mother tongue, compared to only about a quarter (27.1 percent) of the permanent French-speaking residents.



Table 4.  St. Paul Region: Length of Residency, By Mother Tongue, 1989


           Permanent                                  New Residents:

Residents                               Length of Residency
         ___________           ______________________________________

Mother                       20 yrs or                     20 yrs or         10 yrs to          0 yrs to
Tongue                           more                           more              19 yrs               9 yrs
                                         %                                %                    %                    %

English                            33.6                             36.5                 61.3                 63.5

French                            49.6                             24.7                 21.0                 14.3

Ukrainian                        14.3                             25.9                 12.9                 11.1

Other                               2.5                             12.9                   4.8                 11.1

Total                            100.0                           100.0               100.0               100.0

N =                                 119                                85                    62                    63

X2(9)=50.9, p<.01; V=.23

NOTE: Permanent residents are defined here as those who were born in the St. Paul region, and who have lived there for at least 20 years.  The English language category is limited to single responses, that is, those who gave English as their only mother tongue.  The other language categories include both single and multiple responses.  They also include, therefore, some who indicated English as a second mother tongue.


            Historically, the large concentration of French-speakers in the St. Paul region owes its origins to the active recruitment of settlers from Quebec.  In 1908, Adéodat Thérien, parish priest and manager of the colony, was successful in obtaining the support of the Minister of the Interior, Frank Oliver, for his plan to open the former Métis reserve to settlement by French-Canadian homesteaders.  Within months he had recruited 140 applicants, mostly Quebec-born (Aunger 1989a).  This early influx of settlers from Quebec was substantial, but short-lived; by 1912, it had largely ended.  It was succeeded, instead, by other waves of immigration, again publicly organised, notably from the Ukraine.  However, these long-distance population movements have now been reduced to a small trickle and, today, the St. Paul region is composed overwhelmingly of western-Canadian-born residents.  In 1989, 89.6 percent were born in western Canada, including 76.1 percent in Alberta.

            Public sector employers, and particularly the provincial government, now play an important role in present-day in-migration.  Almost two-thirds (65.6 percent) of those who moved to the St. Paul region between 1984 and 1989 were employed by the public sector, mostly by the provincial government.  French-speakers were disproportionately under-represented among these new residents.  Although 33.3 percent of St. Paul's employed population, exclusive of recent in-migrants, was French-speaking, only 19.0 percent of the new public servants were French-speaking.  Significantly, only 11.1 percent of the new private sector employees were French-speaking.


Social Integration

            With a few important exceptions, the migration of large numbers of English-speakers and Ukrainian-speakers into the St. Paul region did not lead immediately to the creation of separate institutions. Instead, the newcomers were accepted and integrated into the community's existing French-speaking institutions.  Church, hospital, school, store, workshop, club—all became meeting places for many different language groups.  Distinct—and therefore multiple—institutions were established only sparingly, perhaps because they were often perceived as costly and impractical given the relatively small population of the region.  This social integration, characterised by common institutions and networks, was also accompanied by a blurring of social and economic distinctions.  Consequently, there are now very few language-based inequalities, whether in schooling, in occupation or in income.

            The church was an early model for such integration, but it proved to be a model of partial, rather than complete, integration.  Many new residents, from various language groups, joined the French-speaking Roman Catholic parish; by 1920, a significant minority (10.9 percent) of the parishioners were either English, Cree, Ukrainian or Polish (Archevêché d'Edmonton 1920).  By 1989, this minority had increased to 41.7 percent of the Roman Catholic population in the St. Paul region.  The English language has now gained equal status with French, and services are given in both languages.  Sunday morning mass is given twice, once in English and once in French; and Saturday evening mass is given, in alternate weeks, in English and in French.

            Not all the new arrivals were Roman Catholic, however, and this explains the creation of separate institutions.  The 1921 census of the village of St. Paul showed that 85.7 percent of the population was Roman Catholic, but 10.0 percent was Protestant (mainly Presbyterian), and an additional 2.3 percent Greek Orthodox.  Sixty years later, following the continuous in-migration of non-French-speakers, the census revealed that the Catholic population had fallen to 55.2 percent.  Some 27.0 percent of the town's population now was Protestant (mainly United Church and Anglican), and 7.1 percent, Greek Orthodox.  Most non-Catholics established their own places of worship: St. Paul United Church, All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, St. John Anglican Church, St. Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church.  Only 4.2 percent of the region's non-Catholic population is French-speaking.

