Internment Past and Present
Redress and Apology
Fascism in Canada
Key People, Places & Terms
Enemy Aliens
Italian Canadians Today
The Return Home
Internees: <i>Female</i>
Fighting to Belong
Those Left Behind: <i>Families and Community</i>
Internees: <i>Male</i>
Why Migrate?
Life in Canada:
Community Life
The Rise of Fascism
Build Up to War
Under the Law
Under Surveillance
Becoming the Enemy
The Internment Camps
Facts & Fiction
Memories of World War II

It’s Just History…

The problem with history [is that] it is interpreted by the historian. And depending upon what kind of mindset the historian has, you may have one idea on one hand or another idea on the other hand. And sometimes trying to find the middle ground between the two of them – that's when you reach the truth. To really understand history you have to read several aspects of it.

Roger Boccini Nincheri, son of internee Berto Boccini and step-grandson of internee Guido Nincheri, Columbus Centre Collection

Canada has a history of interning populations it considers a threat to public safety. What occurred during World War II was not an isolated case.

Citing the necessities of war or emergency situations, individual rights have been suspended for the common good. The results of such actions – detainments or internments – are an ongoing challenge to modern democracies, including Canada.

In a democratic society there is room for multiple political beliefs, opinions and religions. Holding views in favour of fascism, communism or religious fundamentalism is not specific to certain communities; nor does this necessarily make a person or group of people a security risk.

While security is in the interest of all Canadians, we must strive for a balance between individual rights and public safety. This balance should be maintained especially during periods of crisis.

Can it happen again? In trying to answer this question honestly, we begin the work of ensuring it does not.

Internment Past and Present

Perhaps one of the factors which contributed to the absence of sabotage, or evidence of “5th column” activities, so far, is due to the fact that promptly upon the outbreak of war all known Nazi agents were immediately arrested by this force and placed in internment camps.

RCMP Annual Report, 1940

It was just a travesty. It was just a travesty. Certainly it wasn’t as bad as what they did to the Japanese, but that’s not the point, you know.

Rita Morreale, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

• During World War I, more than 8500 people – originating from the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman Empires as well as the Kingdom of Bulgaria – were interned in Canada.

•  Italian Canadians were not the only ethnic group interned during World War II. The Canadian government ordered the internment of roughly 800 German Canadians and 700 Japanese Canadians. And more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were forcibly relocated. Members of both the Communist Party of Canada and the Fascist National Unity Party were interned during the war.

•  In the 1950s, the Canadian government compiled lists of 16,000 suspected communists and about 50,000 communist sympathizers. Known as PROFUNC (Prominent Functionaries of the Communist Party), the individuals on these lists would be arrested and interned in the event of a war between Canada and the Soviet Union or China.

•  The War Measures Act was again introduced in 1970 during the October Crisis, when a British Trade Commissioner and Quebec’s Minister of Labour were kidnapped by members of the Front de Libération du Quebec (FLQ). About 500 people were arrested and detained for as long as three weeks. Only 62 of those arrested were charged.

•  Parallels exist between what Italians in Canada experienced during World War II and what Arab and Muslim Canadian communities experienced following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. In both cases, an environment of fear and xenophobia resulted in arrests, vandalism and violence. Court proceedings resulted in prison sentences for a few Arab and Muslim Canadians for terrorist-related offences. Others incarcerated under a security certificate have not seen the evidence against them nor been tried in a court of law. As a result, these communities have been stigmatized as enemies of the Canadian state even though the vast majority of individuals are law-abiding citizens.

•  In June 2010, during Toronto’s G20 Summit, more than 1100 people were interned for the weekend as a result of Regulation 233/10, which was created under the existing Public Works Protection Act. This regulation designated the city’s downtown as a public work thereby giving police the authority to request identification and search an individual without a warrant, if they tried to enter the area, or risk arrest. However, the way in which this regulation was enforced resulted in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. The majority of those arrested were released without being charged.

Redress and Apology

I would say to [the Prime Minister]: Look it, you have an obligation to the children of internees. They suffered hardships because your underlings exploited the authority that they had by disallowing us assistance. If I didn't have my grandparents, either my mother would be washing floors or on the streets. One of the two. So I was lucky. So, what the problem is—I mean you don't even say you're sorry. Or thank you, or go to hell.

Attilio Girardi, son of internee Bruno Girardi, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

I have more feelings towards people of Japanese descent [than Italian Canadians]. I figured they got a dirty deal when they were interned. Because to me it wasn't a selective internship for them. It was just everybody.

Rino Albanese, son of enemy alien Giovanni Albanese,  video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

I would not expect to be compensated. I'm not of that school that thinks for every little thing that goes on you have to be compensated.

Nellie Cavell, enemy alien, Vancouver, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

In as much as the soldiers have been honoured [in the Peace Tower in Ottawa], I think the people who have been falsely accused of something should be honoured in the same way. Their names should be written down as a memorial.

Sandy Corbo, granddaughter of internee Achille Corbo, Montreal, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

Attempts at redress have been controversial among Italian Canadians. Some feel that Italian Canadians should receive financial compensation or, at the very least, be given a public apology by the prime minister in the House of Commons. Others believe that it is too late for an apology since the majority of internees and enemy aliens have passed away.

Redress initiatives began after World War II. Former internees in Hamilton and Montreal petitioned the Canadian government for lost wages, lost businesses and emotional distress. They were unsuccessful.

In January 1990, the National Congress of Italian Canadians (NCIC) published a brief asking the federal government to compensate Italian internees wherever possible. They also requested that the government apologize to Italian Canadians for the treatment they received during the internment years. Later that year, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney expressed an apology at a luncheon held north of Toronto.

In Prime Minister Paul Martin’s 2005 federal budget, the Canadian government set aside $25 million to address the claims of several communities seeking redress for internment, confiscation of property and businesses, and alienation. This was called the Acknowledgement, Commemoration and Education (ACE) Program. It was not the formal apology many had hoped for, nor would it provide compensation to the families affected. The fund was designated primarily for educational initiatives. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government took office in 2006, it replaced the ACE Program with the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP), which was established to formally distribute monies to community initiatives.

In 2009 Massimo Pacetti, Liberal MP for Saint Léonard-Saint Michel, introduced Bill C-302 in the House of Commons. The bill called for the creation of a foundation to develop educational materials on Italian Canadian history – to be used in schools and cultural centres – and a commemorative stamp. Bill C-302 did not pass through the necessary stages to become law.


Things to Consider

•  The internment period is a little-known event, even among the Italian Canadian community. In fact, the majority of Italian Canadians today have a different family history of the war. Their wartime stories centre on service in the Italian military, Nazi patrols and occupation, Allied bombings, resistance efforts, as well as hunger and depravation. What happened in Canada is not part of the majority's “personal” history.

•  In 1940, the Italian community in Montreal was the largest in the country and the most affected by the internment and wartime designations. Montreal is now second to the Toronto-based Italian community, whose vast majority represents post-war immigrants. As a result, the voice of the Toronto community, with its interests and needs, is the one that is most often heard in public.

•  The Italian Canadian community has not embraced the internment as part of its collective history. Although much valuable work was undertaken in the 1990s, it has not taken root. A genuine debate and dialogue throughout the community did not result; and as a consequence, the community does not have a unified position to advocate to the Canadian government and the Canadian public.

Fascism in Canada

I don’t think that they really believed it. I think they just joined an organization … the fascists from Saint-Henri, ninety percent of them were not educated. I think it offered them somewhere to go for a meeting, to get-together, to play cards, to have a drink and talk about their home.

Joe Mastromonaco, son of internee Giovanni Mastromonaco, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

I swear to execute without discussion the orders of il Duce and to serve with all my strength and if necessary with my blood the cause of the Fascist Revolution.

The oath that appeared on fascist membership cards, RCMP, The Organization and Activities of the Italian Fascist Party in Canada, Library and Archives Canada

I mean, [my grandfather] was proud of Victor Emmanuel. He also believed in what Mussolini was doing for the Vatican and bringing back the states to Rome, which had been confiscated. And that was one of the reasons why he supported them and I know that they had collected all their jewellery and sent it over to Italy to help Mussolini and his endeavour. And I don't think ever, ever, ever that my grandfather had anything against England or Canada.

