| PEOPLE :: ITALIANS AROUND THE WORLD
Italians in Canada
The earliest Italian contact with Canada dates from 1497, when Giovanni Caboto (John CABOT), an Italian navigator from Venice, explored and claimed for England the coasts of Newfoundland. In 1524 another Italian, Giovanni VERRAZZANO, explored part of Atlantic Canada for France. Under the French regime, in the 1640s Francesco Giuseppe Bressani was part of the Jesuit missionary advance into Huron country and later published a sympathetic account of native life as part of the Jesuit Relations (or reports).
Enrico di Tonti (Henri de TONTY) acted as LA SALLE's lieutenant in the first expedition to reach the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1682. Italians served in the military of New France (eg, in the CARIGNAN-SALIÈRES REGIMENT), in which several distinguished themselves as officers. Several hundred Italians also served with the DE MEURON and de Watteville Swiss mercenary regiments in the British army during the War of 1812.
Following the example of Italian ex-soldiers in New France who settled on the land in the late 17th century, some 200 of the mercenaries took up lots granted by Britain in the eastern townships of Québec and in southern Ontario.
Early 19th Century
In the early 19th century, a sizable number of Italians, many in the hotel trade, resided in Montréal. Throughout the century, Italian craftsmen, artists, musicians and teachers, primarily from northern Italy, immigrated to Canada. Italian street musicians (hurdy-gurdy men, street singers) were particularly noted by Canadians, and by 1881 almost 2000 people of Italian origin lived in Canada, particularly in Montréal and Toronto.
In 1897 Mackenzie KING, then working as a journalist, described the first street entertainer who lived in Toronto in the 1880s. This early Italian immigrant, King wrote, had worn out 5 street pianos and earned an average of $15 daily in his first years in Toronto. Some of the wandering street musicians eventually settled down to teach music or to organize bands and orchestras.
Late 19th Century
In the late 19th century, millions of Italian peasants migrated to South America, the US and Canada, as well as western Europe. Professional recruiters and the example of successful migrants who returned to Italy encouraged Italians to set out for North America, where work was available on the railways, in mining and in industry. By 1901 almost 11 000 people of Italian origin lived in Canada, particularly Montréal and Toronto.
Although many Italians expected to achieve economic and social well-being by migrating to Canada, they were not always successful. In 1901 a series of articles appeared in a Milanese newspaper describing an unscrupulous system of recruitment from Chiasso on the Swiss-Italian border to Liverpool through Montréal to the Canadian North-West. Labourers were often misled through this system into indefinite migration to labour camps in northern Ontario, or found themselves unemployed and destitute in Canada's major cities. In 1902 the General Commissariat for Emigration in Rome sent Egisto Rossi, a commissioner, to tour Canada and report on the situation of working Italians. Rossi documented the recruitment of immigrants through the US, especially New York, and confirmed that several powerful padroni (labour agents) in Montréal were in league with railway and steamship agents in Europe to recruit labour for a quick cash return.
As a result of such conditions, in 1904 a Royal Commission to Inquire into the Immigration of Italian Labourers to Montréal and Alleged Fraudulent Practices of Employment Agencies was opened by the federal government. The commission found that although Montréal padroni recruited and often exploited Italian labourers, they in turn were acting at the behest of powerful Canadian employers such as the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Commission recommended the strict licensing of labour bureaus to regulate the recruitment of immigrants. More significantly, however, as Italians became settled in Canada they increasingly sponsored their own relatives and fellow villages (paesani), thus lessening dependence on intermediaries.
Over 75% of Italian immigrants to Canada have come from southern Italy, especially from the regions of Calabria, Abruzzi, Molise and Sicily, each with over 10% of the total. About three-quarters of these immigrants were small-scale farmers or peasants.
Unlike northern Italy, which dominated the newly formed (1861-70) Italian state, and continued to industrialize, southern Italy remained rural and traditional. Overpopulation, the fragmentation of peasant farms, poverty, poor health and poor educational conditions, heavy taxation and political dissatisfaction acted as a "push" to emigration. Factors that "pulled" Italians to Canada included rising expectations, the low cost of ocean travel, the example of successful relatives and friends in the New World, and the significantly higher wages there.
The devastation of World War II, which resulted in shortages of food, fuel, clothing and other necessities, exacerbated pre-existing poor conditions. After WWII the northeastern part of Italy contributed a larger refugee component (because of the loss of Istria to Communist Yugoslavia), and Friuli, which had a long tradition of emigration to Canada, joined the southern regions as a major source of immigrants.
