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     Calgary:  World War II and After

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Early Years

World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

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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 hysteria:

"War breaks out, Jean Santopinto, Mary Bussi, Dora Buccini 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. Angelina Rebaudengo.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Museum. Several males joined the Armed Forces.  Isotta (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 find accommodation.

The De Marchi's and the Cambruzzi's were married in 1957 at St. Francis Catholic Church, Calgary.   The bride was not a 'picture bride' but the picture of a bride.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Museum. NA-5590-22.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.


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