Sandy Corbo, granddaughter of internee Achille Corbo, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

The meaning of fascism varied for Italian Canadians. Some wore black shirts and were active in a local fascist group known as the fascio. They believed in the political philosophy and supported Italian state interests in world affairs. Others responded to the positive change they felt Mussolini was bringing to Italy – political and economic stability, including infrastructure projects and increasing agricultural output. Among devoted Catholics, Mussolini was also praised for the Lateran Accords.

Italy’s fascist government considered all emigrants as Italian citizens whether or not they had become naturalized in other countries. Due to this policy, Italian consuls and vice-consuls in Canada, actively courted the community, promoting an Italian identity based on fascist propaganda and culture. This included the purchase or construction of buildings called Casa d’Italia and supporting the pro-fascist press in Canada, both financially and editorially. The consuls and vice-consuls also oversaw the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio Estero (Italian Lictor Youth) and the Dopolavoro.

Fascism was not exclusive to Italian neighbourhoods. During the 1920s and 1930s, fascist organizations existed among English, French, and German Canadians. The most well-known fascist leader of the time was Montreal’s Adrien Arcand of the National Unity Party (NUP). Arcand and members of the NUP were also interned during World War II.

Key People, Places & Terms

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945): The leader of the Nazi Party (1920-1945), he was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and became President in 1934. Under his leadership, Germany rearmed itself and invaded Poland in September 1939 sparking World War II. Hitler and the Nazi Party’s anti-Semitism led to the systematic and state-sponsored murder of roughly 6 million Jews, known as the Holocaust. Other victims of the Nazi death camps included Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, Roma, Polish civilians, people with disabilities, and political opponents. Hitler committed suicide in 1945 after Soviet forces entered Berlin.

Adrien Arcand (1899-1967) & National Unity Party (NUP) (1934-1940): A Montreal-based journalist and activist who led a handful of fascist groups throughout his life – most notably the National Unity Party (NUP). He was a supporter of Adolf Hitler and shared the dictator’s anti-Semitic views. Arcand and other members of the NUP were interned during World War II.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945): A former socialist who became a nationalist and militarist fascist over the course of World War I. Mussolini was also one of the founding members of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF). As the PNF became more powerful, Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III invited Mussolini to form a government. This led to a 21 year reign as Il Duce. Following the Allied invasion of Italy in the summer of 1943, he was imprisoned only to be freed by German special forces and installed as the Head of State for the Italian Social Republic – an area of Italy under German occupation – headquartered at Salò, Lombardy. In April 1945, Mussolini was forced to flee Salò due to the advance of the Allies. While trying to flee to Switzerland, he was captured by Italian partisans, executed, and taken to Milan where his body was hung from a gas station to confirm that he was dead.      

Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS): The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was created in 1984. It is responsible for protecting Canada’s national security from internal and external threats. Its primary role is that of intelligence rather than law enforcement, conducting national security investigations and collecting security intelligence both in Canada and abroad.

Casa d’Italia: An Italian social and political centre that housed fascist organizations such as the dopolavoro, Gioventù Italiana del Littorio Estero, and the local fascio. Casa d’Italias also provided offices for the Order Sons of Italy, musical bands, and theatre groups. These buildings were constructed during the fascist years and often displayed fascist symbols. The Hamilton Casa d’Italia, for example, had the symbol of the fasces (bundle of sticks) built into the floor.  

Communism: A political, social, and economic movement on the left of the political spectrum that seeks to create a classless – and ultimately stateless – society where waged labour and private property would not exist and all land, resources, and manufactured items would be shared in common. 

Consular: Is the word used to describe the services that a country provides for its citizens abroad. This network includes embassies, high commissions, and consulates headed by honorary consuls – in this context, an Italian political representative working as the president of a consular office. These offices provide different levels of services to immigrants abroad, including, but not limited to, passport services, citizenship papers, repatriation services, studying in Italy services, etc. 

Custodian of Enemy Property (CEP): A branch of the Canadian government that oversaw the administration of assets belonging to internees and other enemy aliens. Hon. Pierre Casgrain was the Custodian of Enemy Property, and also the Secretary of State. The office served a dual function. Acting as a trustee for the internee/enemy alien, the office and its agents also protected the interests of the creditors. The CEP would pay off an internee’s debts by selling his or her property or businesses. It also collected money owed to internees by others. Each accounting firm hired by the CEP would bill an internee for administrative costs even though internees did not ask for the CEP to be involved. 

Dopolavoro: A fascist recreational and social organization created in 1925 to challenge socialist cultural leagues in Italy. The dopolavoro provided sporting and outdoor activities to its members as well as libraries stocked with fascist literature. The purpose of the dopolavoro was to turn Italians into supporters of the fascist movement and find potential recruits for the fascio. However, many members joined for the leisure activities and not necessarily for the fascist politics. Though it was created in Italy, the dopolavoro was exported to countries where Italian communities existed. In Canada, the dopolavoro was overseen by Italian consular officials.    

Enemy Alien: The term commonly used in relation to individuals of nations at war with Canada and living in Canada during World War II. In this context, It referred to Italian citizens and those Italians who had been born in Italy, but were naturalized as British subjects after September 1, 1922. In some cases, even Canadian-born Italians were designated as enemy aliens. As such, individuals had to report to local Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachments once a month.   

Ethiopian War (1935-1936): The war, officially known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, began on October 3, 1935 when Italian forces from Eritrea invaded Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia). Although both countries were members of the League of Nations, the organization was slow to impose sanctions on Italy and lacked the strength to enforce these sanctions. On May 5, 1936 when Italian forces captured the capital of Addis Ababa, all sanctions were dropped and Ethiopia was merged with other Italian colonies and became Italian East Africa. Italian East Africa was disassembled by the Allies in 1943.

Fascio: A group related to the Fascist Party of Italy in its mandate and funding, and tied to the work of the Italian diplomatic representatives of that time in Canadian cities and towns. A fascio was often named after someone of significance to the fascist movement. Vancouver’s Circolo Giulio Giordani, for instance, took its name from a rightwing lawyer and decorated veteran of the World War I who was killed in a gunfight between fascists and socialists.     

Fascio Femminile: The women's section of the fascio.

Fifth Column: The term originated in 1936 when Emilio Mola (1887-1937), a Nationalist General during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), noted that the four columns of his forces outside Madrid would be supported by a "fifth column" of his supporters inside the city. The term was used extensively in Britain in the early stages of World War II to explain the internment of German nationals, and subsequently was used in the United States and Canada.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945): The 32nd President of the United States (1933–1945). Officially the United States remained neutral at the outset of World War II until the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. After this date Roosevelt worked closely with Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom and Russia’s Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) in leading the Allies against Germany and Japan in World War II.

Giacomo Matteotti (1885-1924): An Italian socialist elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies. He was an outspoken critic of fascism. In 1924, Matteotti was kidnapped and killed by fascists.

Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928): Elected Prime Minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921. Described as a left-leaning liberal, Giolitti's time in office led to social reforms, infrastructure projects and the nationalization of the phone system and the railway. Giolitti also attempted to co-opt political opponents by inviting them to run on the same ticket. He did this first with the socialists and later the fascists.

Gioventù Italiana del Littorio Estero (GILE): Was the foreign branch of the GIL, a fascist youth organization established by the PNF in Italy on October 29, 1937. Organized under military discipline, the GILE sought to instill a love of Italy among youth and develop future generations of fascists. It provided recreational activities to both boys and girls ranging in age from 6 to 18.           

Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872): An Italian politician and activist who was instrumental in the unification of Italy. From an early age, Mazzini believed Italy should be a unified democratic republic. He is often referred to in literature as the “soul of Italy”. 

Internment Camp vs. Concentration Camp: The term concentration camp was used to refer to any camp where large numbers of civilians were held. Following World War II, a concentration camp referred specifically to those camps created by the Nazis to exterminate Jews, Roma, Communists, and others. Internment camp was then used to distinguish prisoner of war and other camps from the Nazi death camps.

Italian Canadian: In many ways Italian Canadian is a problematic term. During World War II, Canadian citizenship did not exist and those who had been born in Canada or who had been naturalized were British subjects. In addition, some of those who were interned or required to report regularly to police retained their Italian citizenship. We have chosen to use the term Italian Canadian to include all Italians living in Canada in the 1940s prior to the creation of Canadian citizenship in 1947.

