Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Italian Canadians

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Italian Canadians

Italian Canadians (Italian: Italo-canadesi, French: Italo-Canadiens) comprise Canadian citizens who have full or partial Italian heritage or Italians who emigrated to and reside in Canada. According to the 2011 Census of Canada, 1,488,425 Canadians (4.6% of total population) claimed full or partial Italian ancestry. The Italian Canadian population climbed by more than 12% and half (over 740,000) have combined Italian origins along with another ethnic group, mostly other European ethnic groups. Altogether, Italians are the 6th largest ethnic group in Canada after French, English, Irish, Scottish, and German. They are also often termed as Italian-Canadians with a hyphen.



The first explorer to North America and to Canada was the Venetian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot). His voyage to Canada and other parts of the Americas was followed by his son Sebastiano Caboto and Janus Verrazanus (Giovanni da Verrazzano). During the New France era, France also occupied parts of Northern Italy and there was a significant Italian presence in the French military forces in the colony. Notable were Alphonse de Tonty, who helped establish Detroit, and Henri de Tonti, who journeyed with La Salle in his exploration of the Mississippi River. Italians made up a small portion of the population, however, and quickly lost their ethnic identities. In 1881, only 1,849 Canadians claimed to be Italian. A number of Italians were imported to work as navvies in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

A substantial influx began in the early twentieth century when over a hundred thousand Italians moved to Canada. These were largely peasants from rural southern Italy and agrarian parts of the north-east (Veneto, Friuli). They mainly immigrated to Toronto and Montreal, both of which soon had large Italian communities, up to 2% of Toronto's population in 1921. Smaller communities also arose in Hamilton, Vancouver, Windsor, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Sudbury and the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area. Many also settled in mining communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Cape Breton Island and Northern Ontario. The Northern Ontario cities of Sault Ste. Marie and Fort William were quite heavily populated by Italian immigrants. The 1905 Royal Commission appointed to Inquire into the Immigration of Italian Labourers to Montreal and alleged Fraudulent Practices of Employment Agencies exposed the abuses of immigration agents known as padroni.

This migration was largely halted by World War I, and new immigration laws in the 1920s limited Italian immigration. During World War II, Italian-Canadians, as well as German-Canadians were regarded with suspicion and faced a great deal of discrimination. Those who had been actively pro-Fascist, and some who were falsely accused, were interned at Camp Petawawa during the war. See Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens: Memories of World War II . There was no mass internment as befell Japanese-Canadians, however.

A second wave occurred after the Second World War when Italians, especially from the Lazio, Abruzzo, Friuli, Veneto, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily regions, left the war-impoverished country for opportunities in a young and growing country. Many Italians from Istria and Dalmatia also immigrated to Canada, during this period, as displaced persons (see Istrian exodus). In the 1960s, immigration laws were again changed, and the bias in favour of Europeans was removed. In the same period, Italy was rapidly growing in wealth, and by the early 1970s fewer Italians were interested in emigration.


As of 2006, 1,445,330 Canadians residents stated they had Italian ancestry, in which 741,045 had sole Italian origins while the other 704,285 were of partial Italian origin along with other ethnic origins, chiefly with other European ethnic groups e.g. Italian-Irish, Italian-English, Italian-French, etc. The latter group climbed by almost 25%, while the Italian Canadian population as a whole grew by 12% since the 2001 census.

As of 2007, 34% of the ethnic Italians in Canada live in Toronto, and 17.6% of the ethnic Italians in Canada live in Montreal; the Italian communities together make up almost 50% of Canada's Italian population.

Canadians of Italian ancestry make up 4.6% of the population of Canada, a rise from 4.3% in 2001. The majority live in Ontario (867,980) where they constitute more than seven per cent of the population, while another 300,000 live in Quebec.

The main concentrations of Canadians of Italian ancestry are in the following metropolitan areas and Census agglomerations:

In 2001, about three-quarters of the 1.3 million Canadians of Italian descent (903,375) were born in Canada according to the 2001 Census and 315,455 Canadian residents were born in Italy. Of those 315,000 immigrants, almost half (46.7%) immigrated to Canada before 1961, 38.3% between 1961 and 1970, another 10.3% between 1971 and 1980. Italian immigration to Canada since 1981 has been very slow with only 6.4% of Italian immigrants coming to Canada since 1981.

