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Family Unification
and Settlement

Fascist Era
Post World War II

Cultural Life

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

  |  Page 2  |  3  

Chiesa Italiana di N.S. della Difesa, Montreal, Quebec.  Photo from 'Gli Italiani in Canada' by P. Guglielmo Vangelisti.In 1956, P. Guglielmo Vangelisti, O.S.M., who had been a pastor at the Chiesa Italiana di N. S. della Difesa, Avenue Henri-Julien in Montreal, Madonna della Difesa Church in Montreal, 2002.  Photo courtesy of Carlo Amodio.published Gli Italiani in Canada. While ostensibly about Italians in Canada, the book was actually a history of Italian settlement to Montreal with an emphasis on parish history. Father Vangelisti lists the figures of Italians coming to Canada as follows:

  • 1035 in 1871

  • 1849 in 1881

  • 10,834 in 1901

  • 45,963 in 1911

  • 66,769 in 1921

  • 98,173 in 1931

  • 112,625 in 1941

He points out, as have other commentators, that these figures are not completely accurate because the numbers do not include Canadians of Italian ancestry who were not immigrants. ¹

The academic scholarship regarding emigration from Italy to Canada was largely begun by Robert Harney at the University of Toronto. In October 1978 he wrote "Italians in Canada," an Occasional Paper on Ethnic and Immigration Studies for The Multicultural History Society of Ontario. This paper was circulated among those of us who were students of immigration history in the late 1970s and early 1980s, who were seeking to understand where they fit in Canadian society. 

The traditional image of the Blessed Virgin has around it the factories, constructions sites and other places of work of the immigrants in the new land, as well as the beautiful countryside they left behind.  The painting is reproduced in Vangelisti, Gli Italiani in Canada. It is interesting to note that Harney begins with the "holy" ancestors, John Cabot, who was actually Giovanni Caboto and two 19th century arrivals, a Captain Philip De Grassi and Giacomo Forneri, both of whom came to Toronto. Father Vangelisti has done the same thing and cited numerous individuals who served in Canada as mercenaries as well as some priests of Italian ancestry who were members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and served in Quebec from the 1850s.

Harney, as most subsequent students of Italian immigration history, contemplates the phenomenon of the massive post World War II immigration and tries to find the beginnings and make sense of it. His scholarship was also an attempt to give Italian-Canadians a sense of belonging and also of having a place with the founding peoples of British and French ancestry in their new home. ²

The long sea journey marked the break with the homeland and was marked by both anticipation and mal di mare [seasickness].  This image was contributed to the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and booklet of that name.As he and others have pointed out, most of the emigration from Italy was to the United States. Harney notes: "In the heyday of mass migration, 1901 to 1910, over two million Italians arrived in the United States, while less than sixty thousand entered Canada." He notes further that Italians did not distinguish between Canada and the US at that time and "In the Calendario per gli Emigranti [The Immigrant's Calendar], distributed by the Società Umanita of Milan, the map of Canada before World War I did not even show Toronto; Niagara Falls did appear suggesting perhaps the Italian image of Canada at the time." 

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

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