James Duncan Hyndman (1874-1971): A former judge of the Supreme Court of Alberta appointed by the Canadian Minister of Justice to review the cases of internees who objected to their internment.

King Vittorio Emanuele III (1869-1947): A member of the House of Savoy and King of Italy who reigned from July 29, 1900 to May 9, 1946. He invited Benito Mussolini to form a government in 1922.  

Lateran Accords: Three agreements between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See that were ratified on June 7, 1929.  The Lateran Accords led to the Vatican becoming an independent state, affirmed Catholicism as the state religion of Italy, and began the settlement of claims by the Holy See for loss of property and territory.

League of Nations: An international organization created after World War I, to prevent war and settle international disputes. The covenant was signed in 1919 by the 32 participating nations and stated that an attack on another League member would be considered an attack on all members and result in joint action against the aggressor. The League was replaced by the United Nations in 1946. 

March on Rome: The march was carried out by members of the Partito Nazionale Fascista that occurred from October 22 to 29, 1929. This show of force on the part of the fascists resulted in Benito Mussolini being asked to govern by King Vittorio Emanuele III.

Order of Italian Canadians: A benevolent society created in 1929 in Montreal. It was comprised of antifascist lodges that had left the Order Sons of Italy due to increasing fascist interference. 

Order Sons of Italy: Founded in 1905 by Dr. Vincent Sellaro (1868-1932) in New York City, it operated as a mutual aid society for those of Italian origin. The first Canadian lodge of this fraternal organization was founded in Sault Ste. Marie in 1915. Fascists attempted to take control of this organization in the 1930s.

Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo (Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism, OVRA):  Founded in 1927, the organization served as the secret police under the Italian fascist government. Paid agents were suspected of infiltrating other organizations and groups to report on and stop any anti-Fascist activity or work.

Paesani: A term used to describe persons originating from the same village in Italy. Sometimes this can be extended to include a larger area or region in Italy, for example, two people with origins in different towns in the Abruzzo region may refer to one another as paesani. The latter definition of the term is most prevalent among Italian immigrants.

Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party): The fascist political party led by Benito Mussolini that ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943.

Risorgimento: Known as the Resurgence in English, the Risorgimento was the violent process that unified the separate kingdoms of the Italian Peninsula into a unified state in 1861.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP): Was formed in 1920 by the merger of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP, founded 1873) with the Dominion Police (founded 1868) and is the national police force of Canada. Prior to 1984 the RCMP Security Service branch oversaw specialized political intelligence and counterintelligence, until it was replaced with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Security Certificate: The current means with which the Canadian government can deport non-citizens considered a threat to national security. 

Socialism: A political philosophy that advocates for an economic system where the means of production are owned in common or by the state. Socialism also seeks a more equitable and non-hierarchical form of social organization.

La Società di Mutuo Soccorso la Trinacria: A benevolent society established by Italian migrants from Sicily, one of the oldest Italian organizations in Toronto.

Treaty of Versailles: This treaty was signed between Germany and the Allies on June 28, 1919, and ended World War I. The treaty resulted in Germany accepting sole responsibility for the conflict and required the country to pay large reparations and disarm. 

William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950): The longest-serving Canadian Prime Minister; he served three terms between 1921 and 1948. He was leader of the Liberal Party from the 1920s through to the 1940s, and led Canada through World War II. In 1937, King was the only North American head of government to visit Germany and meet with Adolf Hitler. In the 1930s when Germany began to rearm herself, King informed the British government that Canada would remain neutral and would only go to war if Britain was directly attacked. However, in August of 1939, King realized that war on a larger scale was imminent and began to mobilize Canadian troops. During the war King worked closely with Roosevelt ensuring close cooperation of Canadian and American forces.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965): In the years leading up to World War II, Churchill was outspoken about the danger posed by Adolf Hitler and the need for Britain to begin to rearm herself. When war eventually broke out he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, a role he held during World War I. On May 10, 1940 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) officially resigned and Churchill became Conservative Prime Minister and lead the United Kingdom through World War II.

Enemy Aliens

I believe war was declared in June – June 10. And [my mother] was pregnant with me at the time. There was roughly three weeks where she would have had to report to the RCMP. And they had no cars. There really wasn’t much transportation because I remember when we used to travel up to Copper Cliff later on when we moved to Sudbury, we had to go through mountains to get to a bus. And of course, she was nine months pregnant. And I remember her telling me that Dad went to the RCMP and said, ”This is not acceptable.” So that’s what she had to go through. He didn’t have to report, but she did.

Noreen Alberico, daughter of enemy alien Yolanda Andreoni Gaggi, Sudbury, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

I was going to report every month to the RCMP in Edmonton. The RCMP officer said to me, “Why are you coming here every month with that paper?” I says, “Cause I was told from the RCMP in Cadomin.” “Oh”, he said, “Wait a minute.” So he went back. He came back, put a stamp on it. He says, “Don't come back.” So I guess he realized, you know. I guess I was about 17, 18, by then. What damage could I do?

Assunta Dotto, Edmonton, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

Not all Italian Canadians considered a threat to Canada were interned. About 31,000 men, women and children were registered as enemy aliens, and they reported monthly to local authorities known as registrars. Appointed by the Minister of Justice, registrars were provincial or municipal police officers as well as postal clerks. Each enemy alien was asked a series of questions, namely age, address, place of work, and number of family members.

It is not clear how authorities decided who would have to report regularly. Those who were released after their initial arrest signed a form stating that they would obey the laws of Canada, not hinder the war effort, and report monthly. Both naturalized and, in some cases, Canadian-born individuals were required to do this.

The process was inconsistent. Some showed up at local police stations only to be told they did not have to return while others had to continue to report. Those who reported monthly were required under the Defence of Canada Regulations (DOCR) to carry an “identification document.” However, the types of paperwork varied. Some carried a Certificate of Parole that was signed by a registrar; others had a registration card that identified them as enemy aliens.

Italian Canadians Today

[The] actions [of the Italian government] threw the Italian community of Toronto into a most unfavourable and unjust light.  However, the subsequent action of Canadians of Italian extraction in Canada during the war was a sufficient answer to their critics.  They proved themselves to be loyal, reliable and intelligent Canadian citizens, valuable members of the Canadian community.

Arthur W. Roebuck, Liberal Member of Parliament, in a letter to Eliseo Orlando, ex-internee, October 16, 1951

Today, Italian Canadians are a successful group. They are businessmen, skilled professionals, artists and innovators in every field.

Immediately after the war, however, the Italian Canadian community became fragmented. Individuals feared being targeted again by the Canadian government. Those who were affected by the War Measures Act attempted to return to a normal life as quickly as possible. Others anglicized their names to escape the stigma associated with being Italian.

Once released, many of the internees and their families had no choice but to start over. Italian Canadians also had to work to rebuild community organizations.

There were many changes as a result of the massive influx of new immigrants from Italy. In the post-war years, from 1950 to 1970, Canada saw its highest numbers of Italian immigrants yet. Numbering about 500,000, these new Italian Canadians surpassed the number of earlier immigrants. As a result, they began to redefine what it meant to be Italian Canadian.

Although some Italian Canadians were cautious about associating with the “new” Italians, for the most part, the existing community welcomed the new arrivals. By working together, the community benefitted from Canada’s post-war boom and the Canadian government’s approval of the Multiculturalism Act. Italian Canadians became identified with strong family values and a solid work ethic, which played an important role in building the infrastructure of cities and in the construction industry in general. Although Italian Canadians are still challenged by the harmful stereotypes of the past, they have flourished and are now firmly established in Canada.


Post-War Realities

•  All internees had their assets administered by the Custodian of Enemy Property. In some cases, an internee's properties and personal belongings were sold at a fraction of their worth. Although some internees were able to return to their jobs, many others had to find new employment.

•  The Casa d’Italia buildings were seized by the Canadian government in June 1940. In 1947, the Italian Canadian community of Montreal petitioned successfully to have the Casa d’Italia on Jean Talon St. returned to them. In Toronto, in 1962, after a long battle, the Casa d’Italia on Beverly St. was returned to the community. The Order Sons of Italy lodges re-convened, but many former members were afraid to rejoin the organization, fearful that their membership in such a group might again be used against them.

