Census shows Arabic second biggest language in Windsor area

Arabic is now the most common mother tongue spoken in Windsor after English, new census figures show.

For the first time in Windsor and its suburbs, known as the Windsor census metropolitan area, those who speak Arabic surpassed those who speak French, according to Statistics Canada’s latest numbers released Wednesday.

In the Windsor area, 236,000 people cited English as their mother tongue in the 2016 census, compared to 230,845 in 2011. Also in the 2016 census, 13,580 people called their mother tongue Arabic, up from 10,515 in 2011. In 2016, 9,570 people said French was their mother tongue, slightly down from the 10,560 in 2011.

The next most common language in the Windsor area is Italian, spoken by 8,615 Windsor residents in 2016, compared to 9,715 in 2011.

In general, European languages lost ground in Windsor, with the exception of Spanish, while Arabic and Asian languages grew. The trend points to an increasingly multicultural community in Windsor, often billed as the fourth most ethnically diverse city in Canada.

We’re a very diverse community,” Kathleen Thomas, executive director of the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County, said Thursday. “We have a lot of cultures. And it reflects the changing pattern of immigration.

“Every time there’s a different wave of immigrants coming in, you’ll see the demographics and the languages changing in the community.”

Thomas said the turmoil in certain Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria and Iraq, has led to more new arrivals in the Windsor area. She praised the immigration trend as something that enriches the area, a phenomenon highlighted by the city’s annual Carrousel of Nations celebration.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “That’s what makes Windsor so unique. It makes us more of a welcoming community. And we have an opportunity to really learn about so many cultures and countries around the world through the people who live here.”

Elie Zouein, the pastor at St. Peter’s Catholic Church — which caters to Arabic-speaking parishioners — sees first hand how the local Middle Eastern community is growing, with Muslims as well as Christians.

“The community is growing because they feel comfortable here,” Zouein said. “First is the weather, which is closer to the Middle East. It’s the best weather in Canada. And it’s close to Detroit, where they have a lot of Arabic-speaking people. And they feel business is OK for them here. So they like it.

“I was in Walmart yesterday and everyone was speaking Arabic, even the cashiers.”

Plus, Windsor has a long history of Arabic-speaking residents, since Lebanese immigrants built St. Peter’s Church on Niagara Street in 1924, before taking over its current location at Tecumseh Road West in 2000.

As well, the first Windsor mosque opened in 1960. Now there are three Mosques in the city, with a number of special Arabic-speaking schools.

Plus, of course, many other cultures have developed roots in the Windsor area, from Asia, Africa, Europe and more.

A number of Arabic-speaking families who recently settled in Windsor after fleeing war in places such as Syria and Iraq, gathered Thursday at St. Peter’s Church to discuss their new home.

“It’s good here,” said Joelle Altarshah, 18, a Grade 12 student at Catholic Central who came from Lebanon via Syria with her family about a year ago. “Seeing so many people who know your language, it’s easier.”

Linh Louis, who came to Windsor via Iraq and Syria — enduring war in both countries — thinks Canada’s diverse languages are expanding because the country is welcoming.

“We don’t have peace in Iraq,” she said. “Canada is the best country because we have peace.”


Top 10 languages

The Top 10 languages spoken as a mother tongue in the Windsor area according to the 2016 Canadian census (2011 numbers in brackets).

  1. English — 236,000 (230,845)
  2. Arabic — 13,580 (10,515)
  3. French — 9,570 (10,560)
  4. Italian — 8,615 (9,715)
  5. Chinese* — 6,515 (5,610)
  6. Spanish — 3,070 (2,855)
  7. Polish — 2,930 (3,255)
  8. Serbian — 2,785 (2,990)
  9. Punjabi — 2,450 (2,070)
  10. Urdu — 2,235 (1,900)

 Chinese includes Mandarin, Cantonese and those who didn’t specify either one.


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