            The St. Paul School was also, at least in its origins and its early composition, a French-language institution.  Founded by the Oblate Fathers in 1897, the school was turned over shortly thereafter to the Soeurs de l'Assomption, a Quebec-based religious order committed to teaching in French.  This commitment was sorely tested, however, since the Alberta School Act, until its amendment in 1968, prohibited instruction in any language other than English.  (A regulation adopted in 1925 introduced a significant exception to this rule by permitting French-language instruction in grades one, two and three.)  Thus, the St. Paul school was, by law, an English-language school.  Furthermore, it was also a public school.

            In 1911, all students registered in the school were both French-speaking and Roman Catholic.  But with the subsequent arrival of new residents, this proportion declined steadily over the years and, by 1940, only 66.5 percent of the students were French-speaking, while 84.9 percent were Roman Catholic (Fortier 1940).  As the number of non-French-speakers and non-Catholics increased, so did the pressure to set up separate elementary schools.  The first such school, Glen Avon School, an English-language Protestant school, was opened in 1956, after several years of intensive lobbying.  Another school, but of a much different ilk, a French-language school, École Le Sommet, was opened amidst considerable controversy in 1990.  In the surrounding countryside, where the student numbers are smaller, integrated public schools—Mallaig Community School, Ashmont Elementary and Secondary School--have continued.  Students from the various elementary schools in the town and adjoining area subsequently attend St. Paul Regional High School.

            The important political institutions of the region were originally French-speaking but, today, all language groups are represented in the decision-making process.  The municipal council, established in 1912, was composed solely of French-speaking members until 1937.  Since that time, the town has elected three non-French-speaking mayors and a majority of the councillors are now English-speaking.  Similarly, the public school board, created in 1910, did not have an English-speaking member until 1937; a second English-speaking trustee was elected in 1970.  Non-French-speakers constitute a majority of the trustees on the separate school board.  In our 1989 survey, respondents from all language groups ranked English-speakers ahead of French-speakers in both their public-sector representation and their political power.  For example, 96.8 percent of the English-speakers believed the English-language community to be well-represented in the region's public institutions; by contrast, only 73.7 percent of the French-speakers believed the French-language community to be well-represented.

            The region's business sector is also highly integrated and counts members from all language groups among both its employees and its customers.  An examination of consumer behaviour shows little difference in the shopping preferences of English-speakers and French-speakers--both groups patronize the same business and professional establishments.  Banking services are the major exception to this pattern.  While English-speakers prefer the Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Alberta Treasury Branch, French-speakers favour the St. Paul Credit Union/Caisse Populaire de Saint-Paul.   Nevertheless, English-speakers tend to dominate the business sector and this is reflected in public perceptions.  Some 97.8 percent of the English-speakers believe that their language community is well-represented in the region's business institutions, while only 75.4 percent of the French-speakers believe that the French-language community is similarly well-represented.

            About half (49.2 percent) of St. Paul's residents claimed to be members of a club or an association.  The most frequently cited associations were the Senior Citizens Club, the Minor Hockey Association, the Alberta Teachers Association, the Knights of Columbus, the Chamber of Commerce, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Fish and Game Association, and the Agricultural Society.  None of these associations are language-based; all include English-speaking, French-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking members.  English, however, is the dominant language spoken.  There are also several important language-based associations.  The two most commonly named were the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, and the Mouvement des femmes chrétiennes.  Only a third of all French-speaking club members claimed to belong to associations in which most of their fellow members were also French-speaking.

            The French-speaking population shares the media preferences of its English-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking neighbours: it reads the same newspapers, listens to the same radio stations and watches the same television stations.  The preferred media are English-language media.  The St. Paul Journal, a weekly newspaper founded in 1924, is read by about three-quarters of the population, including 75.2 percent of the French-speakers and 73.8 percent of the English-speakers.  The Edmonton Journal, a daily newspaper, is the region's second choice, read by 39.6 percent of the French-speakers and 45.5 percent of the English-speakers.  Le Franco, the province's French-language weekly, is read only by a minority (22.8 percent) of the French-speaking population.