•  After their homeland was torn apart during World War II, many Italians migrated to escape poor economic conditions. The post-war immigrants gravitated to the existing Little Italies, which provided a place where they could meet other Italian newcomers. They were able to maintain their culture and traditions. And a new language was born: Italiese is the blend of Italian and English. By 1980, the Italian Canadian community had become one of the largest in Canada after the English and French Canadian. The majority of these new immigrants settled in the Greater Toronto Area, thereby shifting the base away from Montreal, which had had the largest Italian community in Canada prior to the war.


It is an established fact that all disciplined members of the Fascio are at the disposal of the Italian Government and its agents. Therefore, every release from internment will strengthen the hands of the enemy and make the situation with respect to civil and industrial security more precarious in this country.

S.T. Wood, RCMP Commissioner, letter to Minister of Justice E. Lapointe, April 25, 1941, Library and Archives Canada

Although on many occasions I have requested the production of some evidence to substantiate unsworn, and even unsigned allegations, with the exception of one of two instances, none has been produced, and against these allegations I have the sworn denials of the parties themselves, as well as evidence of highly placed individuals such as the Clergy, Members of Parliament, Doctors, Lawyers, etc. If the opinions of citizens such as these are not to be relied upon, I am at a loss to know what can be done in connection with this work.

J.D. Hyndman, Memo to Minister of Justice E. Lapointe, May 1, 1941, Library and Archives Canada

Release from camp occurred in a several ways:


Under the DOCR (Defence of Canada Regulations), after 30 days, internees could formally object to their detention to an advisory committee appointed by the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice then appointed a judge to review the internee’s case. This meant an examination of the RCMP’s evidence against the internee, meetings with the internee, and interviews with witnesses who could attest to the internee’s character. After this, the judge either recommended an internee’s release or continued internment to the Minister of Justice.  One of these judges was J.D. Hyndman, who often requested the release of internees he had interviewed.

The more affluent internees were able to hire lawyers to represent them during their hearings with an appointed judge. Legal counsel was not available to the majority of internees.

Compassionate Grounds

A release on compassionate grounds could occur if an internee was ill, an amputee, or suffered from partial paralysis. Montreal’s Ernesto Alovisi had undergone an operation as part of his cancer treatment prior to being interned. His recovery was affected by life at the camp, and he was released after seven weeks.

Mistaken Arrest

Agostino Badali, a 40-year-old fruit peddler from Toronto, was mistakenly arrested and interned because he shared the same name as a 25-year-old fascist also living in Toronto. Badali had been interned for three weeks before the error was discovered. He was released a week later. In the meantime, the younger Agostino Badali was arrested and sent to Petawawa. He remained interned until December 1941.

In a few cases, released internees were re-interned. However, it is unclear why this happened. It could be that these internees failed to properly follow their release conditions, such as reporting to RCMP before leaving their home city.

Most Italian Canadian internees were released well before the end of the war. The last internee released seems to be Nello Trasciatti, who was freed from Fredericton Internment Camp on July 6, 1945.

The Return Home

I claim damage for injuries sustained to my heart and health and paralysis to my left side for the rest of my life while in the internment camp... You have ruined my health for life. There is no money in the world that can pay for my health. I was an innocent man but you put me in jail and in the camp. 

James Poggi, internee, letter to Custodian of Enemy Property, March 29, 1943, Library and Archives Canada

My father didn't mind being out in the woods. They made 20 cents a day… He had his room and board and as long as the family was getting on… He said, "It was two years. My vacation!’" 

Esperando Razzolini, son of internee Rodolfo Razzolini, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

It is difficult to imagine the emotional toll that the internment had on internees and their families. Homecomings were very emotional with tears, joy, relief and, in some cases, anguish. Internees had to reacquaint themselves with spouses and children they had not seen for one year or longer. After the reunion, families resumed their daily routine – making a living, running a business, raising a family – as best they could.

But many internees suffered. The older ones had to endure long-term unemployment, and often the loss of status as former community leaders. Having to rebuild left some internees bitter about their internment. This anger could play out at home. Some fathers returned from camp stricter and less affectionate. Others returned as shadows of their former selves.  Physical changes also occurred with internees having lost weight or seeing their hair turn completely grey.

A minority found their time in camp to be tolerable, making the best of the fact that they were housed, fed and far removed from the daily struggles of life as immigrants. However, the one thing internees had in common was their unwillingness to speak of their internment experiences with their families. They preferred to forget. Some reminisced about time in “the college” with their former campmates. But it was more likely that no discussion occurred on the subject. For many families, internment was a forbidden subject.


I remember walking down those steps, and at the bottom of the steps there were three boys. Bigger than me, because I think at that time I was in Grade 6 maybe. So these kids were maybe in Grade 8. When I got to the bottom of the steps, they really began to push me around, punch me. I asked them, "What are you doing?" They said, "Your people are killing our people." From that day forward, I had a terrible time for a few weeks. Every day I pretty well had to run home from school. My clothes were torn. They beat me up and called me a wop and a dago.

Ed De Toro, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

The word was that they couldn’t hire enemy aliens. And so [my father] went and he’d find jobs. Fortunately our name doesn’t sound Italian and he’d find jobs. But as soon as they found out he was Italian, he’d be out of work again. So most of his jobs were catch as catch can. He worked driving a bulldozer. He worked for a contractor – happened to be an Italian contractor. As a watchman, night watchman. Various things like that, just enough to try and make money to keep things going.

Doug Brombal, son of Nereo Brombal, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection 

Like other migrant groups, Italians faced discrimination upon their arrival in Canada in the late 19th century. Their language, customs, and foods were strange to the Canadian host society. Italians were stereotyped as overly passionate, violent, and possibly involved in criminal activities.

Following Mussolini’s declaration of war, anti-Italian sentiment was exacerbated. In addition to being labelled enemy aliens, Italian Canadians lost jobs, were physically attacked, and were called racist names. Some Italian stores were boycotted or had their windows smashed.

There was a mixed reaction to the internment within the Italian Canadian community. Some Italian Canadians avoided friends who had an interned family member. Others provided moral and financial support. For instance, store owners provided families with credit and neighbours brought food to those in need.

Even with anti-Italian sentiment at its peak, non-Italians spoke out against the discrimination of Italian Canadians. Articles in Saturday Night magazine questioned the internment of Italian and German Canadians without due process. However, many others wrote that the actions taken against Italian Canadians were justified.

In various cities, Italian Canadians gathered publicly to demonstrate their loyalty to Canada. Those who attended a gathering in Timmins, Ontario, passed a resolution that stated: “The Italian-Canadians … here assembled … re-affirm their undivided loyalty to the land of their adoption and attest their willingness to serve in any eventuality – to fight and die if need be – for the British Crown.” (Timmins Daily Press, June 19, 1940)

Internees: Female

I am sending my mother a picture of my son, and I wonder if you could please let her have it. It is the first little grandson she has and I would like it very much if she could have it. Please try and let her have it and If you can’t give it to her send it back to me, as my address is on the outside of the picture.

From the letter written by the daughter of internee Maria Pressello to the warden of the Kingston Prison for Women, Library and Archives Canada

During World War II, 21 women were interned: 17 German Canadians and 4 Italian Canadians. The women were held at the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ontario, and kept in a separate wing known as the Internment Quarters. It was thought that the prison would be more comfortable than a camp. Due to the small number of women internees, the prison was also less costly than constructing a women-only camp.

Women could work in the prison. They were paid for their labour but the amount is unknown. At least one of the Italian women was involved in kitchen work.

Women internees also received letters and care packages from family. Family members could visit the prison, but meetings were limited to 15 minutes and supervised by a guard. If the visit was conducted in Italian, a translator was provided at the internee’s cost.

Women were allowed access to a radio – under strict supervision – in a common area near their cells. Recreational activities included crafts such as knitting, playing Chinese checkers and weekly visits to the prison yard. The prison also had a library. During Christmas, they were given a daily stipend to use towards extra food and entertainment.



Maria Egilda Fontanella

Fontanella had been living in Canada since 1924 and applied for naturalization in 1939. Her application was denied because she had been secretary of Toronto’s Fascio Femminile. Fontanella was 55. She was interned for five months.

