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  Family Unification and Settlement

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by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

The Scrivano family at the Edmonton railway station.  This image was contributed by the family to the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and was used in the booklet of that name.Early Canadian immigration policy, which prompted the first wave of emigration from Italy was interested only in the capacity of men to do heavy work. Harney notes that in Toronto in 1911, there were 2,200 males to 800 women in Little Italy. Inevitably, some of the men fell in love with their host country and family unification began to happen and Italians settled in communities across the country. 

Their desire was to fit in and many discouraged their children from learning Italian because they did not want to be viewed as foreigners. Other occupations opened to them: market gardening, shopkeeping (groceries, confectioners), restauranteurs, hoteliers, businesses of all descriptions, as well as the professions. As "strangers" in the new land, they moved to where real estate was cheapest and that was in inner-city areas where they created, for a time, "Little Italies." These inner-city areas centered along railway lines, factories and other places of employment.

The Venice Colony is pictured at the Edmonton Railway Station in an Edmonton Journal photograph, 1914There were three interesting agricultural settlements in western Canada in the first part of the 20th century (Naples, Alberta, 1905; Venice, Alberta, 1914; Lorette, Manitoba, 1921). While immigration policy makers had felt that Italian immigrants did not have the "right stuff" to farm in the West, there were several exceptions.

Father Vangelisti notes that northern Italians from the Piedmont had impressed Canadian immigration officials as potential agricultural workers. Stan Carbone in Italians in Winnipeg notes: "The Winnipeg Commissioner of Immigration was able to write, without fear of contradiction, that 'it is well known that such men as Italians, Assyrians, Jews and Chinese will not make farmers'." ¹ It is ironic because, in fact, many of the workers recruited for the mines, forestry and railway camps were agricultural labourers. It is interesting to reflect on why agricultural workers from the northern part of Italy would be more suitable than those from the south,  It can only be surmised that, because they were from northern Italy, they were perhaps closer to the northern Europeans who were the immigrants of choice.

In 1914-15 a group of northern Italians established the Venice agricultural colony in the Lac La Biche area of northern Alberta. They were led by the consular agent Felice Oliva Giovanni Billios married Annie D'Mitruzinski in 1907 in Winnipeg and the family then went to Edmonton. Photo courtesy of Mary Biollo Doyle.De Angelis, who kept a diary recounting the experience, and Olivo Giovanni Billos (O.J. Biollo). Biollo was born in Campalongo Maggiore near Padova on May 27, 1883 and came to Canada when he was 19 to work on the railways. He ended up in Winnipeg where he made money in a hotel and other enterprises before moving to Edmonton to help found the Venice colony. He had agricultural training and was very entrepreneurial. While some of the original colonists left, the remainder prospered and farmed and also undertook a range of other activities. An agricultural cooperative venture was also established in Manitoba in the 1920s-the North Italy Farmers colony from the Lombardy region. This colony was established south of Winnipeg at Lorette and was dissolved in the late 1920s ²

La Famiglia from the "Italians Settle in Edmonton" publicationRestrictive immigration practices, as an aftermath of World War I, meant that few Italians came to Canada in the inter-war years of 1919 to 1939 and, in fact, after 1929 only farmers were eligible to emigrate. Those Italians who were by now entrenched became assimilated and had more in common with English Canadians than with recent immigrants from Italy. Thus, within Italian communities, a "caste" system developed: those who were established and, in many cases, well off and the "needy" newcomers. With the loss of language and traditions, the "old-timers" also had very little in common with the newcomers. These immigrants also mostly went to urban areas, a trend which continued with the third wave of immigration after World War II. 

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Copyright © 2002 Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. and The Heritage Community Foundation

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