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In the early 1950s, Canadian immigration policy concentrated on the admission of close
relatives of immigrants who were already established in the country. Southern Italians,
with their strong ties to la famiglia, took advantage of the
sponsorship system. The pre-war migrants did everything required of
them, and more, to facilitate immigration for their relatives. They
contacted immigration officials, secured employment and loaned money for
the voyage. Since relatives received priority in the immigration
process, and since many of these migrants lacked the skills to be
admitted under another category, sponsorship quickly became most the
popular method of entering Canada. It was so popular, in fact, that
after 1955, "the sponsorship of relatives took up so much of the Italian
quota that practically no open placement recruitment of Italian
immigrants took place." These new immigrants, in turn, sponsored other
relatives, who then sponsored other relatives, thus forming a chain
By the end of the 1950s, partially as a result of chain migration, southern Italians began to outnumber northern and central Italian
immigrants in Canada by a significant margin. Of the 250,000 Italians who entered Canada between 1946 and 1961, nearly 60% were from
il mezzogiorno. Roughly 20% of those were from the regions of Calabria and
Abruzzo-Molise. In Calgary, most of the post-war migration also came from Calabria and
Abruzzo-Molise, with smaller percentages from Campania, Puglia and the northern regions of
Veneto, Friuli and Piemonte.
In the 1950s, the Canadian economy had expanded rapidly, and the labour force had grown to meet the demand. Many unskilled immigrants quickly found
employment in the construction industry or as farm
labourers. After 1960 Canada became less agrarian, and industrialization was accompanied by urbanization. The new immigration policy of 1962 reflected the needs of the labour market by placing more emphasis on the individual immigrant's education, job training and skills, and less on his country of origin.
Under the new regulations it became increasingly difficult for sponsored relatives to enter Canada unless they met the points requirement.
As a result, Italian immigration fell sharply, and by the
early 1970s, it made up only 3.8% of all immigration into
The restrictions initiated in 1962 did little, however, to stop the flow of Italians into Calgary. The Italian community grew from 4,720 in 1961 to 9,810 in
1971. In comparison with those who came in the 1950s, the 1960s group was "more educated and more consumeristic with a kaleidoscope array of skills and trades." Italians who had emigrated during the 1950s tended to be unskilled labour by occupation. The 1960s group was largely composed of skilled artisans, such as finishing carpenters, tailors and mechanics, along with geologists, engineers,
teachers, professors and other professionals, as well as unskilled labourers. Some immigrants were also tenant farmers who had learned a trade in previous migrations to West Germany, Belgium or Switzerland. However, the majority of the artisans had been trained in the
botteghe of their hometowns in Italy.
Not all of the immigrants came directly to Calgary. A few came from Calabria to join kin in Ferni, Natal and Kelowna in British Columbia, where they were horrified to discover that the only employment was in the mines or as farm labour. They usually left quickly, moving in with other relatives in Calgary.
Reprinted from "With Heart and Soul: Calgary's
Italian Community" by Antonella Fanella, with permission
from the University of Calgary Press and the author.