PO Box 523, Station B,
Ottawa, ON, K1P 5P6

PO Box 523, Station B, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5P6
Wednesday, 01 May 2024 05:42

How Immigration Has Shaped Ottawa’s Cultural Mosaic - Part III

Another good crowd gathered at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Saturday, April 20, 2024 to listen to the third and regrettably final installment of Phil Jenkins’ lecture series on four immigrant groups in Ottawa. In this session, Phil completed his discussion of the Chinese community and went on to talk about the role of the Italian community in Ottawa.

Phil highlighted two of the most famous members of Ottawa’s Chinese community before concluding this part with a brief discussion of the community as it exists today.

Adrienne Clarkson was born in Hong Kong in 1939 and moved to Ottawa in 1941 after the Japanese occupation of that territory. She attended public school and Lisgar Collegiate before going on to a very successful University education. Adrienne worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for some 30 years but achieved her greatest fame when, in 1999, she was appointed as Governor-General, a post she held until 2005. During this time, she led a “Team Canada” of artists and musicians to China to broaden cultural ties and understanding between the two nations. Recently, two members of the Historical Society of Ottawa met with Adrienne Clarkson and presented her with some old newspaper clippings that had come into their possession. This story can be read online: Tea with Adrienne Clarkson.

Denise Chong, a 3 rd generation Chinese-Canadian was born in Vancouver in 1953. After studying economics in Vancouver and Toronto she moved to Ottawa to work in the Department of Finance, eventually becoming a special advisor to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. This was remarkable for the time as the world of finance was dominated by white men. She left government work in the mid-1980s to pursue a career in writing and has since published four non-fiction books and edited one collection. Her books include: The Concubine’s Children (1994), The Girl in the Picture: The Kim Phuc Story (1999), Egg on Mao: The Story of an Ordinary Man Who Defaced an Icon and Unmasked a Dictatorship (2009) and Lives of the Family: Stories of Fate and Circumstance (2013). The collection she edited is entitled The Penguin Anthology of Stories by Canadian Women (1997). She still lives in Ottawa with her husband and two children.

The Chinese community in Ottawa remains very active and vibrant with 5 newspapers and many specialized support services. Focussed on Somerset Street West, its most recognizable symbols are the Royal Arch – Ottawa Chinatown that was constructed in 2010 and the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

History suggests that the first Italian to visit what would become Canada was John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto in Italian, Zuan Caboto in Venetian, Jean Cabot in French). Cabot was likely born in Genoa sometime about 1450 later moving to and becoming a citizen of Venice. By the mid-1490s he was in England and with financial support from Italian bankers in London and merchants in Bristol, he received letters patent from Henry VII to undertake expeditions of exploration. Phil read part of this, as follows: “…to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.” Phil noted that this can be seen as the start of colonialism in Canada. On June 24, 1497, Cabot landed on the east coast of North America.

Phil explained that Italian craftsmen worked throughout Europe, but as passage across the Atlantic became cheaper than train travel around Europe, they began to come across in the spring, returning home in the fall, thus avoiding the harsh winters, though some stayed and settled. Phil identified two major waves of Italian immigration, the first falling roughly between 1900 and 1914, with the other following the Second World War. The 1911 census recognized around 700 families of Italian origin in Ottawa, clustered mainly in Lowertown, and employed primarily as painters, plasterers, stone masons, bakers, and barbers.

Among the bakers were Frank and Maria Galla who arrived in Ottawa in 1908 and opened their bakery at 597 Somerset Street West in 1920, later moving it to Rochester Street. They had 6 children, 5 sons and a daughter, the boys all working in the bakery with their father and remaining bachelors until the business closed in the late 1960s. As seen with other immigrant community leaders, Frank and Maria were instrumental in welcoming newcomers, the bakery often becoming their first place of employment. The couple was also key to the evolution of recreation and cultural growth, especially with the heart of their community, their church, St. Anthony of Padua on Booth Street.

On June 10, 1940, Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany and Prime Minister Mackenzie King responded by authorizing the RCMP to apprehend Italians living in Canada who they perceived as a threat. Phil explained that there were about 150,000 Italians in Canada at that time, about half of which had been born in Canada. This distinction did not matter. Approximately 31,000 Italians were identified as “Enemy Aliens”. They were photographed, finger-printed and required to report to the authorities on a monthly basis. Between 600 – 700 men were placed into internment camps, the largest being Camp 33 in Petawawa, two other camps existing, one in New Brunswick and the other in Alberta. Some of these men were held for as long as 3 years. None were ever charged with any offence. As a community, Italians were shunned by other Canadians and demonized by the press, many losing their jobs. In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered an apology to Italian-Canadians for the internment but it was not until May 27, 2021 that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized on behalf of the Canadian Government.

Phil read us an account by Giacomo Moscatelli, a second generation Italian-Canadian that reflects on his own childhood and the transition through the generations from Italian, to Italian-Canadian, to Canadian-Italian, and finally simply to Canadian. It’s a great read: Growing up Italian.

In the late 1950s and 1960s the City of Ottawa undertook several “Urban Renewal” projects. These identified communities where it was felt that houses and other buildings were in poor condition. The area around Rochester and Booth Streets was one of the targets of this policy; large numbers of houses, mostly Italian-owned, were expropriated and demolished. The community was dispersed.

Phil went on to profile two of the best known members of the Italian community in Ottawa. Robert “Bob” Chiarelli, who was born near Preston Street (aka Corso Italia) has served as the Regional Chair, the Mayor of Ottawa, and as a Member of the Provincial Parliament, in which he was a Cabinet Minister. Mario Bernardi became the founding conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1969, becoming its Music Director in1971. He is credited with turning his hand-picked orchestra into one of the finest in the world.

One of the many pamphlets produced by the Historical Society of Ottawa is entitled “Growing Up in “La Colonia” and was written by Salvatore Pantalone. It provides more background on early Italian settlement in Ottawa and a collection of family anecdotes that colourfully describe life in “The Village” through the depression and the Second World War, with a special reference to the internment. Like many of the HSO pamphlets, it can be read online: Bytown Pamphlet #89.

Phil ended this session, and the series with his guitar. He performed Michael Bublé’s song "Home" , which was enthusiastically received, as were all aspects of this fantastic lecture series by one of our area’s leading public historians.

The Historical Society of Ottawa would like to thank Phil Jenkins once again for his time, his support, and especially for his passion.