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)