A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

Sleight of Hand: Immigration History

Several small islands make up the nation of Malta. They have always sent their children forward into the world. The islands themselves are too small to sustain a large population. Until the mid 1800's the most popular destinations were Africa, Italy and France. The first recorded Maltese immigrant to Canada didn't arrive until 1838 -- Louis Shickluna (1818-80) who settled in St. Catharines, Ontario:

"The eight pointed white cross of the order of St. John came to Canada in the days of Champlain, when Canada was a colony of France. Knights of Malta held high position in New France including the Governor of Quebec from 1636 to 1648. In 1635, the Lieutenant-General of Acadia (today's Maritime provinces), applied to the Order headquarters in Malta to organize a branch of the Order at Port Royal. Committed to fortifying Malta, the headquarters could not help out financially, and the plan for a base in Acadia was abandoned. It would be another 250 years before the Order was permanently established in Canada..."1

It was not until 1911 that there was a concerted effort by the Canadian and Maltese Governments to attract the people of Malta to Canada. In 1916, there were 200 Maltese living in Toronto. By 1917 there were 400 living in the city. The role of the Catholic Church was critical to the Maltese and they settled around the two Catholic churches in Toronto.2

The Maltese who came to Canada were poor and uneducated. Coming from a Mediterranean country they were unprepared for the rigours of the Canadian winter. They relied heavily on each other and the church to get them through the culture shock.3 The Italian community in Toronto with whom the Maltese shared the Catholic faith, had strong cultural ties to Malta, particularly the Southern Italians. Swift Packers Company, located near ‘the junction' area of Toronto, where many Maltese had settled, hired many of them. They were considered honest, hardworking people. As more immigrants arrived, they too were hired by Swifts, which at the time was the largest meat packing company in Canada at the time.

In 1919, when John Giordmaine arrived in Toronto, he was hired by Swift. He would spend ten years at Swifts until an accident caused him to re-evaluate his life. It was at this point that he decided to become a magician. Many thought he was crazy to leave the security of his Swift job to pursue something as risky as becoming a magician, but John knew that the time for magic was during times of crisis when people needed it the most.

During the war years, the Maltese community came to the aide of their county of origin. Malta had become a fortress. The British navy was using Malta as a base to send out their submarines, to harass and damage the German fleet. In response, Hitler vowed to bomb Malta off the face of the earth. Through much of the war, Malta faced terrible bombing raids. But despite the crippling raids, the island nation did not fall. In recognition of the sacrifices which Malta made to fight tyranny, Britain awarded Malta ‘The George Cross'.

During the war, John Giordmaine was working on Eaton's fifth floor in Toronto, selling magic kits. Most nights of the week he was out with other Eaton's employees who had formed a theatrical group. They travelled to bases surrounding Toronto, entertaining the troops.

At the end of the war, 18,000 Maltese settled in Canada, once again, in the Toronto area.5 A new church was built by the Maltese community to accommodate the influx. Many people billeted the new arrivals in their homes ensuring that they were established and never charging for room or board. The ties of their common heritage of Malta and their common desire to become established in Canada, made all Maltese, related or not, family.

In 1968, the first Maltese immigrant ran for federal office. Henry Formosa had come to Canada in 1953. Like generations of Maltese before him, he settled in Toronto. By 1968 he felt that he could make a contribution to his new country. Henry Formosa ran as a independent. He campaigned on issues such as a minimum wage, which he wanted to set at $2.00 per hour. His campaign was overwhelmed by ‘Trudeaumania', but some of his ideas, such as a minimum wage were picked up by the Liberals and passed, although they set the minimum wage at $1.65.

Today, there are 10 Maltese associations in Toronto. They all run independently, but there is an umbrella group, the Maltese Canadian Federation, which meets several times per year. Each Maltese group is eligible to send a representative to this group. The number of people that can represent the group depends on the group's size. This Federation works to coordinate events which all the groups participate in.6

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