Luisa Guagneli

Guagneli arrived in Canada in 1925 and was married that same year. She was 41 years old when she was interned on September 14, 1940. A housewife, Guagneli volunteered her time at the Italian school and was president of the Women’s Section of the Order Sons of Italy in Niagara Falls. These activities led to her five-month internment.

Verna Lo Bosco

Welland’s Verna Lo Bosco was born in Canada in 1911. She worked as a bookkeeper for a local brewery and taught Italian after work.  Her teaching led to a fascist-government subsidized trip to Italy in 1938. This trip, and the reporting it received in the pages of the fascist newspaper Il Bollettino, was used by RCMP to justify Lo Bosco’s internment. She spent almost ten months at Kingston’s Prison for Women.

Maria Pressello

Pressello was a 53-year-old widower living in Windsor when she was interned. Of the four Italian women internees, she spent the longest time at the Kingston Prison for Women: almost 13 months. No evidence exists that she was involved in any fascist organizations.

Detained – 9

Fosca Giubilei
Giuseppina Di Ioia
Antonietta Mancuso
Rosa Spinelli
Carmela Frascarelli
Maria Spaziani
Filomena Riccio
Etelvina Frediani
Francesca Olivieri

Fighting to Belong

During [my father’s camp] interview he sat down with a tribunal [and was told], "You can convince us that you're not a threat by joining the Canadian army and fighting for Canada." My dad said, "Fine, I'll join the army if you guarantee not to send me to Italy because I refuse to fire a rifle at any of my paesani, any of my friends." They said, "We can't guarantee you that." He said, "Good, send me [back] to the camp.

Leonard Tenisci, son of internee Fiorvante Tenisci, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

That's when we joined up the 102nd and we were in the platoon...And they had weekly orders that come up posted and they had posted [I was] to receive a Lance Corporal's stripe on our jackets. Well when the CCO got a hold of that, he called me in his office and he went up and down me like you wouldn't believe...I found that moment with the [CCO's] office most embarassing, deragotory, bad name calling Italian and that he would never give me a Corporal stripe. He didn't like Italians. 

Joseph Brescia, enemy alien, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

My Aunt has tried in every way at her disposal to have her husband released, but all her efforts have proven futile, thus I was prompted to write this message to you. Auntie Paonessa is an elderly woman…it makes me feel sick, to see them suffering from such want and privation. I cannot help feeling a little bitter about the whole thing…Sir, being a Canadian and being in the Canadian Army…I can readily understand the detention of anyone who may do harm to this country. But not my Uncle Joe, Sir, he is such a quiet, easy going person, who never spoke anything but of the highest of this country, Canada.

Walter Bula, nephew of internee Giuseppe Paonessa, letter to Mr. McPherson, March 19, 1941, Library and Archives Canada

Italian Canadians enlisted in the Canadian military following the declaration of war against Germany. Most were motivated to join because of a sense of duty to Canada. Others sought adventure, an income or simply joined because their friends had done so.

The decision by some Italian Canadians to join the army helped reduce the stigma of being perceived as enemy aliens. Still, anti-Italian hostility continued to exist within the Canadian military.

Male internees in their twenties were asked to prove their loyalty to Canada and regain their freedom by enlisting in the Canadian army. It is not known whether any internees did so. Some refused to join the army for fear of fighting against family and friends in Italy.


Divided Loyalties

Ironically, there were cases where enlisted Italian Canadians had fathers in internment camps. Internee Libero Sauro, for instance, had five sons serving in the war. Even enemy aliens joined the military. Thunder Bay’s Joseph Brescia was still reporting when he began his basic training.

Those Left Behind: Families and Community

Thank God that my mother had her mother and father here. Otherwise we would have starved or my mother would have had to do something to support us. I don't know what she could have done because she was not educated. The Canadian government refused to give us any assistance because we were a family of enemy aliens. I don't understand to this date. My father, my mother, myself, we’re all born in Vancouver. And we were born Canadians. Yet, we were treated like enemy aliens.

Attilio Girardi, son of internee Bruno Girardi,  video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

I think we were not allowed to go right away. I think it was a year later. And my grandmother, my mother, and myself, we went. And I remember my mother saying to me, "Now listen, when you see your father, it's a little while he's in camp. He might be thin. He might not look too well. I don't want you to make a comment or anything.” We get there [and my father] looks like a flower. He's just great. And he has a big scab on his right elbow. So my mother said "What happened to your arm?" “Oh,” he said, "we were playing rugby and I fell." My mother said, "Per la Madonna…" She says, “Here I am in three jobs, working, everything and they're you know…"

Vladimira Dalle Vedove Tontini, daughter of internee Angelo Dalle Vedove, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

The majority of internees were men with families, and often the sole breadwinners. The assets of most internees were seized by the Custodian of Enemy Property. Bank accounts were frozen. Wives, or other family members, had to request the government’s permission to access funds. The women did whatever it took to make ends meet. They worked as seamstresses, provided laundry and housekeeping services, and took in boarders. In the husbands’ absence, they managed the family business with the government overseeing their activities.

Families had to adjust to the trauma of having a spouse or parent taken away by police with little or no explanation. In some cases, they did not know the whereabouts of their loved ones for weeks. Notification of internment came when internees sent letters from camp.

Families were actively involved in approaching lawyers, priests, and local Members of Parliament in an attempt to have internees freed. There were also those who tried to profit from the suffering of internee families. In Guelph, the father of an internee was asked for a large sum of money to secure a release. Such cases also occurred in Windsor and Montreal.

Internees: Male

Send me the following: 2 packs of playing cards, milk of magnesia, California ripe olives, Yardley Solidified Brillatine, couple lbs. sliced cooked ham, ½ gallon olive oil if you can get it, vinegar (some of our friends here receive quite a lot of lettuce and other vegetables so we use quite a bit of oil). Also send 2 pairs of winter underwear, 2 pairs of mitts (not gloves). Do not send any more apple juice we do not like. Can you send honey dew? That’s all for now. …  P.S. Do not forget 50 packages of cigarettes.

Internee Leo Mascioli in a letter to his son Dan, courtesy of Paula Mascioli, Columbus Centre Collection

Internees were sent to camp by train. On arrival, they handed over any personal possessions and received two sets of summer and winter camp clothing. This included a winter jacket, work boots, wool socks, undergarments, and one light and one heavy cap. The clothing was blue with the exception of a large red circle on the back of each shirt and jacket. These circles served as a sniper target in case of an attempted escape. An internee’s camp pants had a red stripe that ran down the pant leg from the hip to the bottom of the leg. A red stripe was also present on the caps provided to internees. The stripe began at the back of the cap and continued to the edge of the visor.

After an internee had changed into his camp uniform, he appeared before the camp commandant to go over the camp rules. Each group (German, Italian, anti-fascist) within the camp had a spokesperson, who was recognized in this role by the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa, and who was present during the first meeting with the commandant. The spokesperson was the contact between internees and the camp commandant. He gave the commandant’s orders to the internees, held regular meetings with the barracks leaders, and distributed the internees’ mail. In Petawawa and Fredericton, Montreal lawyer Mario Lattoni performed this role.  Another lawyer, Vancouver’s Ennio Fabri, was the spokesperson in Kananaskis.

Life at the camp was based on military discipline and was heavily regimented. Internees saluted all officers of the rank of sergeant-major and higher, referring to them as “Sir.”


The internees included labourers, tailors, contractors, priests, doctors, lawyers as well as convicted and suspected criminals.

Internees who were under sixty years old did manual labour or vocational work. Manual labour included road repair, chopping wood used for cooking and heating, and maintaining the camp. Vocational work involved trade or professional tasks. For instance Dominic Nardocchio, a cobbler by trade, repaired the boots of internees and camp guards; and Dr. Luigi Pancaro worked in Petawawa’s infirmary.

Others worked where they were needed. For instance, the camp kitchen was staffed by chefs or cooks as well as others with no experience in food preparation. Internees did not work every day.

Internees were paid twenty-five cents for a day’s work. This money could be used to purchase items from the camp canteen such as toothpaste and cigarettes.


Internees were given three meals each day. Breakfast included coffee, milk, oatmeal, bacon, fruit juice and eggs. Lunch could feature soup, meat and vegetables, and omelettes. Dinners alternated between meat or fish, with vegetables and pasta. Depending on the season, internees also received apples or a salad. Bread was included with all meals. Internees also grew their own food in vegetable gardens.

