Canada's Hungarians in the 2006 Census
The results of the 2006 Census relating to immigration and the preservation of heritage languages provide the most up to date glimpse of Canada’s changing ethno-cultural make-up. Released on December 4, 2007, these census results made headlines in Canadian newspapers, as they showed the scope of the cultural transformation taking place in many of the country’s largest urban centers. While a handful of the largest ethno-cultural communities were profiled by the English and French language media, the majority of linguistic groups—including the Hungarians--were lumped together in the “other languages” category. Nevertheless, a year after the commemoration of the1956 Revolution’s fiftieth anniversary, the 2006 census figures reveal that the vast majority of Canadians who still speak Hungarian at home are adults, rather than children, and that relatively few people of Hungarian descent use this heritage language on a regular basis.
The 2006 census shows how provinces that once saw the largest number of immigrants now find themselves at the bottom of the list, when it comes to where new arrivals choose to settle. A prime example of this is Saskatchewan, home to Canada’s first Hungarian settlements, dating back to the 1880s. Hungarians, of course, were hardly the only immigrants in this prairie province. A district in Regina, for example, once boasted the name “Germantown” and historians have observed that even as late as the 1940s, one could walk in these neighbourhoods and rarely hear English spoken.1 Germantown, however, was somewhat of a misnomer, as many of the ethnic groups represented here were not actually Germans, but other immigrants from East/Central Europe. Nevertheless, the lack of inexpensive farmland, the decline in the proportion of Eastern European arrivals after World War II, as well as the increasing prominence of service sector and manufacturing jobs meant that major urban centers like Toronto gained an edge over Regina, and other prairie towns, when it came to attracting the most immigrants.2
While much of Canada’s English language media took stock of the country’s increasingly multicultural cities, when the subject turned to Québec, the decline of Montreal’s Francophone population was afforded the most attention. Several articles published in Le Devoir, for example, painted a somewhat apocalyptic picture of French language’s decline. The Montreal-based paper’s cover story declared that “le français perd des plumes, et les allophones prennent du poids au Québec.” 3< Although the article’s author added nuance to his piece by suggesting that Francophone communities outside of Québec lost the most ground, as did immigrant groups that were gradually being assimilated, the nationalist Société Saint-Jean-Baptise (SSJB) presented a far more pessimistic picture. Jean Dorion, president of SSJB’s Montreal chapter, felt that all his premonitions concerning French decline had come true.
La thèse dominante, [...] c'est que ça va bien pour le français, que ça n'a jamais si bien été. Nous, on n'a jamais défendu cette thèse-là. Je pense que c'est un cinglant démenti au jovialisme. Le français recule à l'échelle du Canada, du Québec et de l'île de Montréal. Il recule comme langue maternelle et il recule comme langue parlée à la maison. Qu'est-ce qu'on veut de plus pour dire que ça ne va pas très bien pour le français?4
Most English-language publications focused less on the decline in native French speakers on the island of Montreal (pointing out that many of them had simply moved to off-island suburbs) and instead examined the dominance of the French language in the public sphere. The census data does, however, show that in 2001, 53.2 percent of Montreal residents were native French speakers, while five years later this figure stood at 49.8 percent.5 Meanwhile, the number of Anglophones in Québec increased for the first time in more than a decade, from 591,000 in 2001, to 607,000, according to the 2006 Census.6 Despite the fact that the number Anglophones is once again growing and the fact that Francophones now form a minority on the island of Montreal, Victor Piché, a demography professor at the Université de Montréal, noted that the decline in native French speakers is due to the large number of immigrants settling in Montreal, most of whom now actually choose to use French as their primary language of communication.7 Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, observed that Allophone immigrants will eventually integrate into the mainstream Québec society and will adopt French as their primary language. According to Jedwab, “immigrants don't switch to French in the home in the short term. It's a medium- to longer-term process.” 8
One of the strengths of the 2006 census was that it examined not only changes in Canada’s two official languages, but also heritage languages that Canadians spoke most often at home. The results suggest that only a minority of Hungarian-Canadians use this heritage language as their primary form of communication with immediate family members. According to the nationwide statistics, a total of 21,905 Canadians spoke Hungarian at home more often than any other language.9 The vast majority (89.5 percent) of these Hungarian speakers were adults, while only 2,285 Canadian children (10.5 percent) used Hungarian as the primary language of communication at home.10 These numbers also suggest that the overwhelming majority of Canadians who speak mainly Hungarian at are, or were at one point immigrants to Canada. According to the census data, this figure stands at 18,415 (or 84 percent), while only 2,910 non-immigrants use Hungarian as their primary language at home.11
Ontario is home to the largest number of Canadians who speak Hungarian at home as a primary language, with 13,860 respondents indicating this when they completed the census.12 British Columbia came in at a distant second place, with 3,085 residents who spoke mainly Hungarian.13 According to the 2006 returns, this figure stands at 2,665 in Québec and 1,520 in Alberta. 14
