Although documentation is scanty, the Italians of Calgary seem to have co-existed
peacefully with the other ethnic groups in the city. The community was small but closely
knit. Social activities took place in the immigrants' homes, where families took turns at
playing host. Favourite activities included playing bocce and cards (briscoloa was
popular) and picnics. Nevertheless, there was some hostility toward them. The majority of Calgarians were of British origin, and immigrants were expected to adopt the majority
culture and mores. The British considered Italians, along with Poles and Russian Jews, to
be "unassimilable" and associated their presence with squalor and poverty. Italians, whose customs and standard of living contrasted sharply with those of the Anglo
majority, were regarded as "undesirable."
As Calgary's "Little Italy" grew, it began to provide its members with other essential services.
Antonio Rebaudengo became the honorary Italian consul between 1936 and 1938. Mr. Rebaudengo was appointed to this unpaid position by the Mussolini government, apparently because he was one of the few educated, fully literate individuals in the Italian community. However, he had already been assisting fellow country men in an unofficial capacity since the mid-1920s. He also wrote articles on the activities of the Calgary Italian community for Italians newspapers in Toronto and Vancouver. The consular office acted as a contact between Italians in Canada and the Italian government.
Although Mr. Rebaudengo held the official title, it was his wife Angelina who carried out most of the duties. She not only handled the necessary consular paperwork, but she also assisted new immigrants in finding housing and employment. Since many of the immigrants spoke no English and were illiterate in Italian, Mrs. Rebaudengo wrote letters for them to relatives back home, helped them fill out forms, and acted as translator. Her services often went beyond the call of duty. She assisted many women with their marriage preparations and even helped during pregnancy and childbirth.
At the centre of the community's social life was the Giovanni Caboto Loggia No. 8. Founded in 1918 as a branch of the Ordine dei Figli d'Italia (Order of the Sons of Italy), the lodge later merged with the Indipendenti Fiori d'Italia (Independent Order of the Flowers of Italy), whose head office was in Fernie, British Columbia. Initially organized as a benevolent society, this order provided social assistance to members in times of illness, bereavement and other misfortunes in return for a fee of one dollar a month. At first, the meetings were held in the homes of lodge members, but later a garage on Edmonton Trail was purchased and used as a cultural centre. The lodge also organized an Italian school, a band and a variety of other social activities. During the Depression, financial stress caused many members to leave the lodge. Other members left to form a rival organization, the Associazione Italo-Canadese, in 1933.
In the latter part of the 1930s, a few of the more affluent members tried to revive membership by reorganizing the lodge and rebuilding the existing clubhouse. But with the onset of World War II and the accompanying hostility toward Italo-Canadians, the new facilities had to be sold.
Reprinted from "With Heart and Soul: Calgary's
Italian Community" by Antonella Fanella, with permission
from the University of Calgary Press and the author.
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