Early Migration and Settlement
Italian immigration to Canada occurred in 2 main waves, from 1900 to WWI and from 1950 to 1970. During the first phase, 119 770 Italians entered Canada (primarily from the US), the greatest number in 1913, a year before the war interrupted immigration. About 80% of these people were young males, most of whom went to work at seasonal, heavy labour in railroad construction and maintenance, mines, lumber-camps and building projects.
Many labourers eventually decided to settle permanently in Canada, and by WWI Italians were to be found not only in major urban centres but also in Sydney, NS, Welland, Sault Ste Marie and Copper Cliff, Ont, and Trail, BC. The 1911 census recorded over 7000 of Italian origin in Montréal and over 4600 in Toronto.
Those who settled in Canada's growing cities worked as construction and factory workers and building tradesmen, as food and fruit merchants, or as artisans such as barbers and shoe repairers. Out of modest beginnings, a few - eg, Onorato Catelli of Montréal in the food-processing industry and Vincent Franceschini of Toronto in road construction - were highly successful.
While the great majority of immigrants settled in urban centres, agricultural colonies were established at Lorette, Manitoba, and Hylo, Alberta. In the Niagara Peninsula and Okanagan Valley, Italian proprietors of orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms prospered. Many Italian truck farmers on the cities' outskirts grew small crops for local consumption.
Despite tighter immigration restrictions following WWI, over 29 000 Italians had entered Canada by 1930. Many of them were farm labourers or wives and children sponsored by breadwinners in Canada. This movement, however, virtually ended with the Great Depression.
Throughout the 1930s strong family networks and thrift helped Italian Canadians absorb some of the economic shock of unemployment and deprivation. Their problems were compounded after 1935, when Canadian hostility towards FASCISM was directed against Italian Canadians, many of whom were sympathetic towards Mussolini.
As a consequence of Italy's alliance with Germany in WWII, Italian Canadians were designated "enemy aliens" and were the victims of widespread PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION. Men lost their jobs, shops were vandalized, civil liberties were suspended under the War Measures Act, and hundreds were interned at Camp Petawawa in northern Ontario. While a few of these men had been active fascists, most were not; and they, as well as their families, who were denied relief, bore the brunt of hostilities. As a result, many Italians later anglicized their names and denied their Italian background.
After WWII the widespread shortage of labour caused by a booming economy, as well as Canada's new obligations within NATO, once again made the country receptive to Italian immigration. Postwar immigrants, who numbered over half a million, comprised almost 70% of the Italian Canadian group. Many Italians initially immigrated under the auspices of the Canadian government and private firms. The Welch Construction Company, for example, which was founded at the turn of the century by 2 former navvies, Vincenzo and Giovanni Veltri, specialized in railway maintenance.
Men often arrived under one-year contracts to do hard physical labour similar to that of their earlier compatriots, though now the great majority came as permanent settlers, later sponsoring wives, children and other relatives. Family "chain migration" from Italy was so extensive that in 1958 Italy surpassed Britain as a source for immigrants. Starting in 1967, new regulations based admissibility on universal criteria such as education; this "points system" restricted the sponsorship of relatives, so that Italian immigration dropped significantly.
Settlement and Economic Life
In 2006, 60% of Italian Canadians lived in Ontario, 21% in Québec and 10% in BC. About 95% of Italian Canadians live in towns and cities. The most significant concentrations are in Toronto, where in 2006 Italian Canadians numbered 466 155, and in Montréal, where they numbered 260 345. Other cities in which Italian Canadians numbered 10 000 or more were (in descending order) Vancouver, Hamilton, St Catharines-Niagara, Ottawa-Hull, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, London, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Oshawa. In the 2006 census, 741 045 Canadians listed Italian as their single ethnic origin and 704 285 listed Italian as part of their ethnic origin (multiple response) for a total of over 1.4 million Italian Canadians.
In cities where Italians have settled in sufficient numbers, they have tended to create ethnic neighbourhoods. These "Little Italys," with their distinctive shops, restaurants, clubs and churches, are easily recognizable, but they have rarely been ghettos segregated from the rest of society. Over the years, these immigrant areas have decreased significantly in size, though they have generally survived as viable socioeconomic centres. While the movement out of immigrant neighbourhoods to more prosperous residential areas has been significant, even in the suburbs it is still common to find concentrations of Italian Canadians who have chosen to live near one another because of kinship or village ties.
Seventy-five percent of post-WWII immigrants were employed in low-income occupations, but this changed dramatically with the second and subsequent generations. By the mid-1980s the children of immigrants had achieved a level of higher education at par with the national average, a fact reflected in their increasingly important positions in professional and semiprofessional occupations. Italian Canadians have the highest rate of home-ownership in Canada, reflecting the centrality of the family. By the 1980s, 86% owned their own home compared to 70% generally.
Taken from "The Canadian Encyclopedia"