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Cartographer's Corner: Winnipeg's Diversity
Maps of six key political people groups in Canada's middle city
Yes, I really publish maps for a living.
In fact, I’m the first candidate in Canadian history ever to cite my profession as “cartographer” on the Elections Canada paperwork. (A quick Wikipedia search for the results will explain why I never quit my day job for politics.)
In this column - hopefully the first of many! - I’ll be using my professional expertise to share some unique insight about various political hot spots around the country.
Meet the Neighbours
Even in a country of immigrants, Winnipeg - historical gateway to the Canadian West, and always home to a large manufacturing sector lacking in other prairie cities - stands out. While the census records many different types of responses for language, ethnicity, and race, this visualization of “mother tongue” data was the most interesting way to identify five of the city’s dominant people groups in a single map.
Let’s map out all five of these major ethno-linguistic communities, plus one extra, and discuss how well each of them might be represented after October’s provincial election. (Pay attention to the titles of each map - I’ll be freely choosing whatever census category I think best captures the distribution of each people group, so the topic area will bounce randomly between language, ethnicity, and identity.)
Winnipeg’s 83,000-strong Filipino community is one of Canada’s largest, accounting for an impressive 11.3% of the city (or, 1 in 9). Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, you may be surprised to learn that only about a quarter of Filipinos worldwide speak Tagalog natively. As in so many post-colonial states, Tagalog is the dialect of the national capital, and thence of the educated classes. Winnipeg claims 45,000 Tagalog speakers, with approximately 1,000 more each speaking the minority languages of Cebuano, Ilocano, and Pampangan.
Ridings to watch: Second-generation NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino is extremely likely to hold her safe seat of Notre Dame, and viral PC incumbent Jon Reyes faces less certain re-election in Waverley. In Liberal-held tossup Tyndall Park, both PC and NDP challengers are members of the Filipino community. Additionally, NDP candidate Jelynn Dela Cruz hopes to grab competitive Radisson from the PCs.
How’s your 19th century Canadian history? Turn back the clock to those days when “diversity” meant “I know some Anglicans and some Methodists”. The fight for Francophone rights in Manitoba ultimately determined whether all of Western Canada would become a truly bilingual mosaic, or the Anglophone melting pot we know today.
Although Francophones broadly lost that one, they are still entitled to official translations of all Manitoba laws, among various other rights not found in Alberta or Saskatchewan. 73,000 Winnipeggers claim fluency in French, but only 66,000 claim French ethnic background, while a still smaller 21,000 actually grew up with the language.
Ridings to watch: Liberal-held St. Boniface is the traditional heart of Francophone life in Western Canada. Incumbent Dougald Lamont is fluently bilingual, as is NDP challenger Robert Loiselle. An unfamiliar sight on the prairies: Lamont and Loiselle’s candidate webpages uniquely prompt supporters in both official languages.
You might have heard people use “East Indian”, “Sikh”, and “Punjabi” interchangeably. Wrong! The Punjabi language is split between two countries and three religions, although most speaking it in Canada are of Indian origin and Sikh faith.
Winnipeg has 31,000 Punjabi speakers, which only accounts for half of the city’s population of 62,000 South Asians. Also heard on the street: Urdu (3,500), Gujarati (3,200), Hindi (3,100), and Bengali (2,000).
For the record, Winnipeg is home to 33,000 Sikhs, 24,000 Muslims, and 15,000 Hindus.
Ridings to watch: The South Asian community is well-represented everywhere in Canadian politics, although not all candidates prefer to overtly broadcast their ethnic or religious backgrounds. As far as I can tell, NDP incumbents Mintu Sandhu in The Maples and Diljeet Brar in Burrows are both favoured to retain their seats, while we project NDP challenger JD Devgan to pick up McPhillips. On the PC side, we currently have new candidate Paramjit Shahi slightly favoured to retain Fort Richmond. (One diaspora newspaper is more confident than me in naming 9 Punjabi candidates, including a few with no chance of victory.)
Although barely one-third as prevalent as the Filipinos, Winnipeg’s Chinese community is itself long-established and numbers a respectable 23,000. 11,000 speak Mandarin, generally indicative of a more recent origin in the modern People’s Republic, while 6,000 speak Cantonese, typically associated with an earlier period of immigration and a family history running through Hong Kong.
Ridings to watch: Political watchers from other parts of Canada, where larger Chinese populations are more established in all levels of politics, may be a little surprised by the relative dominance of other Asian groups in Winnipeg. As far as I know, the only major candidate with Chinese origins this year is the NDP’s challenger Jennifer Chen in Fort Richmond.
German is the most common second language of rural Manitoba, although the large Mennonite ethno-religious minority is shy to admit that its dialect is nearly unintelligible to Europeans. As far as we know, the city of Winnipeg contains 9,000 speakers of standard German, with 1,700 more specifically naming the Mennonite dialects “Plautdietsch” and “Low German”. 15,000 Winnipeggers proudly list their ethnicity as “Mennonite”, while 9,000 classify their religion under “Anabaptist”, the category to which the Mennonite philosophy belongs. With a (justified) history of suspicion towards all government institutions, a number of conservative Mennonites decline to answer the census at all, so we will never get to the bottom of how large, exactly, Winnipeg’s Mennonite population may be.
This is all a drop in the bucket compared to the city’s mighty population of 85,000 claiming some German ethnicity, most fully assimilated into the white Canadian mainstream.
Ridings to watch: Although one’s specific European nationality could easily start a bar fight in the Winnipeg of 100 years ago, there is nothing remarkable or noteworthy about a German candidate standing for public office in this day and age. The more distinctive Mennonite minority has a much larger political footprint outside of city limits.
It’s worth pointing out one group conspicuously absent from our language map at the top: Canada’s First Peoples. While Winnipeg’s Indigenous population numbers a very large minority of 91,000, the diversity of that Indigenous population means that there are hardly any concentrated pockets of a single language group inside the city - a situation not helped by centuries of government policy aiming to eliminate said cultures. Only 3,100 Winnipeggers were raised speaking any Indigenous tongue.
Ridings to watch: NDP leader Wab Kinew, running in Fort Rouge, already has a good claim to be Canada’s Indigenous politician of highest stature. Also of First Nations background, NDP MLA Bernadette Smith should easily be re-elected in plurality-Indigenous Point Douglas, while NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine is also extremely likely to hold St. Johns. NDP Métis candidates are challenging Seine River, St. Boniface, and Southdale, although we only predict victory in the latter two. On the PC side, public candidate biographies reveal a few Métis candidates in the city, but none in ridings that we judge to be competitive.
More to come
With over 194 languages confirmed to be spoken in Winnipeg, this article could have continued indefinitely - and many other groups in Winnipeg do have noteworthy political histories - but even I have my limits.
Good luck on the doors to all volunteers, and stay subscribed for more cartographic deep dives to come!