Living Quarters

Internment camp barracks were wooden, single-storey structures which ranged in size depending on the camp. Each Kananaskis barrack housed 12 internees while those at Petawawa contained 60 internees. The barracks at Fredericton were the largest and had room for 160 men.

The barracks at Petawawa and Fredericton had toilets, sinks, showers, and electric lighting. Oil lamps were used for lighting in the Kananaskis huts, before electricity was introduced, but they lacked plumbing. A common latrine was used by internees at this camp.  Regardless of location, the barracks contained wooden tables and benches, and a woodstove for heating in winter. Internees slept on bunk beds with a thin mattress.

Every barrack was assigned a number and was represented by an appointed barrack leader who acted as liaison with the camp spokesperson. Internees had to keep their barracks clean. Barracks were inspected daily by the camp commandant accompanied by military police and the camp spokesperson.

Barracks were organized along ethnic and political lines. Thus, Italians did not bunk with Germans; fascists did not bunk with anti-fascists.

Recreational Activities

Internees were often lonely and bored. Recreational activities were organized during downtime. They watched films, read, played cards and chess. Sports such as hockey, soccer, baseball, and bocce were popular. Beginning in December 1941, to alleviate the internees’ homesickness at Christmastime, an annual Field Day was held at Petawawa. During this Olympic-styled event, internees competed in a variety of sports.

Internees formed bands and held concerts. Instruments were either paid for by internees or donated. Artists such as Guido Casini and Guido Nincheri did coal sketches of fellow internees. Vincenzo Poggi completed sketches as well as paintings while in camp. Internees also made elaborate wood carvings.

Writing Letters/Receiving Mail

Internees were allowed to write three letters and four postcards per month. The maximum length for letters was twenty-four lines and eight lines for postcards. Exceptions were made for those who ran businesses and had to respond to letters from the Custodian of Enemy Property. All camp letters were read by a censor. Contents deemed inappropriate were blacked out with ink. The same applied to incoming mail. Camp letters that were written in Italian were first translated into English before being read by a censor.

Internees were allowed to receive parcels from family members. These packages were searched thoroughly by camp guards before being distributed. Internees mostly received food and clothing.

Receiving mail was an important occasion for internees. For most, letters were the only contact they had with family. In rare cases, family members travelled to Petawawa for a brief meeting with a husband or father.

Why Migrate?

He had to be resilient to leave Italy to come to work as an immigré in Canada. There are those who want to escape something. I don’t think it was my father’s case. He came because he wanted to see the world and thought he could make [a] better [life] here than in Italy.

Alessandro Biffi, son of internee A.S. Biffi, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

He came alone in 1914. He was 18 then because he was born in 1896. He came alone. And the family wanted him to come and make his million and he always said all he ever got was cooties. So he never wanted to go back. He was upset with the way they wanted him to leave and come over here, so he never went back.

Doug Brombal, son of enemy alien Nereo Brombal, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

During the Risorgimento (Resurgence) – as the process of unification is known – Republican leaders such as Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi made promises to the largely peasant population in order to gain their support. Mazzini and others promised that land would be redistributed, taxes would decrease, and life would improve for all Italians. After unification, however, the life of average Italians did not change much, if at all. Land was scarce and jobs were difficult to find.

The majority of Italians who left Italy were peasant men in their early to mid-twenties. Most left Italy to look for work in order to support families at home. These men sent a portion of their earnings to parents or wives in Italy. In many cases, Italian migrants planned to make enough money to return to Italy and purchase land. However, the realities of working abroad – low wages, high living expenses, and job insecurity – made saving money very difficult.

Women usually migrated in the company of family members. Although they were not engaged in wage labour to the same degree as their male counterparts, women were also labour migrants who contributed to family incomes.

Life in Canada:

Late 19th Century to World War II

My dad always talked about the 1914 Hillside Mine disaster. My dad's friend's grandfather and his two uncles all got killed in that mine. And they were all good friends. They were very close family friends. Other than that, he just said it was a dangerous job, I mean the safety conditions weren't there.

Peter Butti, son of an enemy alien, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

As early as the 1500s, the peoples of the Italian peninsula travelled to find work. However, the mass migration of Italians began after the unification of Italy in 1861. Canada was not the first choice for many Italians during this period.

Between 1876 and 1942, roughly 18.5 million Italians migrated to other parts of Europe, Northern Africa, Australia, and North and South America. The United States was also a primary destination due to greater industrialization and need of labour. Between 1890 and 1920, 14.5 million Italians migrated to the United States. Only 126,000 came to Canada, which needed cheap labour for resource extraction, factory work and construction. As Italians travelled abroad, they brought with them cultural and political practices that had originated in Italy.

Life as a migrant was difficult. Italians were given some of the most laborious and dangerous jobs. They lacked job security and experienced discrimination on and off the job. With low wages, and in an effort to save money, they often lived a frugal lifestyle.


Early Businesses

Despite the hardships they faced as migrants in Canada, some Italians went into business for themselves and provided services within their communities and beyond. Medical practices, shoe repair shops, and grocery stores became a staple of Italian neighbourhoods. These were often family businesses with husbands, wives and children working together.

The Entrepreneur

Contracting was another popular vocation. Toronto’s James Franceschini came from humble beginnings and became a millionaire. He established Dufferin Construction and received numerous lucrative contracts, from different provincial governments, to work on road construction and other projects.

Community Life

Oh, there was very little [in the way of social activities]. Just home parties and that's about it. They [would] have an annual picnic every year. Yet they still go on with it where they serve pasta and a lot of Italian food.

Mary Biollo Doyle, daughter of internee John Oliver Doyle, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

Because of the store and the location, [my father] was also providing quite a bit of service to those other Italians in the community so that they could write home, because they couldn't read and write. My father was a representative of the Bank of Naples initially. And he would make arrangements for the physical paper work because most of them that came over were men. And then once they got established, if they were married with children, they would eventually send for their families. And my father at the time would do a lot of the paper work.

Pat Adamo, granddaughter of enemy aliens Francesco and Filomena Guzzo, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

I didn't have the leisure time and, you know, the church was our community centre. Absolutely, because we went to church. From there we had the Italian school remember? And from there we had sports. And we had choir. And we had drama. So, it took the place of the community centre. The community centres came in after the church. It was just marvelous. Sacred Heart Church was just, just marvelous. It can never be forgotten really.

Gina Benetti, daughter of enemy aliens Emilio and Angela Sanvido, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

Migrating Italians often followed relatives or paesani who had already settled in Canada. Building on these relationships, Italian communities were created across Canada. In cities and towns, Little Italies grew – havens from the sometimes hostile Canadian society. In these neighbourhoods, a migrant could speak a specific dialect without having to rely on English, and continue cultural practices established in Italy. In these communities, Italians celebrated holidays, attended church services in Italian, went to Italian restaurants, and shopped in grocery stores that imported Italian foods.


Community Organizations

Italian migrants also formed their own social organizations. The largest was the Order Sons of Italy (OSI) which first appeared in Canada in 1915. Other such groups included the Order of Italian Canadians and the Società di Mutuo Soccorso la Trinacria. For a monthly fee, these organizations provided members with benefits in case of illness or death.  The organizations also held regular fundraising events in support of their work.

Italian Canadian Press

Prior to World War II, the Canadian mainstream press did not report news about Italian Canadian communities. As a result, as early as the 1890s, Italian Canadians established their own press. Newspapers such as Montreal’s L’Araldo del Canada and Toronto’s Il Progresso Italo-Canadese reported on events in Italy and in the Italian Canadian communities they served. These were patriotic publications that supported the Italian government but also helped Italian migrants to integrate into Canadian society. Explicitly fascist newspapers began to appear in the 1930s.

The Rise of Fascism

It was really because of my strong sense of patriotism.  I remember the disorder that reigned in Italy at the end of World War II. The country was paralyzed by strikes, farmers spread over the countryside snatching up land, the trains didn’t arrive on time, Italy had fallen in the clutches of socialists who were at the root of our social problems.

