Interview with Alessandro Biffi

Alessandro Biffi’s father, Alberto Severo Biffi, was born in Monza, Italy and immigrated to Montreal in 1912. When World War I broke out Alessandro’s father enlisted in the Canadian army. Then in 1915, after hearing that Italy had entered the war on the side of the Allies he asked to be transferred to the Italian army, where he served again on the side of the Allied forces. Despite his dedication to his new country, he was arrested while on his lunch break at work in June of 1940 and interned as an enemy alien in Petawawa for two years during World War II. Alberto Severo Biffi was a successful importer of Italian goods at the time of his arrest and was also an important member of the Italian community. He was the secretary for the fascio organization run out of the Casa d’Italia and had ties to the Italian consul. He was also involved in the community life of greater Montreal, including involvement with the Liberal Party. He married a French woman whose family was from Normandy, and they and their son spoke French at home. After his return from the internment camp in Petawawa, Biffi successfully built up his business again, and his family enjoyed a similar standard of living as before his internment, although they did move to a smaller apartment in Montreal, where they stayed until the end of their lives. Alberto Severo Biffi died of a heart attack in 1955. His son Alessandro, who was 10 years old at the time of his father’s arrest, recalls the time of World War II in his family’s history. He also reflects on the effect that his father’s internment had on his own life and the relatively lucky and privileged situation of their family in the greater Italian community, as well as the fact that his family had more ties to Canadian Montreal than many other Italians. Alessandro also recalls the irony of the fact that he himself spent his life teaching physics at the Collège Militaire de Saint-Jean, a place where Italian Canadian men were held before being sent to internment camps.