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SONS AND DAUGHTERS: The Italians of Schreiber
Immigration History

The 1991 census showed over 750,000 Canadians listing Italian as their single ethnic origin and almost 400,000 listed Italian as part of their ethnic origin. About 95% of Italian Canadians live in towns and cities, 65% in Ontario, 23% in Quebec and 7% in British Columbia.

In cities where Italians have settled in sufficient numbers, ethnic neighbourhoods have been created. 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. While the movement out of immigrant neighbourhoods to more prosperous and suburban residential areas has been significant, it is still common to find small concentrations of Italian Canadians who have chosen to live near one another because of kinship or village ties(10).

The most significant social institution among Italian Canadians, apart from the Catholic Church, has been the extended family. In the traditional family in Italy the roles were clearly defined. The husband was considered the family head and provider; the wife was expected to be a good homemaker and mother. Children were to show obedience and respect towards their parents. Each member was to act for the betterment of the whole family rather than for his or her individual interest. Many Italian immigrants have attempted to maintain such family patterns. These traditional ways, however, differ from the pattern encouraged by the wider Canadian society. As a result, aspirations for upward mobility and individual expression have often come in conflict with family solidarity and the fulfilment of traditional roles(11).

The second and third generation Italian families descending from Cosimo Figliomeni are navigating these often conflicting, cultural values. Cosimo's grandchildren lament, half-heartedly, about the dwindling dedication to the traditional value placed on family and culture. In great-grandpa's day wine was squeezed from grapes by foot. Today the parents press grapes in the garage. And then there are the kids, they'd rather go buy a bottle of wine at the liquor store.

This generation, their elders say, aren't as in touch with the Italian roots. Anybody born and raised in Italy would know that you have to make do with nothing. Cosimo Figliomeni's great-grandson, Cosimo Filane, raises the issue jestfully in song, at - of all places - a family gathering:

I come to this country from Italy,
To make my fortune and fame
I work-a all day, I save-a my pay,
And then my bambinos they blow it away...

But the bambinos aren't totally oblivious to their Italian beginnings. Things may be changing but there's still a respect for the traditional values of family and community. The new generations go out to explore the bigger world, off to university to get their degrees. But then they return to Schreiber, to work in the family business and to make a life and home for themselves. They're drawn back to their hometown where there's family and community and a sense of belonging - and roots that go back to 1905.


10,11 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

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