by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
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But membership was not confined to organizations in the
geographic community were an individual resided. There was an informal connection among
all of the Italian communities in the country. Mr. Butti mentions the Figli d'Italia [Sons
of Italy], which originated in the U.S. in New York but also had branches in Canada. In
fact, Evelyn Halickman in her essay "The Italian Community Montreal" mentions
that the Sons of Italy began in Montreal in 1920 when some New York Italians visited to
start up an organization similar to their own. According to Mr. Butti, these were called
in the West, the Fiori d'Italia [Flowers of Italy]. This society, which
had earlier date of origin than Halickman's 1920, was headquartered in
Fernie, B.C. and provided insurance coverage. Mr. Butti was corresponding secretary of the Cesare
Battisti Society in Nordegg, and also of the Grand Lodge of Fernie. He also mentions a
society in Saunders Creek and the Vittorio Emanuele Society in Calgary
[may have meant the Giovanni Caboto Loggia founded in 1918], as well as
societies in Lethbridge and the Crowsnest Pass. He does not mention the
Loggia in Coalhurst, which was established in 1916 and shut down in
1926. These societies helped people who were sick and
members contributed funds. They met about once a month and also helped Italian workers who
were exploited and who could not speak for themselves.
The transition from self-help societies to social clubs was an
easy one and important for individuals who were still outside the mainstream culture. This
happened in all Alberta regions with significant Italian immigration- Venice in northern
Alberta, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Rockies in the period from the 1920s to the
The war-time experience of internment and police surveillance,
I believe, had a long-term impact on Alberta's Italian community. There was a real turning
away from the Italian language and roots because Italian-Canadians had been conditioned to
consider these activities as "un-Canadian." When new immigrants from Italy began
to arrive in Alberta in 1949, the Italian societies had largely disappeared. It's as if
they had never existed and they were not talked about, like a shameful episode in family
history that is buried and forgotten.
Thus, this pioneer work of the establishment of organizations
through which community life took place had to be begun again. The Italians who had been
assimilated were not particularly interested in participating in the re-invention of the
Italian community. Thus, there was a deep divide between the "founding families"
and the new immigrants and an actual sense of "caste."
The post-World War II wave of immigrants began to organize
themselves. What is interesting is the phenomenon that happened in Edmonton where the
number of societies proliferated from a few in the 1970s to over 40 in the 1990s.
While Calgary and Lethbridge had Italian cultural societies and, in the case of Calgary,
a soccer club as well (Juventus), and a Fogolar Furlan Club, Edmonton had a multiplicity of societies. I believe that this was the
result of the very diverse immigration to Edmonton and the regional disparities that
accompanied those differences. Thus, while in Winnipeg and Calgary, the immigration
was chiefly from southern Italy (as has been observed by Stan Carbone with respect to
Winnipeg and Antonella Fanella with respect to Calgary), this was not the case in
Edmonton. I base this observation on the oral histories that have been conducted in
the period 1970-2002 (Dante Alighieri Oral History Project, Italians Settle in
Edmonton Oral History Project and the current Celebrating
Community Oral History Project) and the list of Edmonton families that I have compiled
based on these projects including their place of origin, occupations, etc..