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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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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 migration.

Members of the Piemontese Society of Calgary.  Back row, L-R: Mr. Coste; Mr. Musso; Mr. Ferrari; George Rosso; Unidentified; Antonio Rebaudengo; Mr. Cola; Victor Garossino; Antonio Romano; Andrea Boffa; Battista Viglietti; Tony Viglietti. Front row, L-R: Mrs. Coste; Edith Coste; Daisy Rosso; Domenica Rosso; Irma Rosso; Mrs. Cola; Domenica Boffa; [Benny Musso]; Mary Viglietti; Mrs. Viglietti.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Archives.  NA-5622-29.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 Many Italians worked in the home construction industry.  Gioacchino De Marchi and Alfredo Piccaro work on the De Marchi's house in the Silver Springs area of Calgary.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Archives.  NA-5590-26.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 Canada.

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.


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