by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
The late seventies was an important period for the initiation of societies in
Canada's Italian community.1 The likely reason was the
emergence of multiculturalism as a force not only at the local
but also the provincial and national level. Theorists held that
the ethnocultural diversity of Canada's population meant that
there were not just founding cultures but, rather, a
multiplicity of cultures. Underlying this was a strong
belief in the need to protect and entrench human rights of all
Canadians regardless of ethnic origin.
In October 1973, a meeting was held in Mississauga to discuss the formation of a national council
of Italian-Canadians. In February, 1974, the first conference was held for the National Congress of Italian-Canadians (NCIC). In 1979, the
National Congress of Italian-Canadians, Edmonton District was established. With the establishment of the NCIC, Edmonton District,
there was an attempt to integrate the
existing societies under the Congress. While the Congress viewed itself as an "umbrella" with its board being made up of presidents of other societies, its pre-eminence was not readily accepted by some organizations. This was particularly true for the Italian Cultural Society, founded in the same year by a group of individuals from the Veneto. They were successful in building a cultural centre with funding support from the Government of Alberta and the
City of Edmonton and this gave them a clout and financial power that the Congress lacked.
Thus, the Congress became a programming entity and, under various presidents (including
Rudy Cavaliere, Fausta Marazzo, Adriana Albi Davies and Sam Amelio), the organization
undertook outreach activities with the community-at-large. It is responsible for the Italian pavilion at the popular
Days Festival, which has over 300,000 participants and about 50 ethnocultural groups at its celebration of
ethnicity at Hawrelak Park the August holiday long weekend. The Congress was also instrumental in the founding of the
Il Congresso newspaper in April, 1984-the longest-existing Italian paper in Alberta. The Congress, as well as undertaking talent shows, concerts, exhibits at the Provincial Museum of Alberta on Christmas traditions, and other recognition events, has also provided support to a range of worthwhile activities. It spearheaded fundraising support for Eritrean relief efforts; contributed funds to a fountain in Edmonton's new convention centre; support various University of Alberta initiatives including the opera program; as well as organizing Christmas displays at the Provincial Museum of Alberta.
It has participated in a range of activities that
promoted human rights and multiculturalism. In Calgary, the Congress never became entrenched, though, for provincial and national meetings, as a courtesy, delegates from Calgary and Lethbridge are also included.
The Edmonton Congress, under President Adriana Albi Davies, was also a part of a national initiative to have the Government of Canada address the issue of the internment of Italians during WWII. Various position papers were submitted and presented to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney addressing the need for both an apology and reparations. The community had seen that the Government had done this with the Japanese community.
In 1988, Japanese-Canadians received an apology and $330 million in compensation. However, within the Congress
membership nationally, there were those who felt that an apology was sufficient, since there were few cases of the seizure of property
unlike the Japanese community.
As a result of these efforts, at the National Congress of Italian-Canadians biennial conference in Toronto, on November 2-4, 1990, Prime Minister Mulroney apologized to the Italian community. He took the opportunity to do this at a luncheon in Concord, Ontario, on November 4th, organized by the Congress.
An article in the
Il Congresso notes:
The apology came as the culmination of a campaign on the part of the National Congress, headed by President Annamarie P. Castrilli, a Toronto lawyer, to research and make known the history of this dark chapter in the history of Italian immigration to Canada. The researches determined the number of Italians arrested and interned, confiscation of property, loss of jobs and other related events. A brief was presented to the Government and, eventually, the Prime Minister invited to address delegates to the biennial meeting of the National Congress. The 150 Congress delegates were joined by 450 other community representatives at the luncheon, as well as representatives of other ethnic communities.1