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Edmonton's Little Italy

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

1  |  Page 2  |  3

Casa d' Italia, Montreal, Quebec.  The cultural centres in Montreal and Toronto were built in 1934. Photo from Gli Italiani in Canada by Rev. Guglielmo Vangelisti.

But membership was not confined to organizations in the geographic community were an individual resided. There was an informal connection among all of the Italian communities in the country. Mr. Butti mentions the Figli d'Italia [Sons of Italy], which originated in the U.S. in New York but also had branches in Canada. In fact, Evelyn Halickman in her essay "The Italian Community Montreal" mentions that the Sons of Italy began in Montreal in 1920 when some New York Italians visited to start up an organization similar to their own. According to Mr. Butti, these were called in the West, the Fiori d'Italia [Flowers of Italy]. This society, which had earlier date of origin than Halickman's 1920, was headquartered in Fernie, B.C. and provided insurance coverage. Mr. Butti was corresponding secretary of the Cesare Battisti Society in Nordegg, and also of the Grand Lodge of Fernie. He also mentions a society in Saunders Creek and the Vittorio Emanuele Society in Calgary [may have meant the Giovanni Caboto Loggia founded in 1918], as well as societies in Lethbridge and the Crowsnest Pass. He does not mention the Loggia in Coalhurst, which was established in 1916 and shut down in 1926.  These societies helped people who were sick and members contributed funds. They met about once a month and also helped Italian workers who were exploited and who could not speak for themselves.

Members of the Giovanni Caboto Club attending a convention in Lethbridge in the 1920s.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Archives.  NA-5592-5.The transition from self-help societies to social clubs was an easy one and important for individuals who were still outside the mainstream culture. This happened in all Alberta regions with significant Italian immigration- Venice in northern Alberta, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Rockies in the period from the 1920s to the late 1930s.

The war-time experience of internment and police surveillance, I believe, had a long-term impact on Alberta's Italian community. There was a real turning away from the Italian language and roots because Italian-Canadians had been conditioned to consider these activities as "un-Canadian." When new immigrants from Italy began to arrive in Alberta in 1949, the Italian societies had largely disappeared. It's as if they had never existed and they were not talked about, like a shameful episode in family history that is buried and forgotten. 

Thus, this pioneer work of the establishment of organizations through which community life took place had to be begun again. The Italians who had been assimilated were not particularly interested in participating in the re-invention of the Italian community. Thus, there was a deep divide between the "founding families" and the new immigrants and an actual sense of "caste." 

The Calgary Juventus Soccer Club pictured in 1964.  Photo courtesy of Il Congresso newspaperThe post-World War II wave of immigrants began to organize themselves. What is interesting is the phenomenon that happened in Edmonton where the number of societies proliferated from a few in the 1970s to over 40 in the 1990s.  While Calgary and  Lethbridge had Italian cultural societies and, in the case of Calgary, a soccer club as well (Juventus), and a Fogolar Furlan Club,  Edmonton had a multiplicity of societies. I believe that this was the result of the very diverse immigration to Edmonton and the regional disparities that accompanied those differences.  Thus, while in Winnipeg and Calgary, the immigration was chiefly from southern Italy (as has been observed by Stan Carbone with respect to Winnipeg and Antonella Fanella with respect to Calgary), this was not the case in Edmonton.  I base this observation on the oral histories that have been conducted in the period 1970-2002 (Dante Alighieri Oral History Project, Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and the current Celebrating Edmonton's Italian Community Oral History Project) and the list of Edmonton families that I have compiled based on these projects including their place of origin, occupations, etc.. 

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

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