World War Two and Italian Internment
On June 10, 1940 Italy declared war on Canada. That
same evening, Canada's Prime Minister, William Lyon
Mackenzie King, in a radio broadcast announced that he had
ordered the internment of hundreds of Italian Canadians that
were identified by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as
enemy aliens. The order was applied to Italians who
became British subjects after September 1, 1922. In so
doing, King appealed to that section of the War Measures Act
known as the Defence of Canada Regulations which stipulated
that the government is authorized to take the necessary
precautions to safeguard the country from internal
enemies. Along with the setting up of a judicial
mechanism to administer internment proceedings, the
government also passed an order-in-council which called for
the registration of all persons of Italian birth.
Furthermore, the Office of the Custodian of Alien Property
was authorized to confiscate the properties of enemy aliens.
The chain of events that followed King's announcement,
constitute one of the most dramatic, and perhaps saddest
chapters in the annals of Italian Canadian history.
Swiftly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police cast its net over
a bewildered populace. A student of the internment
saga noted that "it was not uncommon to witness women
and children crying and screaming at the sight of their
husbands or fathers being handcuffed and led away by the
It was alleged that the names of many of those rounded up
were indiscriminately culled from the guest book of
Toronto's Casa d'Italia. Were all those who registered
in the guest book ardent supporters of fascism? Did
they constitute a threat to the security of the Canadian
State? The answer to both is a flat, unequivocal no!
Nonetheless, raison d'etat triumphed over reason...
To add to their burgeoning woes, Italians were penalized
financially. A spontaneous general boycott of Italian
businesses took place throughout Canada and provincial
governments ordered municipalities to terminate relief
payments to non-naturalized Italians.
The round up of Italian Canadians was virtually completed
by October of 1940. Most of them were sent to Camp
Petawawa situated in the Ottawa River Valley. It is
difficult to establish just exactly how many Italian
Canadians were interned...
In Winnipeg, Italians may not have suffered the same
degree of hostility as did their counterparts in Toronto and
Montreal, but they were subjected to the close scrutiny of
the RCMP, to whom they had to report on a monthly
basis. Relief payments were suspended, and in some
cases travel restrictions were imposed. Activities
such as the teaching of the Italian language, and meetings
of the Roma Society were declared illegal. These
actions added to the psychological scars inflicted by
constant harassment and ridicule from neighbours and
co-workers, and the fear mongering being perpetrated by some
Yet, through it all, most Winnipeg Italians put on brave
faces and continued their daily lives with patience and
strength of character. Hundreds were to enlist in the
Canadian armed forces, some in a desperate attempt to remove
the stigma associated with the label enemy alien, while
others because of the inexorable conviction that the war
against the twin evils of fascism and nazism was
Reprinted from The Streets Were Not Paved With
Gold: A Social History of Italians in Winnipeg by
Stanislao Carbone, with permission from the author..