During World War II, many Italo-Canadians became the victims of prejudice and discrimination.
Tony Valerio's application to be a pilot and navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force was rejected, even though he was fully qualified, because he was the son of an Italian immigrant. Ironically the enemy alien declaration did not prevent the drafting of Italo-Canadians into the Armed Forces, although they were kept away from the Italian war zone. ome businesses fired their Italian employees, while others refused to hire them. On the morning that war was declared,
Audrey Forzani (nee De
Negri), a valued, dedicated employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, found herself on the receiving end of the wartime
"War breaks out,
and me were pulled into the office of Mr.Trimble, he was the superintendent of The Bay. Now he says,
'War's been declared and Mussolini's gone with
Hitler." "We were all wondering what he's talking about because we were all born in Calgary, and he says, "You know, girls, if you keep your mouths shut and don't give your opinion about anything, we will keep you on. But the minute you cause a little bit of trouble, or if there's a ripple around that you say something derogatory against the war, we will have to let you go." [We wondered] What's he talking about? For Pete's sake! We were warned not to say anything or give our opinion. I don't remember having an opinion. War was over there, we felt sorry for the people, but we never discussed the war."
In an effort to demonstrate their loyalty, most Italo-Canadians
co-operated with the authorities and did not question the actions of the federal government.
Several males joined the Armed Forces.
(Isa) Buccini, Dora's sister, joined the Air Force. Isa went on to become one of Calgary's first female police officers in 1949. But not all Italo-Canadians were so acquiescent. When
Angelina Rebaudengo was denied the wartime allowance given to the mothers of servicemen, she wrote Prime Minister Mackenzie King a letter calling him a liar. Describing her injustices, she demanded (and to her surprise, received) the allowance.
The initial post-war Italian immigration to Calgary was made up
predominantly of males unaccompanied by family members. These men worked under contract
for the CPR in Canmore and Banff or on farms. When their contracts expired, they moved to
Calgary to board with relatives or paesani in Bridgeland/Riverside or rent cheap housing
in Victoria Park. Catholic Immigration Services and Angelina Rebaudengo helped some to
Only rarely did entire families emigrate. It was
more common for a married man to sponsor a brother or cousin in order to share housing and
expenses and save money. These men would later send for their wives. After 1955, women
began to make up a substantial portion of the Italian movement to Calgary. Many of these
women came as young brides, a few as 'picture brides.' A 'picture bride' was introduced to
her Manzato (betrothed) in a photograph sent home to Italy by a brother, uncle or cousin. With the aid of the local priest, the girl's family would make inquiries about the family
of the prospective husband. If all was agreeable, a wedding would take place once he
returned to Italy. However, his bride might not accompany him back to Canada for a few
months or even a year. "Picture brides" were not common, and such activities were
generally discouraged by Canadian immigration officials because of the numerous problems
that arose from this type of marriage. Unfortunately, many a
"picture bride" discovered
that her groom had not exactly been truthful in their long-distance romance. Despite this,
"picture brides" did not usually consider divorce or annulment, as most chose to live with
their disillusionment rather than face the humiliation of family and friends in Italy. One
marriage of this kind did end in divorce, however. A Sicilian woman from Termini Imerese
was shocked to discover that the man that her brothers had arranged for her to marry, a
Calabrese, was nothing like the description he had given of himself in his letters. The
couple separated less than a year after their marriage in Calgary. Eventually they were
divorced, and the woman returned to Sicily with her young daughter.
Reprinted from "With Heart and Soul: Calgary's
Italian Community" by Antonella Fanella, with permission
from the University of Calgary Press and the author.