            The most popular radio stations, among both English-speakers and French-speakers, are Edmonton's CFCW and St. Paul's Radio LW.  Together, these two stations accounted for more than half the radio-listeners within each language community.  Only 11.8 percent of the French-speaking listeners reported listening to CHFA, Radio-Canada's Edmonton-based French-language station.  The most popular television station, CTV-CFRN, was watched by a majority of the population, including 54.0 percent of the French-speakers and 57.2 percent of the English-speakers.  However, a significant portion (40.0 percent) of the French-speakers also watched Radio-Canada's French-language station, CBXFT.

            On the whole, when various socio-economic indicators are considered, the French-speaking population is not significantly different from the English-speaking population.  Both have about the same levels of educational attainment.  The average resident has completed high school; but 31.7 percent of the French-speakers, and 30.9 percent of the English-speakers also have a post-secondary education.  Both possess a similar occupational profile.  The average worker is likely to have a skilled manual occupation, but 45.0 percent of the French-speakers and 43.0 percent of the English-speakers are in non-manual occupations.  Both have similar levels of income.  The average family earns an annual income between $30,000 and $39,999 per year; but 37.0 percent of the French-speakers and 34.8 percent of the English-speakers earn $40,000 or more.

            The in-migration of non-French-speakers over several decades has contributed to the creation of a highly-integrated, multi-ethnic community.  Most institutions now include members from all language groups.  Socio-economic differentiation, based on language, is relatively low.  English and French share similar values, similar characteristics and similar memberships.


Social Contact

            The integration of non-French-speakers into St. Paul's traditionally French-speaking institutions has resulted in increased social contact between the various language groups—French, English, Ukrainian and Cree.  French-speakers now live in a world dominated by English-speakers.  Nevertheless, their contact with English-speakers varies greatly according to their degree of integration, and the intimacy of their relationship.  Contact with English-speakers is more frequent in formal relations than in intimate relations; conversely, contact with other French-speakers is more frequent in primary relationships than in secondary relationships (Lachapelle 1986, p. 132).

            In the business world, where integration is most complete, and where relations are least intimate, contact with English-speakers reaches its peak, and contact with French-speakers, its low.  Table 5 shows that only 18.7 percent of St. Paul's French-speakers, when shopping, dealt with merchants and store clerks who were mostly French-speaking. (Respondents were asked to identify the mother tongue of the merchants, rather than the language actually spoken.)  Similarly, only 26.8 percent reported that the people with whom they worked were mostly French-speaking.


Table 5.  St. Paul Region: Contact with Speakers of the Same Language, By Mother
Tongue and Social Relationship, 1989


%  Reporting Mostly Contact with Co-Linguists

Relationship               N                    English            French             Ukrainian        Totala

Family                          323                  87.7                 81.0                 54.7                 77.1

Relatives                       315                  84.2                 62.0                 41.5                 66.3

Club Members             184                  86.3                 34.8                 11.1                 53.3

Friends                         317                  85.2                 31.0                 17.0                 51.7

Co-Workers                244                  79.1                 26.8                 11.4                 48.4

Neighbours                   311                  72.8                 37.4                 17.0                 47.6

Merchants                    296                  84.3                 18.7                   2.0                 45.2

NOTE: Respondents were asked to estimate the number of persons in their various relationships who had the same mother tongue as themselves.  For example, respondents who had previously identified themselves as French-speakers were asked how many of their friends (or neighbours, etc.) spoke French as their first language.  This table indicates the percentage who replied that "most" or "all" of their friends (or neighbours, etc.) belonged to their own language group.  It was found that, in a closely-knit community such as St. Paul, residents usually knew the language identity of their associates.

a The total also includes respondents with mother tongues other than English, French or Ukrainian.


            In family life, the last remaining bulwark for the French-speaking community, social integration and cross-language contact are much more limited.  Some 80.0 percent reported that most of their immediate family—including parents, brothers and sisters, children—were French-speaking; while 62.0 percent reported that most of their relatives—including cousins, aunts and uncles, in-laws—were French-speaking.  (Again, these responses relate to the mother tongue of the family members, and not necessarily to the language actually spoken.)  Yet even in family relationships, including marriage, there is evidence of growing contact with English-speakers.

            The rate at which French-speakers marry other French-speakers, that is, the rate of endogamy, is in decline.  While this rate was very high among earlier generations, it has now fallen dramatically.  It is estimated, for example, that the French-origin population's rate of endogamy was 97.3 percent in 1910-1914, 92.9 percent in 1930-34, 77.5 percent in 1950-54 and 46.3 percent in 1970-72 (Bielech 1973).4  This trend is consistent with the generational differences observed in our 1989 survey: the French-speaking population's rate of endogamy was 85.2 percent for those aged 55 and over, 58.8 percent for those aged between 35 and 54, and 43.9 percent for those aged between 18 and 34.

