Francophones in Manitoba

The 17 bilingual municipalities all share the same feature, that of consisting, from the very beginning, of an almost exclusively francophone population. Over time, these villages welcomed anglophone populations and have become areas where two languages and cultures live together.

As an example, in Winnipeg, where 50% of Manitoba Francophones live, the community of Saint-Boniface was an autonomous town until 1972 – year of its amalgamation with Winnipeg. Before being a city, Saint-Boniface was a colony – the Red River colony – where French was spoken, organized mostly by the catholic clergy of the day.

When Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870, Francophones made up 50% of the province's population. Although their demographic weight diminished over the years, Francophones have always had a dynamic community, able to make a great contribution to the whole of Manitoba, in many areas: cultural, economic, political, social, etc.

It is this history which explains why, nowadays, 5% of the Manitoba's population is Francophone. Also, one must not forget the presence of 50,000 francophiles – individuals who share French as a second language.

This brings the total to about 100,000 persons who can speak, work and do business in French. Manitoba's bilingual municipalities represent about 95% of the francophone population. There you can find schools, libraries, government services, etc., which operate using one of Canada's two official languages.

Boosting the Municipalities' Development

When the Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities Association created it's economic development council in 1996, it wanted to breathe new life in the development of its member municipalities by emphasizing bilingualism as an added value to their economy.

It appeared that, without a concerted effort from the principal stakeholders in economic development, the economy of these municipalities was going to deteriorate.

Economic Profile Study

A study of the economic profile done in 1993 revealed that the municipalities needed to find ways to develop their secondary sector, i.e. manufacturing, while the primary (agriculture) and tertiary (services) sectors were in better shape.

The authors of the study analyzed the development strategies of prosperous Manitoba municipalities that had become ""regional champions""; they also studied the results from New Brunswick municipalities that had leveraged the advantages of a bilingual workforce.

A custom-made tool for the bilingual municipalities

In the early 1990s, and in a mostly English-speaking environment, government services promoting economic development were not made available in French in all the bilingual municipalities. When these services were available, they did not answer the needs of this specific clientele.

In order to boost the economic development of the bilingual municipalities, a tool able to offer services in French was needed. Its mandate would be to develop the economy of the bilingual municipalities by working hand in hand with them, in partnership with the business community and the federal and provincial governments.

Developing Regional Champions

A recommendation was made to set-up an economic development council able to establish strategies that could make champions out of the bilingual municipalities, notably by leveraging the advantages of bilingualism.

This formula allowed first for the creation of the CDEM, followed by the local community development corporations. This lead to the establishment of economic development plans (Visions), offering consulting services to entrepreneurs, as well as meeting the needs of municipality stakeholders by offering custom services.