Perhaps the most vulnerable part of our local community are many of the long-established Anglo families in the Eastern Townships.
Many think of the Anglophone community here in the Eastern Townships as being wealthy and as newcomers. Both perceptions are wrong.
Most of the Anglo families here are far from wealthy and many are descended from the original settlers here.
The Townships was settled originally by English speakers from America and from the UK. By 1861, the Townships were the heartland of English culture in Quebec. Then, 90,000 English speakers lived in the Townships compared to 60,000 in Montreal.
After 1900, society began to change. Factory work replaced agricultural work. Many English speakers left the family farms and went to find jobs in the big cities such as Montreal. Immigration changed as well. No longer did new English immigrants come to Quebec looking to farm but went to the cities, Montreal in particular, to find factory work.
At the same time, French rural families were also looking for a new life in towns. Montreal felt like a English city. But the small towns in the Townships were more welcoming. So a massive migration began from the old French rural heartland to the old English rural heartland.
By 1931, the English speaking population in the Townships had declined to 58,000 and the percentage of English speakers had dropped from nearly 60% in 1861 to 18%. By 1971, the English population had held at 58,000 but the percentage had dropped further to 11%.
Today, there is still a core of 41,000 English speakers in the Townships. The old English families are now mainly restricted to the southern parts of the Townships. Knowlton is the epicentre with about 50%, La Pommerarie is 21%, Memphremagog, 16% and Coaticook and Haut Saint Francois are 11%.
Today the English speakers are divided into two major groups. There is a significant group who are elderly and there is a smaller group of young families. The older group grew up in the old English speaking world and many struggle with French as a language. Their challenge is to find English access to the health care system.
The younger English group are almost all fluently bilingual but they struggle to find work. Partly this is the general issue of the lack of work in rural areas. But culture also appears to be a factor. We see this in the relative unemployment figures. English people of working age are 11% more likely to be unemployed than the equivalent French population. The figures are worst for the young. In the 15- 25 year old group, the difference is 31%.
The critical issue for the Anglo Townshippers is education. Back in 1971, English speakers in Quebec had higher levels of education than other Quebecers and other Canadians. By 2001, this educational advantage had disappeared. (Floch, 2005) In 2001, English speakers aged 15-44 in the Eastern Townships were more likely to have lower levels of education than their French speaking neighbours. English speaking youth in the Townships are 23% more likely not to finish secondary school. 2001 census data shows also that English speaking Townshippers aged 15-24 and 25-44 are 8% and 15% less likely than their French-speaking counterparts to have a post-secondary degree, certificate or diploma.
The result is that the incomes of many Anglo Townshippers are low and will get lower as the post industrial economy take hold. English speakers in the Townships, aged 15-44, already have a lower average income than their French counterparts. In 2001, the 25-44 age range group was more likely than the French speakers to make less than $20,000 a year. Overall, English speakers in the Townships were more likely to have an average annual income of between $2,000 and $24,000. They were also 20% more likely than their French counterparts to be without any income
Their only hope is to be literate and school is too late.
This is surely the great work of our community?
(Data from Profile of the English Speaking Community in the Eastern Townships by Kalina Klimp published by the Townshippers Association, 2006)