Internee Gentile Dieni on why he became a fascist, Fascism and the Italians of Montreal: An Oral History, 1922-1945

Fascism glorifies the state, nationalism, war, and empire. A right-wing political philosophy, it emerged in Italy towards the end of World War I.

In 1919, some Italians began to seize land and occupy factories in an attempt to assert worker control. As a result, wealthy landowners and industrialists called upon Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti to restore order. When he failed to act decisively on the matter, these elites organized groups known as blackshirts – identified by the colour of shirt they wore. And these bands of blackshirts formed the basis of the Italian fascist movement. As the influence of fascism continued to grow in Italy – most notably after the March on Rome – Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III invited Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party (PNF), to form a government in October 1922.

From its beginnings, Mussolini’s authoritarian regime used violence and murder to silence its critics. In 1924, members of the PNF assassinated Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, because of his anti-fascist speeches. Four years later, all other political parties were outlawed and freedom of the press ended.

The leaders of western countries seemed to ignore these realities. In the midst of the Great Depression, fascism seemed a powerful solution to ailing economies and the threat of socialism. In fact, Italy fared no better than other countries during the 1930s.

In his diary, William Lyon Mackenzie King described Mussolini as “a truly remarkable man of force of genius, fine purpose, a great patriot.” (The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King, September 27, 1928, 271) And in the early 1930s, Winston Churchill called Mussolini the “Roman genius ... the greatest lawgiver among men.” (Winston S. Churchill, Volume V: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939, 456-457)

These positive assessments of Mussolini changed after the invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. In response, the League of Nations voted in favour of sanctions against Italy. The sanctions were largely ineffective.


Few Canadians suspect that the Italian Foreign Office directs the lives and activities of scores of thousands of Italian-Canadians. Consuls are empowered by Mussolini to appoint officers for the Italian organizations even when these are registered under Canadian laws. Holding power of intimidation through relatives in Italy who are actually hostages, the consuls do pretty well what they please in Italian colonies of at least 50 cities and towns of Canada. They maintain the Casas d'Italia in which they have their offices so as to have an excuse for being in the buildings and under this cover, have headquarters for Fascist propaganda.

Article in NOW, antifascist newspaper, Courtesy of Windsor Community Museum

I raised my hand [to speak], but the consul did not recognize me.  I called him what he was – a coward.  On the platform one of the fascist leaders in Windsor said, ‘If you have the guts, come here and speak.’  I got up as fast as I could and in five seconds I was there. I told the consul what they were – a bunch of killers, liars, and the rest. At my shoulder was a picture of the [Italian] king. I tore it off the wall, crumpled it in my hands, and threw it in the face of the consul. That started a melee. In less than a minute the whole audience was fighting each other.  The fascists retreated into one corner. …  We could hear the police sirens coming.

Antifascist Attilio Bortolotti on visit of Italian consul to Windsor in 1926, Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America

Fascist activities did not go unopposed in Italian and non-Italian communities across Canada. Anti-fascists – a general term that included communists, socialists, anarchists, and liberals – disrupted fascist events, exposed the teaching of fascism in local Italian-language schools, and fought battles in the street and in the press.

Within the pages of Toronto’s La Vittoria or Montreal’s Il Risveglio, anti-fascists exposed the dark realities of life in Italy and appealed to democratic Italians in Canada to form a united front against fascism.

Build Up to War

Firmly bound together through the inner unity of their ideologies and the comprehensive solidarity of their interests, the German and the Italian people are determined also in future to stand side by side and to strive with united effort for the securing of their Lebensraum [living space] and the maintenance of peace.  In this way, prescribed for them by history, Germany and Italy wish, in a world of unrest and disintegration, to carry out the assignment of making safe the foundations of European culture.

An excerpt from the Pact of Steel, May 22, 1939

The causes of World War II stem mostly from the outcome of the Great War. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to accept responsibility for World War I. Germany agreed to pay large reparations to the Allies, to have its borders shrink and to lose all of its African colonies. This treaty also forbade Germany from rebuilding its military.

However, by the early 1920s, Germany had begun to default on its payments. Its citizens faced a great deal of economic hardship. The country began to rearm itself.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler, Germany’s fascist dictator, wanted to regain the territory Germany had lost in both Europe and Africa as a result of World War I. He also wanted to seize new territories and create a German Empire. In 1938, Austria was annexed to Germany. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. As a result, France, Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries declared war against Germany.

In May 1939, Italy and Germany signed a treaty known as the Pact of Steel. Both powers agreed to come to each other’s aid in the event of war. Yet, in September 1939, Italy resisted joining Germany. Mussolini felt he needed more time to prepare the military, the economy and the Italian people themselves for a European conflict. With France on the verge of defeat, on June 10, 1940, Mussolini joined the war on the side of Germany. He believed that the war would end quickly and that Germany would win.

Under the Law

As I observed in another case, the regulations with regard to internment were never intended to be used as punitive measures, but merely for the purpose of preventing disloyal persons from committing sabotage or acts of a subversive character. This is the real issue in this, as in all other cases, and each case must be judged on its own merits, taking into account all the surrounding circumstances.

JD Hyndman to Minister of Justice, February 13, 1941, Library and Archives Canada

You can’t exist without freedom of expression and call yourself a democracy. So, it’s central...What’s the extent of that freedom? It’s always trying to balance the kind of interests. What are the kind of interests in preserving, for example, peace and property interests, people that shouldn’t be arbitrarily destroyed, or causing harm or the possibility or probability of harm. These are tough questions that you have to balance. The point is, dissent and disagreement are essential to the, if you like, organic growth, not just of the law, but of a democracy. But the expression of that, and the means chosen for that dissent, cannot be in violation of the law of the land. And you’re constantly looking for that balance.  And you certainly don’t want, in responding to a breach of the law of the land, there are other principles that have to be brought in. In other words, what’s the proportionate response? 

Justice Frank Iacobucci, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

The War Measures Act was first introduced by the government of Robert Borden during World War I. The Act gave the Dominion government unlimited powers to ensure that Canada was protected from any internal or external threats that might jeopardize its ability to successfully wage war. This included banning subversive political organizations and suspending foreign-language newspapers. The War Measures Act also allowed for the internment of Canadian residents born in countries or empires at war with Canada.

Over the course of World War I, a number of amendments were made to the War Measures Act. These amendments were later revised just prior to the outbreak of World War II and became known as the Defence of Canada Regulations (DOCR).

The DOCR was introduced in September 1939, prior to Canada’s formal declaration of war against Germany. Once Italy joined the war on the side of Germany, these regulations affected Italian Canadians. It was under the DOCR that the Minister of Justice had the ability to intern any individual suspected of acting “in any manner prejudicial to the public safety or the safety of the state.” Under this regulation, habeas corpus – the need to produce evidence against an internee – and the right to a fair trial were suspended.

The regulations also required certain Italian Canadians – regardless of whether they were Canadian-born or naturalized – to register with authorities and to report on a regular basis.

Under Surveillance

By a recent disposition of the superior authorities, Lieutenant Mancuso, President of the War Veterans’ Association, has been nominated a member of the Directorate of the Fascio of Montreal and has been assigned to the office of propaganda and assistance.  We congratulate Lieutenant Mancuso who is a most active element of our community and is always ready to cooperate in all patriotic manifestations.

October 27, 1934, article in L’Italia, referenced in RCMP files, “The Organization and Activities of the Italian Fascist Party in Canada,” Ottawa, 1937, Library and Archives Canada

Although one of fundamental principles of the Order is that it shall be non political, the Organization has been subjected to attempts of political influence. On looking back, one can see clearly, from a distance, how these attempts were planned. In 1934 a Grand Convention was held in Sault Ste. Marie to elect a new Grand Council of the Order. At that time and since, I believe, Italian Consuls attempted to put key men in all the Italian organizations in order to sway the opinions of their members in favour of the fascist regime; the Sons of Italy was not spared. Among the Grand Delegates present at Sault Ste. Marie was a certain Tommaso Mari, journalist, who forsed [sic] his way, I am told, to represent Lodge “Ontario” of Toronto. As I now understand Sabetta should be elected Grand Venerable of the Order, because the then Grand Venerable, Nicola Masi, or any other in the ranks, did not suit him. The Grand Delegates, not being aware of Mari’s scheme elected Dr. Sabetta Gran [sic] Venerable and Tommaso Mari himself Grant Orator; these are the two most important Offices in the Grand Council. Since then, I believe, Dr. Sabetta has always been obliging towards the Italian Consuls.

