by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
The Second World War precipitated emigration to Canada from most European countries and certainly from Italy.
While reconstruction began, there were insufficient jobs in both urban and rural communities.
For one civil service or teaching job there might be up to 10,000 candidates who sat exams.
Thus, emigration did not come just from the pool of unskilled labour but also from educated people who
felt that their talents and skills were not appreciated in the homeland. Within Europe, France, Germany
and Switzerland were favoured but other emigrants chose to go further afield to Canada, the US, Australia
and South America. The Italian government was active in facilitating this immigration. In 1947,
Canada removed the "enemy alien" designation and an embassy was opened in Rome in 1948.
Stan Carbone quotes the following confidential dispatch from the Rome Embassy to Ottawa:
Surplus population is the fundamental Italian economic and social problem. . . .
Overpopulation means extreme poverty for a great many Italian people, with a consequent large recruiting
ground for the Communist Party. The unemployed in November, 1948 numbered almost two million. . . Any increase
in emigration to Canada would be of practical help to Italy in tackling her gravest problem.
It would also be a small but distinctly Canadian contribution to strengthening the present democratic
'Western' government and in making less likely its replacement by Communists or by extremists of the right. ¹
This is a fascinating shift in the rationale for promoting immigration to Canada: from the need for workers to the
consolidation of the western alliance in the fight against the Communist threat that was going to signal the
start of the Cold War. Whatever the motivation, this spurred the coming to Canada of a large number of
emigrants who moved beyond the traditional resource-based communities to reside across the country.
Census figures suggest that there were 150,000 Italian-Canadians in 1951 and this jumped to 450,000 in 1961
and 747,970 in 1981. Franc Sturino notes: "In 1981, 65% of Italian Canadians lived in Ontario, 22% in
Quebec and 7% in BC. About 95% of Italian Canadians live in towns and cities. The most significant
concentrations are in Toronto, where in 1981 Italian Canadians numbered 297,205 (10% of the population),
and in Montreal, where they numbered 156,535 or almost 6% of the population."
² He, further, notes that the
following Canadian cities had over 10,000 Italian-Canadians: Hamilton, Vancouver, St.
Catherines, Windsor, Ottawa, Sault St. Marie, Calgary and Edmonton.