Italian Immigration to Alberta
At the end of the 19th century, there were many heavily populated areas in Italy — areas in which people had difficulty making a living as farmers or industrial workers. These people wanted to emigrate to start a new and better life. The Italian government was aware of these problems and did its best to facilitate emigration. Italians began coming to Alberta in the 1880s. Most found employment in the coal mining areas of Coleman and Blairmore. Some Italian immigrants also found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway. At this time, Italian immigrants to Alberta were mostly men who were hoping to make money and to return to Italy. Instead, however, many of them established themselves in Alberta and had their wives join them from Italy.
Two agricultural settlements were established in Alberta: Naples, in 1905, and Venice, near Lac La Biche, in 1914. Neither of these settlements flourished, partly because the Italians were more experienced in small, mixed farming than in the large-scale grain and livestock farming practised in Alberta. In addition, many Italians were not interested in farming because they were fleeing their lives as poor farmers in Italy.
Because the Italians were not interested in farming, the Canadian government did not actively encourage their immigration to the prairies. Community identiy was important to the Italians, and many immigrated not only in family groups but also in community groups. By 1919, 14.5 percent of all workers in the Crowsnest Pass mining area were Italian. Some Italians also settled in the cities, where they congregated in areas known as Little Italies. In 1921, there were 4,000 Italians living in Alberta.
The years from 1919 to 1939 marked a restriction in Italian immigration and, after 1929, only Italian farmers were allowed into Canada. On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) soon interned many Italians, especially those living in Montreal and Toronto. The Italians living in Alberta did not experience as much hostility as those living in central Canada; however, they did suffer persecution.
In 1947, Italians were declared to no longer be enemy aliens and the late 1940s and 1950s saw huge numbers of Italian immigrants to Canada. These Italian immigrants came from all classes of society, although many were tradespeople such as carpenters, masons, or tailors. Most immigrants began working for construction or oil companies in Albertan urban areas. After oil was struck in Leduc in 1947, labour agents brought Italian immigrants to Edmonton to work in the oil industries. They began working their way up through the ranks of workers, and many Italians ended up starting their own companies; Galleli Construction in Calgary is one such example.
Immigrants who knew English helped newer immigrants find jobs and acted as translators. The children of Italian immigrants have tended to receive a university education. Italian immigration to Canada steadily decreased in the end of the 20th century and now Italians make up approximately one percent of all immigrants to Canada. As of the 2001 census, there were 67,655 people of Italian descent living in Alberta.
Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community Audio
Development of Multiculturalism
Listen as Sabatino Roncucci talks about his role in the development of multiculturalism in both Alberta and Canada. (Running time: 7:28 minutes)
Immigration to Canada
Tony Falcone discusses his father's immigration and how he came to live in Canada. (Running time: 4:05 minutes)
Louis Protti describes his father's immigration experience. (Running time: 2:23 minutes)
The Italian Society and WW2
In the following excerpt, Mr. Butti talks of war-time experience and Fascism in Edmonton and of the issue of citizenship. He was investigated because he was President of the Italian Society. He is told that he cannot leave town but points out that his work requires him to do so. (Running Time: 1:47)