Frank Bucholtz

AND FRANKLY: Census data speaks to Surrey’s past, and its future

Fifty-four per cent of Metro Vancouver area residents now identify as members of a racialized group, and that number jumps to 67.1 per cent in Surrey, according to 2021 census figures recently released by Statistics Canada.

It is all part of a trend which has played out over the last 50 years in Surrey related to immigration, proximity to employment, worldwide mobility and widespread availability of land suitable for development. These factors and others have taken Surrey’s population from 98,601 in the 1971 census to 568,322 in the 2021 census.

The number of Surrey residents who are immigrants to Canada is 44.6 per cent, slightly above the Metro Vancouver total of 42 per cent. The trend is present in other South Fraser cities as well – 33 per cent of Delta’s population are immigrants and 29 per cent of White Rock’s population are immigrants.

The number of other languages spoken in Surrey in 2021 also provides some fascinating context about the fast-changing city. While 521,015 Surrey residents speak English, 3,185 speak French and 2,705 speak both English and French, for many neither of the two official languages are their first. Only 37,335 cannot speak English or French.

A huge number of residents – 278,810 – have a mother tongue that is neither English nor French. By contrast, 243,510 have English as their mother tongue, and 2,910 have French as their mother tongue.

The largest non-official language mother tongues of Surrey residents are from the Indo-Aryan group of languages (154,750). Of these 128,305 residents first learned to speak Punjabi, 14,450 Hindi and 5,820 Urdu.

The other major mother tongues of Surrey residents are also Asian in origin. There are 38,555 whose mother tongue is a Chinese language – 28,080 Mandarin and 8,165 Cantonese. There are 22,930 with a mother tongue in the Austronesian group, with the vast majority of these (18,640) having Tagalog, the dominant language of the Philippines, as their first language.

Almost no Surrey residents listed a North American Indigenous language as their mother tongue, which speaks volumes about how deeply federal assimilation policies affected First Nations people. Just 70 Surrey residents have an indigenous language as their first language, and of those, only 20 first spoke a B.C. Indigenous language. Just five people who live in Surrey spoke a Salish (the local First Nations language group) language first.

Surrey is also a young city by age, particularly when compared to many of the other big cities in Canada (Surrey rates 11th in population nationally). The number of people under 15 is 94,060 and the number of people 65 and over is 87,180. In many cities, the older group far outnumbers the younger group. Those in the middle, 15-64, total 387,080. The largest group within that category are those aged 20-24, at 45,290. The average age of a Surrey resident is 39.5 years.

What do these numbers indicate about Surrey’s future? First, the city will continue to be very attractive to immigrants, as many prefer to settle in communities in new countries where there are many people with similar backgrounds. The Metro Vancouver area continues to attract close to 12 per cent of all immigrants to Canada, which are expected to number 400,000 or more in future years.

This will put tremendous pressure on housing prices, both for renters and owners. It will also lead to a lot of development in future years, changing the face of the city in many neighbourhoods.

The city’s schools will also continue to grow dramatically, This school year, more than 2,200 new students arrived at Surrey public schools – far more than the 900 that were expected.

With all this growth comes opportunity and hopefully the city will take full advantage of that. For all its challenges, growth is far better than decline.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.

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