by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
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In World War I, Canadians of Italian
ancestry fought in the war. At the beginning of the War,
there was distrust of Italians because of their alliance
with Germany and Austria but, once Italy allied itself with
Great Britain, the situation changed. In May, 1924, il treno
degli italiani crossed Canada, picking up volunteers to
serve in the military. Harney quotes the following statement
chalked on the train: "Torniamo in Italia, Andiamo a
fare la Guerra, Andiamo a prendere Trento e Trieste, Britons
we are here" [Let us return to Italy, Let's make war,
Let's go and take Trento and Trieste].
With the rise of Fascism in Italy, the representatives of
the Italian government in Canada, the Consular Agents,
certainly promoted Fascism. Italian communities had both
anti- and pro-Fascists in their numbers. Stan Carbone
recounts that in Winnipeg one anti-Fascist consul was
replaced by a pro-Fascist one. Initially, Mussolini was
viewed positively by many North American politicians and
industrialists because he was seen as a force to bring order
and good government. This opinion began to change with the
invasion of Ethiopia and with the Italian declaration of war
on Canada on June 10, 1940, all Italians, no matter how long
they had been in Canada, were viewed as enemy aliens.
Italian societies were suspect and the Casa d'Italia
(Italian cultural centre) in Montreal and Toronto were shut
down. Italian men were arrested and interned (many ending up
at Camp Petawawa in Ontario) and property seized. Father
Vangelista provides a graphic account of the experience in
Montreal. He notes that in 1934, the Italian population of
Montreal had reached 24,000 and many were influentials.
Evelyn M. Halickman in a paper titled "The Italian
Community Montreal," (May, 1962) notes that there were
well-established Italian communities in four areas: Mt.
Carmel, Mile End, Montcalm and Ville Emard."
further notes that the rise of Fascism provided an impetus
to develop Italian organizations.
The community had built the Casa d'Italia on land donated
by the City between 1934-36. The community was prosperous
and entrenched so the mass arrests came as a great surprise.
While the RCMP had lists of Italian community members (some
claim that the membership lists of the Casa d'Italia were
were also community "snitches." While there may
have been a number of Fascist sympathizers, it is unlikely
that all of the men arrested initially and the fewer numbers
interned were actually Fascists and a danger to the Canadian
state. This episode was viewed as a shameful occurrence by
members of the Italian community and many totally rejected
their Italian heritage and some went so far as to change