The French community on P.E.I. will not survive unless the community can find ways to attract more French-speaking immigrants, say the organizers of a conference in eastern P.E.I. this week.

Martin Marcoux

P.E.I. needs to attract and retain more French-speaking immigrants, says Martin Marcoux of the Francophone Economic Development Council. (CBC)

More than 100 people are gathered at the conference in Brudenell, organized by the Francophone Economic Development Council. Council chair Martin Marcoux told CBC News Wednesday without immigration the future of the French community on the Island does not look good.

P.E.I.'s already small francophone communities are shrinking due to out-migration and an aging population.

"Unless we go out and start making a few more babies each we're going to run dry," said Marcoux

"As a community, for the long survival of the community, it's extremely important for us."

Jacinthe Lemire of the Coopérative d'intégration francophone said the conference is not just to find ways to attract immigrants, but also keep them on the Island.

Hubert Lihrmann

Acadians have to change their attitudes about newcomers, says immigrant Hubert Lihrmann. (CBC)

"The challenge here is for our community to make sure these French-speaking immigrants stay within the community, send their kids to the French school, and are actively involved in our French community," Lemire said.

That can be difficult, because P.E.I.'s French communities are mostly in rural areas, with limited services and job opportunities. The conference has brought in speakers from other parts of the country, to learn what is working there.

Hubert Lihrmann immigrated from France 14 years ago, and now runs a bed and breakfast and café in Alberton. He said job opportunities and services aren't the only obstacles to integrating new immigrants. Lihrmann said it can be difficult to fit in with the Acadian community.

"It's more difficult for Francophones to step into the Acadian community here on P.E.I.," he said.

"It's a close community. And they are not really open, or they are not open enough, to francophones."

That attitude is one of the issues up for discussion at this week's conference. When it's over, organizers hope to develop ideas and policies that will eventually translate into a long-term boost to P.E.I.'s francophone population.