Tagalog and Farsi top languages on the rise in Toronto: 2016 Census

A Tower of Babel continues to flourish around the CN Tower as new census data shows Toronto remains a mosaic of languages.

44% of Toronto residents have first language that is neither English or French, 2016 census shows

A Philippines Independence Day Festival in Toronto in 2016 (CBC)

A Tower of Babel continues to flourish around the CN Tower as new census data shows Toronto remains a mosaic of languages.

Forty-four per cent of Torontonians have a first language that is neither English or French, according to census data analyzed by the city of Toronto's Social Research department.

At home, more than a quarter (26 per cent) of Toronto residents most commonly speak neither official language.

Among the non-English languages in Toronto, Tagalog, Farsi, Arabic and Bengali saw the greatest increase in the 2016 census.

Mandarin saw the greatest amount of growth in Toronto in the 2011 census, but was not among the top four in terms of growth in 2016.

Growing Filipino community

The growth of Tagalog is no surprise to Hermie Garcia, the publisher and editor of the Philippine Reporter, a newspaper serving the Filipino community.

Garcia started the paper 29 years ago and has watched the number of Filipinos in Toronto steadily grow.

"It's a big community," Garcia said in an interview. "They're all over the place."

He says many Filipinos come to Toronto as caregivers. Others take part in the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

The community helps maintain a strong sense of identity, Garcia says, through events like the Taste of Manila street festival, which takes place in the Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue area later this month.

More Farsi speakers

Similar festivals help keep Toronto's growing Iranian community together.

Horia Tabatabaei Soltani is a volunteer with the Nawranj Iranian Association and helps organize the Tirgan Iranian culture festival.

Soltani, who grew up in Mississauga, says the Iranian community was traditionally focused in the North York area.

But in recent years she's seen more and more Iranians settling in other parts of Toronto and the GTA.

"Over the past five years the chances of me passing someone on the street or in a store speaking Farsi has grown," Soltani said.

While Farsi and Tagalog are the two fastest growing languages in Toronto, they are still further down the list of the most-reported non-official languages spoken in the city.

Chinese languages still lead

The 2016 census shows that Cantonese and Mandarin still top that list in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area, followed by Punjabi and Italian. Tagalog, which is gaining ground, now ranks fifth.

Immigration is what's driving the language growth. But according to Monica Boyd, University of Toronto professor and Canada Research Chair in Immigration and Public Policy, the diminished rate of growth of Mandarin does not mean immigration from China has dropped off.

Boyd says it's possible that more Mandarin speakers immigrated to Canada in the past five years than other groups, but their population in the city was already large.

"If your focus is on the groups with the highest rate of growth, it's going to be groups where the population base is smaller," Boyd said in an interview.

Immigration from certain countries also spikes, Boyd says, during times of crisis of destabilization, which could explain the high rate of growth among Farsi and Arabic speakers, potentially coming from Middle East turmoil such as the crisis in Syria.


Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español.