            Marriage outside the language group is a consequence of both regional dispersion and social integration.  In a completely integrated community, the rate of endogamy would be determined largely by the numerical strength of the language group.  As the proportion of French-speakers decline, the probability of contact—including marriage—with English-speakers increases. Since the major language groups have been integrated into the same institutions, and since they share similar values and norms, there are few barriers to close social contact.

            A comparison of the two marriage types—endogamy and exogamy—tends to confirm the link between integration and contact.  The variable from our study that best explains the difference between these two marriage types is the place where the French-speaker first met his (or her) future spouse.  Among those who married another French-speaker, some 88.9 percent first met their spouse in a place where French was the main language spoken; by contrast, among those who married a non-French-speaker, only 18.4 percent met in a place where French was the main language (see Table 6).  The specific place is, in itself, relatively unimportant; its influence depends on its linguistic character and its degree of integration.  Nevertheless, some contexts are clearly more integrated than others.  For example, only 12.5 percent of those meeting their spouse at the workplace reported that French was the main language used in this milieu.  On the other hand, a large majority of those who met their spouse at church reported that French was the principal language used there.


Table 6.  St. Paul Region: Selected Characteristics and Marriage Type, For Married
French-Speakers, 1989


    % of Respondents Possessing Characteristics

                                                            Endogamous   Exogamous     All Married
                                                            French             French-           French-
Characteristics                                   Speakers        Speakers        Speakers        phi







Endogamous parents






Two mother tongues


















French-language instructiona






Language highly-valuedb


















Roman Catholic spouse






Religion highly-valuedb










































French-speaking milieu












N =








* p<.01

a French was the language of instruction during at least one year of schooling.

b This characteristic was claimed to be the most important factor in the way the respondent thought and acted.  Possible choices included occupation, language, religion, education, income, sex, age.

c Includes Franco-Albertan.


            There are also significant differences in the attitudes and values of endogamous and exogamous French-speakers; and these indicate different levels of integration and acculturation.  For example, exogamous French-speakers—those who marry outside their language group—attach less value to their language, their religion and their ethnicity.  Generally, they do not think that their language and their religion have had an important impact on the way they think and act; and they do not identify themselves as either French-Canadian or as Franco-Albertan.  Attitudes such as these obviously predispose French-speakers to mixed-language (and mixed-religion) marriages.  However, such attitudes may also be a product of these marriages.


Language Shift

            Social contact leads to language shift.  For example, when French-speakers are in contact with English-speakers, they adopt the English language.  The direction of the shift depends on the relative power of the languages involved, and this in turn is influenced by the status of the language-speakers (Aunger 1989c, Laponce 1984, Mackey 1976).  The strongest language will dominate the weaker languages.  In present-day St. Paul, English is the most powerful language, and contact between any two languages almost inevitably means shift to English.  This was not always so.  During the early years of the St. Paul settlement, French had greater status, and language contact—with English-speakers, Ukrainian-speakers and Cree-speakers—often resulted in a shift to French.

            The high levels of language shift in St. Paul can be discerned in the low levels of language continuity.  Few French-speakers (or Ukrainian-speakers or Cree-speakers) speak their mother tongue at all times.  For example, only 27.8 percent of the French-speakers claimed that they almost always spoke French, while virtually all English-speakers could claim that they almost always spoke English.  Nevertheless, the level of language continuity for French-speakers is significant, and certainly much higher than that of other language minorities.  Almost three quarters (72.1 percent) of the French-speakers said that they spoke French at least half the time during the previous year, while less than a third (30.2 percent) of the Ukrainian-speakers reported that they spoke Ukrainian at least half the time.

            The degree of language shift, like the frequency of cross-language social contact, varies according to the nature of the relationship.  Shift to English is lowest in primary relations, and highest in secondary relations.  The further French-speakers are from their family, the greater the language shift.  The store, the office, the workplace, the club and the school—all are places where St. Paul's French-speakers today are unlikely to speak French; instead, they shift to English (see Table 7).  Nevertheless, even this tendancy varies with the degree of integration and the language policy of the various institutions.  French-speakers are dispersed between different schools and different streams—English, French immersion or French minority—but French is more likely to be spoken in a French school than in an English school.