More than half of Canadians of Italian origins (670,300) claimed English as their mother tongue, 81,000 French and 469,485 Italian. The choosing of English over French, even in Quebec, is remarkable considering that Italians are generally Catholics and their language is related to French. Their religious profile represents the historical ties with Italy. Out of the 1.3 million Italians in Canada, 1,015,725 or 79.9% are Roman Catholic, 113,455 or 8.9% Protestant, 23,805 or 1.8% other Christian. Those who do not profess a faith constitute 109,515 or 8.2%. The largest non-Christian faith that some Italians follow is Judaism.

Canadians of Italian ancestry had above-average incomes ($34,871 average employment income vs. $31,757 for all Canadians) and below-average unemployment rates (5.4% compared to 7.4% for the Canadian labour force as a whole). While they work in all walks of life, they represent a disproportionate number of Canada's construction workers: 6% of Canadians employed in the construction industry are of Italian ancestry. On the other hand, they are under-represented in agriculture. In other industries, the proportion of Canadians of Italian ancestry is not far from their percentage of the general population.


  • Barbwire and Mandolines (1997) by Nic Zavaglia
  • Brown Bread Sandwiches (1989) by Carlo Liconti
  • Café Italia (1985) by Paul Tana
  • Dimanche d'Amérique (1971) by Gilles Carle
  • Enigmatico (1995) by Patricia Fogliato
  • J'ai fait mon propre courage (2009, Ho fatto il mio coraggio) by Giovanni Princigalli
  • Leolo (1992) by Jean-Claude Lauzon
  • Mambo Italiano (2003) Émile Gaudreault
  • Notes sur une minorité (1965) by Gianfranco Mingozzi
  • La sarrasine (1992) by Paul Tana
  • Souviens-toi de nous (2008, ricordati di noi) by Paul Tana
  • Radio and television

    The first multicultural radio station in Canada (CFMB) began broadcasting at Montreal in 1962. Founded by Casimir Stanczykowkski, a Pole, peak hours programming was nonetheless mostly in Italian. Four years later, in 1966, Johnny Lombardi founded a similar radio station (CHIN) in Toronto. CFMB has become a cultural bulwark for Italians in Montreal; however, the station's programming is often criticized as being geared only toward the older generations. Hardly any new pop songs from Italy, for instance, receive airtime, and older songs from the 1970s and 1980s are usually privileged. A short programme on Friday afternoons, Spazio ai giovani, was introduced to address these criticisms. In late 2011, Serie A and some Serie B also found a home in Toronto, thanks to Stereo Serie A Radio on Radio Regent. The weekly show was made accessible via podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Castroller.

    Dan Iannuzzi founded the first multicultural television station in Canada (CFMT-TV), which began operations at Toronto in 1979. Now owned by Rogers Communications, the service has spun off into two multicultural television services in southern Ontario: OMNI-1 and OMNI-2.

    TeleItalia, an Italian-language television service, was founded in Montreal shortly thereafter. TeleItalia shared airtime with other multicultural programming at the station but had the most and best timeslots. TeleItalia programming included programming purchased from RAI, the Italian state broadcaster, as well as numerous locally produced programmes, including the nightly newscast at six o'clock.

    In 1997, a reform of the city's multicultural television station (CJNT) saw a drastic decline in the quality of all programming and major cuts to airtime. At one time, CJNT was on air for less than twelve hours a day. The CanWest Global company later purchased the station and has since improved programming. Nevertheless, there is now little Italian programming shown.

    A third station, Telelatino (TLN) of Toronto, is widely available through cable distribution. Though offering programmes in both Spanish and Italian, most of TLN's revenue (70%) is derived from the latter. TLN, along with RAI International, an arm of the Italian state broadcaster RAI, has recently been at the centre of a dispute over Italian-language broadcasting in Canada. Telelatino had carried since 1984 some RAI content in addition to locally produced shows and dubbed Spanish programming from Latin America. By the beginning of this decade, however, there was growing dissatisfaction with TLN programming, especially in Montreal. Critics in Montreal labelled TLN's locally produced shows too "Torontocentric" and poked fun at dubbed Spanish programming bought from Latin American stations. Most of these latter shows were soap operas filmed in the 1980s.

