The English-speaking population has been gradually losing ground for several decades. The community, which totalled 50% of the total population in the mid-1800s, reached its peak in the 1930s. By 1961 the community had decreased to approximately 30% of the total population, largely due to economic factors. Assimilation also contributed to this decline; while there were 17,000 British origin residents in the Gaspé in 1971, fewer than 14,000 identified as English-speakers.
The rate of decline has been almost equivalent to that of the total population. From 2001 to 2006 the English-speaking population decreased by 9.5%, while the total population of the area decreased by 9.7%. While population decline is an ongoing challenge for the Coast, it is especially detrimental in the small English-speaking community as infrastructure, services and institutions cannot be justified for decreasing numbers. For example, the English sector of the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, one of five English language CEGEPs in Quebec, faces ongoing threats of closure due to a dropping enrolment.
In 2006, the number of individuals residing on the Gaspé Coast declaring English as their first official language spoken totalled 8,570 or 12.4% of the area’s total population of 68,916. The English-speaking population contains a significant proportion (approximately 20%) of Mi’kmaq First Nations individuals. Contrary to non-native communities, the Mi’kmaq communities are growing; It is probable that while the English-speaking community continues to decline, both Mi’kmaq communities will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
English-speaking Gaspesians have a long history and presence in the Gaspé and have contributed to the region’s vitality for generations. They are adapting to today’s realities and wish to remain in, or return to the region. While the community generally does not demonstrate a strong attachment to Quebec, they are very attached to the Gaspé Coast. For example, in the CSSS Rocher-Percé territory, individuals tend to identify themselves as Canadian (45%), Gaspesian (34%) and Quebecer (5%).
The rate of population decline in the English-speaking community has been almost equivalent to that of the total population. However, from 2001 to 2006 the English-speaking population actually declined at a slightly lower rate (9.5% vs. 9.7%). The majority of English speakers (55.8%) work in three major sectors: sales and service, trades and transport, and primary industry. Only 47.7% of the French-speaking population work in these three sectors.
Compared to their French-speaking counterparts, English speakers on the Gaspé Coast are:
- much more bilingual than their Francophone neighbours;
- more likely to be without income, less likely to be in the higher income category, more likely to have incomes below the low income cut-off, less involved in the labour market, and have a higher rate of low income;
- significantly more likely to be unemployed. In 2006, English speakers in the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region experienced an unemployment rate of 28.2%, which is substantially higher than that experienced by French speakers in the region (17.6%), and more than three times higher than that experienced by English speakers across Quebec;
- more likely to be bilingual. The bilingualism rate for English speakers in the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region is 43.5% compared to 19.6% for their French-speaking neighbours in 2001. However, this is significantly lower than the provincial bilingualism rate for English speakers of 70 per cent;
- more likely to have a low level of schooling and less likely to have a high level of schooling. The proportion of school leavers in the Eastern Shores School Board territory with a diploma in 2006-2007 was dramatically lower than the provincial average.
Compared to their English-speaking counterparts throughout Quebec, English speakers on the Gaspé Coast are:
- four times more likely to be employed in the primary sector;
- more likely to be out of the labour force - the proportion of English speakers on the Coast out of the labour force is 43% higher;
- are less educated – the Gaspesie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine region has more than twice the proportion of English speakers who do not have a certificate, diploma or a degree;
- have a significantly lower rate of bilingualism.
The demographic outlook for the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region remains negative given that, from 2001 to 2011 and from 2011 to 2021, decreases of 8.1% and 7.6% respectively are projected. For Quebec as a whole, increases of 5.0% and 3.2% are projected for the same periods.