Rev. Libero Sauro, document, Facts About The Order Of Sons of Italy of Ontario Mutual Benefit Society, Columbus Centre Collection

Had the authorities who are responsible for the employment of [Bersani] been aware of his character, I am sure he would not have been taken into their service as a [Secret Agent], as they would never allow the great reputation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to be sullied

Justice Hyndman, letter to Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe, December 3, 1940, Library and Archives Canada

Lists of Italian Canadians to be interned in the event of war had been compiled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) well in advance of June 1940. In part, this information was obtained by reading the fascist press in Canada. Fascists had attempted to take control of Italian cultural and benevolent societies, such as the Order Sons of Italy (OSI), with the aid of Italian consuls. The reports of the OSI in fascist newspapers painted the entire organization and its members as fascists, but this was not the case.

The quality of the evidence against internees ranged from strong to weak. Some were seen in photographs wearing black shirts while others had more tenuous links to fascist activity, such as playing for a baseball team organized by the Dopolavoro.

Even the internment of active fascists was inconsistent. Montreal’s Gentile Dieni, whose fascist convictions led him to enlist in the Fasci Italiani all’Estero division and fight in Ethiopia, spent more than three years in camp. Yet, Etelvina Frediani, a fiduciary of the Toronto Fascio Femminile, whose fascist activism interfered with her ability to hold down a job, was not interned.



The RCMP also used informants to identify suspected fascists. These individuals belonged to the Italian Canadian community. Their motivations varied. Some gave information to authorities because of their anti-fascist convictions. Others sought to gain favour for the release of interned family members. In at least one instance, an informant sought revenge against a personal slight.

Becoming the Enemy

Scary times more or less. Intimidation if you ask me. That's what it was. We slept in the open building on the floor with a blanket and the lights on.  At night the guards would walk their way around the entire building. And the soldier with heavy boots. Boom, boom. All night. And I couldn't sleep. 

Internee on his detention at the CNE grounds, Toronto, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

We used to have a statue of Mussolini on a pedestal in the living room. So I picked up the statue, hid it under my blouse, or whatever I had on, and ran with the RCMP chasing me. And finally they caught up with me and brought me back to the house with the statue. And they confiscated that. Never saw it again.

Gloria Costantini Giroux, daughter of internee Giuseppe Costantini, recounting the day RCMP searched the family home, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

My dad was working on the farm that day. He didn't work much on the farm because we had a hired man. My dad couldn't work with the coughing he had. But that day he was working out on the farm and the policeman just picked him up and didn't even let him change his clothes. Not even take a toothbrush. Never said goodbye to all the members of his family. Nothing. They just picked him up and took him to Camp Kananaskis.

Mary Biollo Doyle, daughter of internee John Oliver Biollo, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

In a speech given on the evening of June 10, 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini informed listeners that formal declarations of war had been sent to the governments of England and France. Within minutes, word reached Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Orders were quickly given to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to arrest “persons of Italian nationality and origin who might be … capable of committing sabotage and other acts which would be detrimental to the welfare of [Canada] in the event of a war with Italy.” (Norman A. Robertson, Department of External Affairs, to Ernest Lapointe, Minister of Justice, May 29, 1940, Library and Archives Canada) This included individuals of Italian birth, living in Canada, who belonged to the fascio.

Mussolini’s decision to join the war on the side of Germany had many repercussions for Italian Canadians. Along with mass arrests and internment, many others faced enemy alien designations, loss of work, vandalism, verbal abuse, and violence. Families had to cope with the absence of a parent who was interned. In most cases, this caused a great deal of hardship.

Mass Arrests

Within half an hour of Mussolini’s declaration, police at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels were mobilized and began arresting individuals across the country. Suspects were taken from their place of work, and homes were ransacked by police in an attempt to find evidence.

Once in police custody, Italian Canadians were taken to local jails to await transfer to internment camps. Many had no idea why they found themselves in this situation. They were not told what was going to happen to them.

The Internment Camps

In a concentration camp, I saw rich and poor thrown together in a pit of hell. All worried and sad that they had to make amends. I saw people of all sorts -- of different languages. I knew them, all good people, disbelieving their sad lot in life. On Sunday, kneeling, we listened to the divine word of Father [Benedetto Basilio] Maltempi, with the hope in our hearts to see family and spouses once again. A small group of friends, learned, comforted each other. All teachers and I, a professor, wanted to be called for our honour. Sad memories of Petawawa. 

Emilio Galardo, internee, poem translated from Italian, 1940

We slept in huts and they would sleep about 60, I think. You had two or three big stoves in the middle. And we had it well organized. People that looked after the stove kept the fire going because it got awful cold out there. The cleaning was organized like the army. Who cleans the latrine, who sweep the floors...

Internee on life in the camps, Toronto, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

There were 26 internment camps in Canada during World War II. Italian Canadian males were interned in three camps:

Kananaskis, Alberta

Built specifically for German Canadians in 1939, about 48 Italian Canadians from western Canada were sent to Kananaskis in June 1940. Communists from the region were also interned at this camp. Most of the Italian Canadians were later transferred to Petawawa, in July 1941. Internees Francesco Federici, Federico Ghislieri, Frederick Lenzi and Pietro Ruocco were released from Kananaskis.

Petawawa, Ontario

Built in 1904, Petawawa first served as a military training base. During World War I it functioned as an internment camp for German and Austrian Canadians. In 1939, the camp was used for the internment of enemy aliens. German, Italian and Japanese Canadians were held there at different times during the war. The majority of Italian Canadians from central and eastern Canada were sent to Petawawa in June 1940.

Fredericton/Ripples, New Brunswick

Initially built in July 1940, Italian Canadians still considered a threat by the RCMP were transferred to the Fredericton Internment Camp from Petawawa in July 1942. This camp was the only one of its kind in eastern Canada. The first internees were 517 Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany for the United Kingdom. At the time, Winston Churchill questioned the loyalty of these refugees and sent them to Canada. They would later be released and replaced by German Canadians, and captured German and Italian merchant marines.

Facts & Fiction

It is very difficult to come up with solid figures. The information below is based on materials we have researched and can confirm. However, we expect some figures such as the number of the male internees to change as we continue to compile our research and verify information.

Italians Canadians resident in Canada in 1940


Italian Canadian male internees


Italian Canadian female internees


Average age of an internee

Coming soon

Internees who were naturalized


Internees who were Canadian-born


Internees with families (%)


Shortest amount of time spent interned

Lorenzo Baiocchi, 9 days*

Longest amount of time spent interned

Nello Trasciatti, 5 years*

Italian Canadians declared Enemy Aliens

31,000 (RCMP Annual Report, 1941)

Youngest Italian Canadian Internee

Roy Orlando, 16*

Oldest Italian Canadian Internee

Luigi Bianco, 67*

Interned at Kananaskis, Petawawa, and Fredericton

5* – Sam Valente, Mario Vincenzo Ghislieri, Adolfo Mauro, Fred Tenisci, Antonio Rebaudengo


Memories of World War II

Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens

On June 10, 1940, Italian Canadians became the Enemy.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini joined the war on the side of Germany, and declared war on France and Great Britain. Within minutes of this announcement, the Canadian government gave the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) orders to arrest Italian Canadians considered at threat to the nation's security.

Under the War Measures Act, 31,000 Italian Canadians were officially designated as enemy aliens. Of these, about 600 were taken from their homes and separated from their families. Viewed as fascist supporters, and even spies, they were held in prisons and remote camps.

None of these people were ever formally charged in a court of law.

Italian Canadians felt the repurcussions. In many cases, these events contributed to fear and hostilities in Italian Canadian communities across Canada, leading to loss of work, vandalism, verbal abuse, and violence.

Was the Canadian government justified in invoking the War Measures Act? Were these individuals traitors, potential terrorists, or a threat to Canadian democracy?

This exhibit raises many questions. It explores the issues of identity and ethnicity, the necessities of war, and the challenges of democracy and rights of citizenship. It combines historical research and personal testimonies. It explores the realities of a country at war and the remembered history of its people.

In the search for answers, this exhibit begins to tell a difficult story.

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