    RAI controversy

    In 2003, RAI Italia pulled its content from Telelatino and petitioned the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to set up its own channel. This effort was backed by Rogers Communications. The Italian community in Montreal was almost wholly in favour of admitting RAI. The Committee for Italians Living Abroad in Montreal (COM.IT.ES.), an arm of the Italian foreign ministry, led the campaign to have RAI admitted. The Italian community in Toronto, however, was divided. Some in Toronto saw the move as part of a scheme by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to gain greater influence over the Italian-language media in Canada. Italian law provides the Italian diaspora votes in Italian elections and permanent seats in the Italian parliament. Unlike the more independent Telelatino, RAI was widely seen as pro-Berlusconi. Those in favour of the RAI in Montreal pointed out that TLN quickly replaced its RAI programming with shows bought from SKY, a private television network. Berlusconi is said to have much more control over his private TV companies than over the state-run RAI.

    In November 2003, community leaders in Montreal led a protest march in Ottawa under the slogan "RAI Now". They then presented a petition with some tens of thousands of signatures in favour of their cause. The CRTC initially turned down the application allowing RAI International to broadcast in Canada, declaring it would be impossible to set up a domestic Italian channel if that came to pass. In Montreal editorials lambasting the federal government and the CRTC were published in the community newspapers and leaders spoke out again a perceived injustice. With a federal election set for the summer of 2004, one in which the Liberal Party did not seem guaranteed a victory, opinion makers in Montreal began asking if Italians were simply not sheep herded along by the Liberals. (The great majority of Italians in Montreal are Liberal and federalist). Many called on voters to vote against the Liberal party which was blamed for the CRTC's decision. Ultimately, nervous Liberal candidates signed a statement days before the vote, guaranteeing that RAI would be broadcasting within a year or that the laws would be changed to permit it. The Liberals won their election and in the spring of 2005, the CRTC reversed its earlier decision. RAI thus began broadcasting in June of that year.

    Newspapers and magazines

    The first Italian-language newspaper in Canada was Il Lavoratore, an anti-Fascist publication which was founded in Toronto in 1936 and active for two years. Then came La Voce degli Italo Canadesi, founded in Toronto (1938-1940) and Il Cittadino Canadese, founded in Montreal in 1941, followed by La Vittoria of Toronto, in 1942-1943. After WWII came Il Corriere Italiano, founded by Alfredo Gagliardi in Montreal in the early 1950s. Corriere Canadese, founded by Dan Iannuzzi in 1954, is Canada's only Italian-language daily today and is published in Toronto; its weekend (English-language) edition is published as Tandem.

    Other newspapers include Insieme (Montreal), L'Ora di Ottawa (Ottawa, Ontario) and Il Postino (Ottawa, Ontario). Il Postino was established in 2000 by a young group of local Ottawa Italian Canadians to convey the history of the Italian community in Ottawa. Insieme was founded by the Italian Catholic parishes of Montreal but has since been put under private ownership. It nevertheless retains an emphasis on religious articles.

    Many of the older Italian newspapers are criticized, like CFMB radio, for only serving the interests of the older generations. Several trendier, more modern magazines or newspapers have thus been founded. Many are run by recent Italian immigrants to Canada and are geared towards the youth. Panoram Italia magazine, a bimonthly publication distributed in the Greater Montreal and Toronto areas, is the most popular among them. Most others have failed or are published sporadically due to financial problems. The movement to support these upstart newspapers, however, is fairly strong in Montreal, where many people under age 40 still read Italian.

