A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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EPISODE 34: An Act of Grace
Directed by Sylvia Sweeney

SYNOPSIS

Grace Bagnato was born in 1891, in the United States, the daughter of Italian immigrants. Her family traveled to Canada in 1896, settling in Toronto. Despite her parents' attempts to keep her from learning Italian, Grace had a natural ear for languages.

Self-taught and fluent in seven languages, she soon became the bridge between several new immigrant communities and the dominant British culture she was living in. To many, Grace Bagnato became the first seed of multiculturalism in Canada. Her gift was her ability to embrace the positive attributes of diversity.

KEY IDEAS

  • The isolation of many ethnic groups in Canada;
  • The building of bridges between these ethnic groups;
  • The difference one person can make by standing up for what they believe in.

KEY TERMS

  • Linguist
  • The Ward
  • Internment
  • Sojourner
  • Stork Derby

OBJECTIVES

  • To understand the obstacles faced by Italian Immigrants to Canada;
  • To explore the differences one person can make to a community;
  • To learn about the roots of multi-culturalism in Canada.

ACTIVITIES

  1. Grace Bagnato settled in an area known as "The Ward" in Toronto, an area near its Old City Hall, which has received new immigrants for over 200 years. Pretend you are a young immigrant from Italy, China, a Jew from Eastern Europe, or a Black ex-slave. You have just moved into The Ward, and have just come home from your first day at school where you met other immigrants from all over the world. You don't speak English yet. Write an essay (in English!) titled "My First Day at School," writing about your fellow classmates, what you learned, what's different for you, what excites you and scares you, and what your new neighbourhood is like.

  2. Italian Canadians, as is the case with other immigrant groups, often settle together in neighbourhoods when they come to Canada. Examine your own community and see if there are cultural/ethnic neighbourhoods. If your city is large enough, get a map and delineate where the separate communities are. Take a class trip visiting some of them, pointing out what kinds of things (stores, institututions, language…) make these areas distinct from others. After the trip, discuss what some of the benefits are of people living together with their own "people?" Are there any down sides?

  3. Grace Bagnato is remembered for her hundreds of acts of kindness in the neighbourhood. Think of some projects you can do in groups or individually to help out in your neighbourhood? Some examples would be preparing Christmas cards to be delivered with "Meals on Wheels," visiting at an old age home, volunteering to run a program or a club at your school, shoveling snow for the elderly in winter.

  4. Put on a short, one-act play, depicting an Italian immigrant in Canada being interrogated, arrested and taken to an internment camp during World War II. Make sure you show the horror of being taken away from your family, leaving your business, etc. Also include the reasons the government agents decided to put some Italian Canadians into internment. After the play, have a discussion with your class about the issue.

  5. Do some role-playing with fellow students pretending you have just come staggering into a local hospital's Emergency Department. You only speak Italian (or any other language), and no one there speaks anything but English. You need to be treated for ______________________ (make up different scenarios, some more difficult to act out than others). Show some of the problems the hospital staff will have taking care of you without being able to ask you questions, or you answering them, and what it feels like when you can't communicate with people?

  6. Pretend you are an Italian man who has been sent away to an internment camp. Write a letter home to your family telling them what the experience has done to you, and how you feel about Canada.

  7. In the 1960s in Toronto, a group of Italian construction workers were killed while building the Yonge St. subway line. Their deaths were wake-up calls to thousands of immigrant workers working in unsafe conditions. They then unionized and went on strike. Pretend you are a group of workers working today on a skyscraper construction site. One of your fellow workers has just fallen off a scaffold and died. With research from the 1960s disaster to guide you, form a union with your fellow classmates and figure out how you can pressure your employers into improving conditions on your site.