A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

 

1914, when 60,000 Italians immigrated to Canada. The second wave occurred following World War II, when hundreds of thousands of war torn Italians came to Canada. Both waves had to overcome obstacles.

The first wave were predominantly uneducated, single males, or married males who came to Canada to set up before their family arrived. They worked as sojourners. Using Toronto or Montreal as their home base, they would work labouring for the railway,
clearing the brush in the North, or harvesting fruit in the Niagara region. They were brought out to Canada through a network and stayed for a limited amount of time. These sojourners were n expected to pay kickbacks to the agents who brought them to Canada.

By the end of this first wave of emigration, there was more work available in the cities. There were many work programs in building a city's infrastructure, sewers, roads, laying subway tracks. Craftsman such as stonemasons, bricklayers, tailors, cobblers and artisans enriched the emerging cities of Canada. The Italian immigrants were now settling in cities, bringing their families over, and staying in Canada.

During World War I, emigration from Europe ceased. But after the war, the doors to emigration once again opened to Canada. While the United States put a strict quota on the number of immigrants she was willing to accept, in Canada the policy was to try and attract the right kind of immigrant. Immigrants from Southern Europe were viewed as being less desirable then those from the North. The number of Italians who were able to emigrate to Canada was curtailed

A further obstacle was thrown in the way by the Fascist Italian Government of Benito Mussolini, who found widespread emigration from his country a national embarrassment. Between 1924-29, Mussolini halted all emigration from Italy.7

October 1929. The bottom fell out of the economy. The ensuing ten years known as "The Great Depression" ended emigration from Italy. "The Depression" was brought to an end with the declaration of World War II.
World War II represented perhaps the biggest crisis faced by Italians in Canada. There had been maintained through both the Canadian and Italian governments, strong cultural and family ties between the Italian families in Canada and those back in Italy. During the 1920's and 30's, many Italian Canadians had formed pro-Mussolini associations or belonged to Fascist associations. People were unaware of the true evil of these regimes, but looked upon them as an extension of feeling good about the Italian culture. With the declaration of war on September 10, 1939, between Canada and Germany, Canada was in effect declaring war against Germany's ally, Italy.

The Italians in Canada had, for the past thirty years in Canada, lived in the same neighbourhood as people from their home town, village or area of Italy. They had formed a tight community in which Italian was spoken in the local shops and on the streets. There was a strong network of interdependency in these communities.

With the declaration of war, and the passage of the War Measures Act, these Italian communities suddenly took on a very ominous appearance to the government of Canada. Were the Italians loyal to Canada or Italy? The War Measures Act gave the government extraordinary powers, and the government exercised them. Thousands of Italian Canadians were rounded up, interrogated and given identity papers, which they had to carry with them at all times.

Prominent Italian Canadian businessmen and community leaders were rounded up and sent to internment camps, such as Petawawa near Ottawa. Many of the associations and clubs which had been started in the 1930's by the Italians, were closed. People became wary of speaking Italian or advertising their background. Many Italians changed their last names, trying to disassociate themselves from their Italian heritage.
The emigration restrictions against Italians was not lifted until 1947. During the first year that the ban was lifted, the majority of immigrants from Italy were from the North. But this quickly changed and by 1949, the second great wave of emigration from Southern Italy was underway. Between 1946-83, 507,057 Italians came to Canada. Of this, 70% came from the South, 12% from the Central and 18% came from Northern Italy. As many as 70% of the Italians who came to Canada were poor, with less than a Grade 9 education. They settled in the urban centres of Canada and worked in low-level manual labour.

The Italian culture stressed the importance of family, hard work and education. Second generation Italian Canadians are at the national average for university attendance and entering professions and are above average for home ownership.8

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