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Bilingualism: An Economic Advantage

Francophone Community Profile

Ontario has the largest French-speaking minority community in Canada. Most Franco-Ontarians live in the eastern part of the province, in and around Ottawa.

A Sizeable Market

According to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Ottawa is by far the Economic Region with the largest share of the Franco-Ontarian population:

  • Ottawa: 42.7 per cent
  • Northeast: 20.7 per cent
  • Toronto: 19 per cent
  • Hamilton-Niagara Peninsula: 4.7 per cent

According to the Census, Ottawa boasted a bilingualism rate of 37.6 per cent in 2016 (347,510 people reported knowledge of English and French), compared to 11.2 per cent for Ontario and 17.9 per cent for Canada (Statistics Canada).

Furthermore, French was the mother tongue of 13.8 per cent (127,225 people) and the first official language of 15 per cent (138,900 people) of the Ottawa population (Statistics Canada).

Because of Ottawa’s proximity to Gatineau, Francophones represent an even bigger regional market. Consider the data for the entire Ottawa-Gatineau Census metropolitan area:

  • Knowledge of official languages—French & English: 44.8 per cent (586,205 people)
  • First official language spoken—French: 32.6 per cent (426,165 people)
  • Mother tongue—French: 30.3 per cent (397,125 people)
  • Knowledge of official languages—French only: 8.3 per cent (108,830 people) (Statistics Canada)

In addition, thousands of people from French-speaking countries visit Ottawa every year. For instance, the city welcomed approximately 22,000 visitors from France in 2017. People with French-Canadian as their computer system language were the third largest audience for the Ottawa Tourism website, representing 10.37 per cent of visitors, or approximately 248,617 unique users.

Offering bilingual customer service makes perfect sense for any business in the region that wants to tap into this sizeable market.

A Diverse Market

Francophones were the first European settlers in present-day Ottawa, establishing themselves in parishes across the region. By the end of the Second World War, when Ottawa had firmly established itself as an administrative centre, Francophones mainly lived in Centretown, Lower Town and Vanier. They were also starting to move eastward toward Orléans.

In the last twenty years, Ottawa has seen considerable Francophone immigration from Haiti, Somalia and sub-Saharan Africa. This has been accompanied by westward movement toward Barrhaven and Kanata (City of Ottawa, Francophones: Equity and Inclusion Lens Snapshot).

This sizeable and diverse market represents a tremendous opportunity for new and existing Ottawa businesses that want meet the demand for a wide range of cultural goods and services.

Access to Bilingual and Multilingual Talent

Census data shows that in 2011, 31.2 per cent of Ottawa Francophones worked in public administration, 10.3 per cent worked in health care and social assistance, and 9.6 per cent worked in educational services (2011 Census cited in Portrait of Official Languages Group in the Ottawa Area, 2015).

Immigrants from France, Africa, Haiti and the Middle East have helped sustain the growth of Ottawa’s Francophone population. According to the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership, every year more than 1,000 Francophones from around the world choose the city as their new home in Canada. These newcomers have diversified the local Francophone community socially, culturally, politically and economically. They have also brought a wealth of international knowledge, experience and contacts that can benefit local businesses seeking to compete in a global economy.

Francophone Resources

The Business Support Program is coordinated by the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la capitale nationale (RGA) and funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage. It helps businesses become bilingual by offering French language services such as low-cost translation, help with recruiting bilingual staff and oral communication workshops for people working in the service sector.

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