Table 7.  St. Paul Region: Contexts in which French is Used by French-Speakers,
By Frequency of Use, 1989


                                                         Just about          Most of           Some of
Context                       N                     always             the time           the time         Never
                                                               %                    %                    %                    %

Family                          96                    46.9                 11.5                 21.9                 19.8

Relatives                       94                    35.1                 29.8                 33.0                   2.1

Post Office                   94                    35.1                 22.3                 22.3                 20.2

Church                         89                    32.6                 19.1                 32.6                 15.7

Income Tax                  92                    20.7                   5.4                   4.4                 69.6

School                          45                    15.6                 20.0                 33.3                 31.1

Club                             64                    14.1                   9.4                 40.7                 35.9

Friends                         95                    11.6                 16.8                 54.7                 16.8

Work                           64                    10.9                 10.9                 56.3                 21.9

Grocery Store              94                      9.6                   5.3                 37.3                 47.9

Bank                            95                      8.4                 10.5                 34.8                 46.3

Recreation                    86                      8.1                   7.0                 50.0                 34.9

Government Office       88                      8.0                   2.3                 27.3                 62.5

Garage                         85                      7.1                   8.2                 24.7                 60.0

Doctor or Dentist          94                      6.4                   2.1                 29.7                 61.7

Restaurant                    92                      5.4                   3.3                 27.1                 64.1

Hardware Store            71                      4.2                   5.6                 35.2                 54.9

NOTE: Certain contexts are not relevant for some respondents.  For example, not all respondents are employed and the question relating to the language used with co-workers at the place of work is, therefore, not applicable.  N indicates the number of French-speaking respondents for whom the question is applicable; and the percentages are calculated as a proportion of this number.


            French education is an option for many present-day students; it was not for their parents.  Before 1968, the Alberta School Act did not permit the use of French as a language of instruction except in grades one, two and three (see Aunger 1989b).  Thus, for most French-speakers, schooling was in English.  On average, French-speakers in the St. Paul region report that French was the main language of instruction for only three of the twelve years that they attended school.  Nevertheless, this average conceals a wide range of variation: 52.0 percent never received any French-language instruction, and a mere 2.0 percent received more than twelve years of French-language instruction.  (This latter group includes some who attended French-language post-secondary institutions.)  Historically, then, the language of schooling may be attributed as much to legislated language policy as to social contact.

            The family, traditionally a haven for the French language, best exemplifies the link between language contact and language shift.  Exogamy leads to language shift; endogamy to language retention.  In 77.8 percent of exogamous marriages, English is the only language spoken in the home; while in 92.6 percent of endogamous marriages, French is the home language.  The retention of French in these cases is only partial, however.  In most (51.8 percent) endogamous marriages, French is not the sole language used: both French and English are spoken in the home.  The relationship is clear.  Exogamy does not lead to bilingualism; it results in English unilingualism.  Endogamy does not ensure French unilingualism; it usually results in bilingualism.  Such is the power of the English language in the St. Paul region.  Among those who speak both French and English in the home, 80.0 percent are in endogamous French-French marriages; only 10.0 percent are in exogamous French-English marriages and 6.7 percent in exogamous French-Ukrainian marriages.

            Exogamous marriages have an impact not only on language shift but also on language transmission.  The language spoken in the home is the mother tongue of the next generation.  In exogamous marriages, French-speaking parents have English-speaking children.  This is increasingly reflected in a lop-sided age distribution: French-speakers are much older than English-speakers.  In 1986, the average age of French-speakers in the Town of St. Paul was 42 years, while that of English-speakers was only 25 years.  (The average age of Ukrainian-speakers, though, was 57 years.)   The school has assumed a correspondingly greater responsibility for the transmission of the French language.  It is exogamous parents, more so than any other group, who register their children in French immersion programmes, French-language programmes designed for English-speaking children (see Table 8).


Table 8.  St. Paul Region: School Programme and Marriage Type, For School
Children, 1989


Children's                               French-           French-           Other-

School                                     French             Other              Other              All

Programme                             Marriage        Marriage        Marriage        Marriages







French Immersion





French Minority










N =






X2(4)=123.8, p<.01; V=.58

NOTE: This table is calculated from the responses of parents whose children are presently attending school.  The French immersion programme is designed for English-speaking children and the French minority programme for French-speaking children.  Only parents who are French-speaking or who have a French-language education are entitled, by the Canadian constitution, to register their children in the latter programme.


