Like Cosimo Figliomeni, many Italians migrated to Canada with the hopes of achieving economic and social well-being. But they were not always successful. In 1901 a series of articles appeared in a Milanese newspaper describing an unscrupulous system recruiting immigrants to go to Montrealand the Canadian north. Labourers were often misled through this system into labour camps or found themselves unemployed and destitute in Canada's major cities. In 1902 the General Commissariat for Emigration in Rome sent a commissioner to tour Canada and report on the situation of working Italians. The report concluded that the abuses suffered by Italians were grave enough that their migration should be suspended until the problem of exploitation was remedied(5).
After World War I it was the Canadian government that took on a restrictive attitude to immigration. New legislation was passed to reduce the number of immigrants from Europe and, as a result, few Italians entered Canada. During the Depression years in the 1930s, there was almost no immigration. With thousands of Canadians out of work, the government was in no position to encourage newcomers to Canada. In addition, the Italian government headed by dictator Benito Mussolini, discouraged emigration to North America. As a result, Italian immigration to Canada from about 1925 to 1946 consisted of only a few hundred people(6).
Italian Canadians endured the Depression years of unemployment and deprivation with strong family networks and thrift. Their problems were compounded in 1935, however, when Canadian hostility towards Fascism was directed against Italian Canadians, many of whom were sympathetic towards Mussolini. And as a consequence of Italy's alliance with Germany in WWII, Italian Canadians were designated "enemy aliens" and were victims of widespread prejudice and discrimination(7). Men lost their jobs, shops were vandalized and some cities refused to allow people with Italian surnames to become municipal employees or to receive welfare(8). Civil liberties were suspended under the War Measures Act and hundreds were interned at Camp Petawawa in northern Ontario. Some of these Italians had been active fascists. But many had not, and it was predominantly these people and their families who were denied relief and bore the brunt of the hostilities. As a result, many Italians later anglicized their names and denied their Italian background(9).
Top of Page