The following tables give the number of immigrants by year of birth and by age at the time of their arrival in Calgary. As
Table 1 shows, the majority of immigrants were born between 1920 and 1939. The data clearly indicates that the majority of immigrants were between 21 and 35 years of age when they arrived in the city.
Table 2 identifies the regions of origin of the Italian immigrants interviewed; one may note that they come from Veneto and Friuli in northern Italy, from Abruzzo in central Italy, and from
Campania, Molise and Calabria in southern Italy.
It is commonly believed that a majority of immigrants from southern Europe were illiterate, backward peasants, lacking training in any occupation except that of tilling the soil. The results obtained by the research show otherwise, with only 2% of them being totally illiterate; 86% of them had finished elementary school; 12% had finished junior high school and had apprenticed in various trades.
Many immigrants were also skillful carpenters, masons, or tailors, despite their lack of formal training in these professions. Of
a sample of Italian immigrants we took, 73.6% were peasants; some of them had experience as laborers or apprentices in various trades before coming to Calgary. The remaining interviewees, 26.4%, were laborers of various kinds: barbers, car and track drivers, butchers, bakers, welders, wood cutters, topographers, and typographers (see
Land tenure in Italy was a major factor in pushing peasants to emigrate; this is evident when one takes into account the amount of land peasants had before deciding to immigrate to Canada. To the question "If peasant, how much land did you own or rent?", most interviewees (91%) responded that they had between one and five hectares. In most cases these small holdings of land were divided into various plots, each distant from each other. On this basis peasants could not even feed their families properly. If one takes into account the fact that in many cases some of that land was given on a sharecropper arrangement, life was a miserable endeavor for most peasants.
Italian immigrants left their country of birth for a host of reasons, the most important being the following: chronic unemployment, scarcity of land, and outright poverty.
Table 4 shows the various reasons for emigrating offered by interviewees.
The sample also reveals that a good proportion of the Italian immigrants to Calgary had some previous experience as immigrants in other parts of the world.
Table 5 lists the countries in which Italian immigrants to Calgary had lived before coming to Canada. The majority of interviewees report having been to France or to Belgium, which took them as either peasant or miner, following the Treaty of Rome (1957). This treaty officially opened the door to immigrant labor, but without their families. A few years later, the European Economic Community fully opened the door to thousands of immigrants and their families from southern Europe.
Chain migration is a recurrent theme of migration literature. As a concept it is very useful for understanding how kinship ties and local (village) or regional allegiance of immigrants are embedded in migration patterns. To the question "Did you join other family members in Canada [Calgary]?", most interviewees responded positively (77% said yes). Family was a strong force in the immigrant's decision to come to Calgary: aunts, nephews, fathers, siblings, played a key role in supporting new immigrants in their adjustment to a new social environment.
The article is reprinted with permission of the author David Aliagu and
the publisher Canadian Ethnic Studies / …tudes ethniques au Canada
Journal, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Calgary.