            English is the dominant language in St. Paul and the use of English is wide-spread.  It is thus significant that 86.5 percent of the St. Paul population—regardless of mother tongue—consider English their best language, i.e. the language in which they are most competent.  This includes 64.2 percent of the French-speakers and 92.5 percent of the Ukrainian-speakers.  When all types of competence—speaking, understanding, writing and reading—are evaluated, 92.4 percent of the French-speakers report that they are fluent in English; but only 78.5 percent that they are fluent in French.  Nevertheless, there is a wide range of variation in the different types of competence.  While 86.2 percent deem that they speak French well, only 61.4 percent say that they write French well.  This discrepancy may be attributed, at least in part, to the sorry state of French-language education in past decades.  Spoken French is learned at home; written French at school.  Indeed, spoken competence is unrelated (r=.01) to years of schooling, while written competence is positively correlated (r=.39, p<.01) to years of schooling.

            The relationship between social contact and language shift is examined more precisely using multiple regression analysis.  In this, the various types of social contact explain just under half the variance in language shift, where language shift is defined as the frequency with which the French-speaking population uses a language other than French, and is measured on a five-point scale (Table 9).  One type of contact explains more than all the others combined: marriage to a non-French-speaking spouse accounted for 24.8 percent of the total variance.


Table 9.  St. Paul Region: Multiple Regression Analysis of Language Shift on
Social Contact, For French-Speakers, 1989

                                                                                                     %               Cumulative
Type of                                         b                Beta               Variance         Variance
Contact                                   Coefficient      Weight            Explained        Explained
















































NOTE: Language shift was defined as the use of a language other than French, and was measured according to the following scale: (1) never, (2) some of the time, (3) about half the time, (4) most of the time, and (5) always.  Respondents were asked to indicate such use during the past year.  Spousal contact was scaled according to the mother tongue of the spouse: (1) French only, (2) French and English, and (3) English and/or another language.  Media contact measured television viewing during the previous week and was scaled by the language of the television stations: (1) French only, (2) both French and English, and (3) English only.  All other types of contact measured the proportion of non-French-speakers in the social relationship: (1) none, (2) some, (3) about half, (4) most, and (5) all.  Contact with club-members was not included because of the relatively small number of cases.


            While other social relationships appear at first glance to have a relatively marginal influence, their impact cannot be discounted.  Excepting media contact, each variable in this analysis measures contact with persons rather than with languages.  Each measures the proportion of non-French-speakers, but not the actual linguistic context.  This deficiency is not insignificant.  Social norms and public policies dictate the use of English in some relationships, regardless of the number of English-speakers present.  Both the business world and the field of education provide ample evidence of this.  This is not to say that social contact is irrelevant; its rôle is simply acted out on a larger stage.  In the wider community, the province of Alberta, English-speakers are dominant; and this dominance has had a substantial impact on the norms and policies governing language use in St. Paul.



            The St. Paul case dramatically illustrates the decline of the French-speaking population in western Canada.  When the region was first settled between 1909 and 1912, the population was 95 percent French-speaking.  French was the language of community life, used for government, education, business and religion.  Eight decades later, the population is now only 31 percent French-speaking and English is the dominant language.  Yet, while the French population has declined, it has not disappeared.  It remains a substantial minority.  Further, the French language is still widely spoken: about half the French-speaking population claims to speak French most of the time.  However, the situations where French is usually spoken are now limited: the family, the church, the post office.

            Migration has been a major factor in the decline of this French-speaking enclave.  Between 1912 and 1936, the major waves of in-migration were composed of English-speakers and Ukrainian-speakers, not French-speakers.  In more recent years, population movement within the province has resulted in a net loss of French-speakers in the St. Paul region: out-migrants outnumber in-migrants.  The new residents have been integrated into the community and, consequently, cross-language social contact has increased.  Where such contact has been highest, notably with work-mates and merchants, the shift from French to English has also been highest.  Where such contact has been lowest, notably with family and spouse, the shift from French to English has also been lowest.

