Simon LaFrançois, owner and brewer at Fernie Alpine Springs. (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)

Simon LaFrançois, owner and brewer at Fernie Alpine Springs. (Joshua Fischlin/The Free Press)

Fernie’s French-speaking community growing

The number of locals who can speak both French and English increased by 36 percent between 2016 and 2021

Fernie’s French-speaking population is growing modestly, with a 36 percent 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 grew from 585 to 800 (and up from 405 back in 2011) according to data released by Statistics Canada drawn from the 2021 census.

Fernie remains very much English-majority, with 5,430 of the town’s 6,240 residents (who answered the official languages question) only having knowledge of English, and 5,955 of the community’s residents speaking English at home.

General director of l’Association Francophone des Rocheuses du Sud (AFRoS), Myriam Bourdeau-Potvin said that the increase in people able to speak French living in Fernie wasn’t surprising, given the opening of the French-language school, Ecole Sophie Morigeau in 2013.

“When you do have french as a second or first language and you have family and children and you’re lo0king to move to a new place, (you would look for) accessibility to French services and French schools,” said Bourdeau-Potvin.

“It makes sense that ever since that school opened, it attracts people that speak French.”

The school opened its doors in Fernie in 2013 after fundraising efforts and rising numbers of locals interested in French education.

There’s a healthy representation of French-speaking business owners in the community too, with many local cafes and main street stores owned by members of the Francophone community.

One such business owner, SimonLeFrançois of Alpine Springs moved to the area from Quebec in 2016 to work at the mines, and he hasn’t left since.

Instead, he set up his own Kombucha brewery in Fernie with his partner in 2017.

Lefrancois said he had noticed more French-speaking people in Fernie over the years, whether they’re visiting family or in the community.

“When I at various events doing marketing or working at my shop at the storefront, I can sense an accent and then I speak to them in French, and get a response in French.

“It’s an experience I realised this year happens much more often,” he said.

LeFrançois said he was likely a rare exception in that he hadn’t heard of Fernie before he first came here for work, but like many he had fallen in love with the area.

Many others come on holiday, and never leave, in what Bourdeau-Potvin said was the “good old story” for many that come to Fernie.

“They visit for a winter and then stay for 15 years.”

Data on language statistics is available on the Statistics Canada website. The data also showed that zero residents answered that they considered an Indigenous language as their mother tongue, while there were 380 respondents that listed an unofficial language (not English or French) as their mother tongue.

Of those 380, the most common answers were German and Italian (45 each), Tagalog (40), and Spanish (35).

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