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   Cultural Life

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Introduction

Beginnings
   
Family Unification
and Settlement

   
Fascist Era
   
Post World War II
Immigration

  
Cultural Life

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by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

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Montreal's Italian community is the oldest in Canada and the photograph shows the first Italian school associated with the Church della Difesa.  Photo from the book by Rev. Guglielmo Vangelisti Gli Italiani in Canada.Once Italian men decided to remain in Canada, those who were married brought their wives over and others sought the equivalent of mail-order brides. Family members in Italy were contacted and marriages were arranged. This meant that a fabric of Italian life and accompanying beliefs and values was laid down in Canada. The putting down of roots resulted in the establishment of Italian churches, for example, 1905, Madonna del Carmine, Montreal, and a parish of the same name in Toronto in 1908. 

Mutual aid societies had begun to provide support to miners and railway workers, and these also became social and, in some cases, cultural clubs. They had various names: Società del Mutuo Soccorso [Mutual Aid Society], the Fratellanza Italiana [Italian Brotherhood] the Umberto Primo Italian Benevolent Society, the Figli d'Italia [Sons of Italy] and the Fiori d'Italia [Flowers of Italy]. In Montreal, there was a critical mass of Italians and Italian language instruction and a school followed the establishment of the church. In other Italian communities across the country, Italian societies created language classes and, in the late 1920s and 1930s materials were supplied by the Italian government.

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.As a part of the growth of Fascism, Italian consular services in the 1930s promoted establishment of the Casa d'Italia [Italian Home], cultural and community centres and, in 1934 centres were established in Montreal and Toronto. At this time, there was no apparent conflict between Fascism and Canadian citizenship. Harney quotes the following from the Globe and Mail on the dedication of the Toronto Casa d'Italia:

The platform was a colourful spectacle, being decorated with the Union Jack and the Italian colours, in the midst of which were set pictures of King George V, King Victor Emanuele III and Mussolini. Interspersed among the chairs were numerous banners of various Italian organizations and as the Vice-Consul entered, the York Township Anthem, and at various points during the speeches when Il Duce's name was mentioned the audience played "Giovinezza," the Fascist hymn. On the platform were Prof. E. Goggio of the University of Toronto and Dr. P. Fontanella. All speeches were in Italian, and a the conclusion a march to the Cenotaph took place, where the Vice-Consul laid a wreath in honour of Italy's dead.1

Statue of Dante Alighieri in Montreal, Quebec.  Photo from 'Gli Italiani in Canada' by P. Guglielmo Vangelisti.World War II put an end to these societies that had overt connections to politics in Italy. This meant that with post-World War II emigration, new societies and entities had to be created. With respect to the teaching of the Italian language, the Dante Alighieri Society was used as vehicle for Italian instruction, which became, in some Canadian cities, the vehicle for Saturday morning language classes and, eventually, immersion Italian classes within the school system. With respect to university programs, in the latter half of the 19th century, the University of Toronto had a professor of Italian. This was a linkage with ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance. Again, in the 1950s, Italian language and culture programs became available through the universities and also chairs in Italian studies specific to immigration history such as at York University.

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