            While the shift from French to English is a social phenomenon affecting all members of the French-speaking population, there are significant individual differences.  Almost half the variance in language shift is explained by differing levels of social contact with non-French-speakers.  Marriage with a non-French-speaker is clearly the most important factor: exogamous marriage leads almost invariably to the use of English in the home.  It also has significant implications for language use in the next generation since the children of exogamous marriages speak English as their mother tongue.

            The imminent disappearance of the French-speaking population living outside Quebec has long been predicted, and the ominous signs evident in the St. Paul region cannot be ignored.  The proportion of French-speakers, the rate of endogamy, and the use of French have all steadily declined for several decades.  However, this trend should not be seen as simply the result of an immutable demographic law.  It has been highly influenced by public policies designed to discourage, if not suppress, all languages other than English.  Such policies have affected migration patterns, social integration and language use.  It is significant, for example, that French-language instruction in the schools was outlawed in Alberta in 1892, and that most French-speaking St. Paul residents have had no French-language education.  In this respect, the creation of a French-language school in 1990 represents a significant policy change; it may yet have an important impact on the use of the French language in the future.




The research assistance of Dorine Chalifoux, Jean Champagne and Caroline Pinckert-Rust is gratefully acknowledged.  Two anonymous reviewers provided many helpful suggestions for the revision of an earlier, and much longer, version of this article.  Financial support was received from the Department of the Secretary of State and from the Faculté Saint-Jean, University of Alberta.



1. In response to frequently-repeated assertions that the French-speaking communities living outside Quebec are "dead ducks" and "les cadavres encore chauds," the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta (1992) has noted bluntly: "Nous avons refusé de disparaître" (p. 2).  In its brief to the Castonguay-Dobbie commission, the Association quoted a statement made by its leadership in 1926: "[les francophones de l'Alberta] ne sont pas si morts que quelques-uns se le sont imaginé."

2. The boundaries of the St. Paul region, as defined in this study, do not correspond to the boundaries of the census divisions used by Statistics Canada.  For this reason, any comparison of the 1989 survey population and the 1986 census population must be limited to the town of St. Paul.  Fortunately, this is the most important part of the region: residents of the town accounted for 46.3 percent of those interviewed.  Ethnic origin, sex, age, labour force activity and occupational sector were among the categories compared.  The results show that 23.0 percent of the survey respondents (compared to 23.6 percent of the census population) claimed French origin, while 35.5 percent (compared to 36.3 percent) reported multiple origins; 51.7 percent (compared to 48.8 percent) were male; 52.6 percent (compared to 55.6 percent) were aged between 20 and 44 years; 66.2 percent (compared to 64.9 percent) were employed; and 73.7 percent (compared to 69.7 percent) worked in the tertiary sector.

3. The propensity to migrate is estimated by dividing actual migrants by possible migrants.  For example, the propensity of French-speaking Canadians to migrate to the town of St. Paul would be 0.2 per 10,000 persons, that is, 90 (actual in-migrants) divided by 5,936,845 (possible in-migrants).  All calculations are for the population aged 5 years and older in 1986, as tabulated by Statistics Canada.

4. Bielech (1973) studied 3,918 baptismal entries in the parish of St. Paul and classified the parents of newly-baptised children by their ethnicity.  Mixed parentage was defined as either French and non-French, or Métis and non-Métis.  The estimated rate of endogamy calculated here applies to the combined French and Métis populations.  Although, the study looked only at the parents of newly-baptised children, it is likely that the results are representative of all marriages.  Using Bielech's figures, for example, it can be calculated that the rate of endogamy for the French and Métis parents of newly-baptised children in 1920-24 was 93.7 percent.  By comparison, it can be calculated from the parish records that the French-speaking population's rate of endogamy in 1920 was 94.3 percent (Archevêché d'Edmonton 1920).



Archevêché d'Edmonton
            1920    "Recensement de la Population Catholique pour l'année 1920, Paroisse de St-Paul-des-                                                Métis." 
Accession 71.220/5707.  Edmonton: Provincial Archives of Alberta.


Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta
            1922    "Mémoire au Comité mixte spécial sur le renouvellement du Canada."  Présenté par                                                       l’Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, janvier 1992.

Aunger, Edmund A.
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Bielech, Cécile
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Fortier, J.
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Joy, Richard J.
            1972    Languages in Conflict.  Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

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Laponce, Jean A.
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            1985    "Protecting the French Language in Canada: From Neurophysiology to Geography to                                                    Politics."  The Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 23(2): 157-170.

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Mackey, William F.
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