In addition to language usage among immigrants and non-immigrants, the 2006 Census also collected data on the national origins of Canada’s immigrant population, including in this category anyone who was once considered a landed immigrant, as well as the newest arrivals. While the majority of the 45,940 Hungarian immigrants currently in Canada came before 1991, the number of arrivals from Hungary increased noticeably between 2001 and 2006, when compared with figures from the preceding five years. 15 A total of 2,550 Hungarians immigrated to Canada during the five years preceding Census Day in 2006, while the number of arrivals from 1996 to 2000 stood at only 1,970.16 When taking into account all arrivals before 1991, Hungarians currently form 0.7 percent of Canada’s immigrant population.17 The actual number of Hungarian immigrants to Canada is likely higher, however, as these figures do not include ethnic Hungarians from Romania who have presumably formed a significant proportion of arrivals to Canada from that Eastern European country.18
The 2006 census results suggest that the majority of recent Hungarian immigrants have settled in Ontario (65 percent), with a relatively small proportion in British Columbia (21 percent), Alberta (6 percent) and Quebec (5 percent), and only a few dozen arrivals in all other provinces and territories combined.19 When the number of recent immigrants is broken down by city of residence, however, it becomes apparent that a significant proportion of Hungarians have settled in a handful of cities in Ontario, as well as a several major urban centers elsewhere in Canada. Just over 35 percent of Hungarian arrivals between 2001 and 2006 ended up settling in Toronto, with 17 percent choosing Vancouver, 11 percent moving to Hamilton, 5 percent to Montreal, 4 percent to Calgary, 2 percent to London, and just under 2 percent made their home in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.20
The relatively steep decline in Québec’s Hungarian population is one of the most striking features of the census results, especially when one takes into consideration data from the past three decades. In 1971, there were 12,605 Québec residents whose mother tongue was Hungarian. By 2001, however, this number had dropped to 7,315.21 Based upon the 2001 census results, historian NF Dreisziger observed that “only a large influx of Hungarian newcomers could avert the eventual decline of Hungarian language use in Canada to complete insignificance.”
Although that large influx of Hungarian immigrants may not have materialized over the course of the past five years, the number of Hungarian speakers settling in Canada has increased and Ontario has been the primary beneficiary of these new immigrants. Yet this has not been enough to reverse the decline in Hungarian language use, which truly has been relegated to the private sphere and now serves as the primary language of communication mainly among the older generations.
Christopher Adam is a sessional lecturer in history at Carleton University and one of the editors of hungarianpresence.ca.
1. “Overlooked from Overseas,” Leader Post, (Regina, SK.) December 10, 2007, p.B6.
2. Ibid., B6.
3. Guillaume Bourgault-Côté, “Recul historique due français au Québec,” Le Devoir (Montreal, QC), December 5, 2007.
4. La Presse canadienne, “Une source d’inquiétude, selon la SSJB,” Le Devoir (Montreal, QC), December 5, 2007.
5. Andy Riga, “A minority on the island,” The Gazette. (Montreal, QC) December 5, 2007, p.A2
6. Graemme Hamilton, “Promising signs for la belle province,” National Post, (Don Mills, ON), December 5, 2007, p.A14.
7. Ibid., A14.
8. Jedwab, as quoted in “A minority on the island,” A2.
9. Canada 2006--“Language spoken most often at home by immigrant status and broad age groups, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories – 20% sample data,” Immigration and Citizenship Highlights Table, 2006 Census, Statistics Canada (http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census06/data/highlights/ ) [Accessed on: 26 December 2007].
10. Statistics Canada divides all language groups into two demographic categories, one of which counts those who are under 16 years of age, while the other represents all those who are 17 or above.
11. For census purposes, the term “immigrant” includes anyone who at one point had landed immigrant status and includes all those who arrived in Canada before 16 May 2006.
12. Ontario 2006 – “Language spoken most often at home by immigrant status and broad age groups, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories – 20% sample data,” Immigration and Citizenship Highlights Table, 2006 Census, Statistics Canada
(http://www12.statcan.ca ) [Accessed on: 26 December 2007].
13. British Columbia 2006 -- “Language spoken most often at home by immigrant status and broad age groups, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories – 20% sample data,” Immigration and Citizenship Highlights Table, 2006 Census, Statistics Canada (http://www12.statcan.ca ) [Accessed on: 26 December 2007].
14. 2006 Tabulations for Québec and Alberta -- -- “Language spoken most often at home by immigrant status and broad age groups, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories – 20% sample data,” Immigration and Citizenship Highlights Table, 2006 Census, Statistics Canada (http://www12.statcan.ca [Accessed on: 26 December 2007].
15. "Place of birth for the immigrant population by period of immigration, 2006 counts and percentage distribution, for Canada, provinces and territories – 20% sample data,” 2006 Census, Statistics Canada, (http://www12.statcan.ca ) [Accessed on: 26 December 2007]
17. The proportion of Hungarian arrivals stands at 0.2% when examining immigration figures between 2001 and 2006.
18. According to the 2006 Census, 28,080 Romanian citizens immigrated to Canada from 2001 to 2006, while the number of arrivals during the preceding five years stood at 16,605.
19. Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec
(http://www12.statcan.ca [Accessed on 26 December 2007]
20. “Place of birth for the immigrant population by period of immigration, 2006 counts and percentage distribution, for census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations – 20% sample data,” 2006 Census, Statistics Canada, (http://www12.statcan.ca [Accessed on: 26 December 2007]
21. Nándor Dreisziger, The Erosion of the Hungarian Linguistic Presence in Canada,” Hungarians from Ancient Times to 1956, (Ottawa: Legas, 2007), 187.