    Eyetalian magazine was launched in 1993 as a challenging, independent magazine of Italian-Canadian culture. It encountered commercial difficulty, and leaned towards a general lifestyle magazine format before concluding publication later in the 1990s. Italo of Montreal is published sporadically and is written in Italian, with some articles in French and English, dealing with current affairs and community news. La Comunità, while an older publication, was taken over by the youth wing of the National Congress of Italian Canadians (Québec chapter) in the late 1990s. It experimented with different formats but was later cancelled due to lack of funding. In the 1970s the trilingual arts magazine Vice Versa flourished in Montreal. In, 2003 Domenic Cusmano founded Accenti, the magazine with an Italian accent which focused on culture and Italian-Canadian authors.

    Italian-Canadian books

    Italian-Canadian literature emerged in the 1970s as young Italian immigrants began to complete university degrees across Canada. This creative writing exists in English, French, or Italian. Some writers like Antonio D'Alfonso, Marco Micone, Alexandre Amprimoz and Filippo Salvatore are bilingual and publish in two languages. The older generation of authors like Maria Ardizzi, Romano Perticarini, Giovanni Costa and Tonino Caticchio publish in Italian or in bilingual volumes. In English the most notable names are novelists Frank G. Paci, Nino Ricci, Caterina Edwards, Michael Mirolla and Darlene Madott. Poets who write in English include Mary di Michele, Pier Giorgio DiCicco and Gianna Patriarca. In 1986 these authors established the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers, and by 2001 there were over 100 active writers publishing books of poetry, fiction, drama and anthologies. With the 1985 publication of Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian-Canadian Writing by Joseph Pivato, the academic study of this literature started, leading to the exploration of other ethnic minority writing in Canada and inspiring other scholars such as Licia Canton, Pasquale Verdicchio and George Elliott Clarke. The important collections of literary works are: The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing (1998) edited by Joseph Pivato and Pillars of Lace: The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Women Writers (1998) edited by Marisa De Franceschi. See also Writing Cultural Difference: Italian-Canadian Creative and Critical Works (2015) editors Giulia De Gasperi, Maria Cristina Seccia, Licia Canton and Michael Mirolla.


    On October 25, 2012, the Government of Canada announced its support of a project highlighting Italian-Canadian contribution to Canada. Funding aimed at raising awareness of the contributions of Canadians of Italian heritage in the development and settlement of Canada was announced by Julian Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation and Member of Parliament for Vaughan, on behalf of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

    CIC is providing $248,397 in funding under the Inter-Action Program to the Toronto district of the National Council of Italian Canadians (NCIC) to develop a curriculum intended for both primary and secondary level classes. The project is entitled “Italian Heritage in Canada Curriculum.”

    “The Inter-Action program aims to create opportunities for different cultural and faith communities to build bridges and promote intercultural understanding,” said Minister Fantino. “This project will help promote a greater awareness of the many contributions of the Italian Canadian community to the building of Canada.”

    The curriculum will start with the Discovery of North America on June 24, 1497, and then turn to the various waves of immigrants that came to Canada from the 1800s to the present time. It will showcase Italian immigration to urban and rural areas across Canada and their contributions to the settlement of the west, then the building of railways, cities and infrastructure. The curriculum will recount the work of earlier generations of Italians, their plight during World War II when many were interned, and the contributions of more recent generations of Canadians of Italian heritage. It will also explore the wartime internment experiences of other cultural communities as well as their contributions to the building of Canada.


  • Crowsnest Pass, Alberta
  • Little Italy, Edmonton
  • Greater Montreal area

  • LaSalle, Quebec
  • Laval, Quebec
  • Little Italy, Montreal
  • Rivière-des-Prairies, Montreal
  • Saint Leonard, Quebec
  • Via Italia
  • Ottawa

  • Little Italy, Ottawa
  • St. Anthony of Padua (Ottawa)
  • Hamilton

  • James St. North
  • Stoney Creek
  • Greater Toronto area

  • Corso Italia (Toronto) – St. Clair Avenue West
  • Little Italy, Toronto
  • Maple, Ontario
  • North York, Toronto
  • Vaughan, Ontario
  • Woodbridge, Ontario
  • Windsor, Ontario

  • Via Italia, Erie St.
  • British Columbia

  • Burnaby, British Columbia
  • Little Italy, Vancouver
  • Trail, British Columbia
  • Manitoba

  • Little Italy, Winnipeg
  • References

    Italian Canadians Wikipedia

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