Italian-Canadian Heritage

by E.B. Lapointe

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is hosting a special display of Italian-Canadian artifacts until 06 September, 2004 called “Presenza: A New Look At Italian-Canadian Heritage.” This is the first major national exhibition to present the day-to-day lives and diversity of Italian-Canadians. The website is <>.

It covers the periods of 1880 to the late 1920s (called the Migratory Wave) and from 1947 to the 1960s (called the Second Wave of Immigration). All in all, over 650,000 Italians came to Canada from 1880 to the 1970s.

“Italian-Canadians, over 1,000,000 strong, have had a profound impact on Canadian life. They have set an example of strong communities that support their members, express their culture exuberantly, and value their heritage,” said Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, at the opening of the display.

The museum is open every day of the week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday and Friday evenings to 9 p.m., from 01 July to 06 September. There is a fee, so call ahead or check their website. The museum is located at 100 Laurier Street in Gatineau, right across from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The mailing address is P.O. Box 3100, Sta. B., Gatineau, Quebec J8X 4H2.

At the National Library and Archives Website <> are census returns in which the 1901 Census states the country from which one has come, and the year of arrival in Canada. City directories are a help also, as well as death records, which may state how may years a person has been in Canada.

The National Registration of 1940, completed under the National Resources Mobilization Act, was conducted for the defence and security of Canada. It was the national compulsory registration of all adults over the age of 16 except for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, religious orders, and people who were confined to institutions. For those who were listed but had died, their forms were destroyed. It was conducted from 1940 to 1946. One should visit the archives website to get a copy of the request form. There is also a fee involved.

Immigration records also exist for the years 1925 to 1935 at the National Archives and Library. All records can be accessed by the interlibrary loan program the Library and Archives has, as well as through the Canadian Genealogy Centre’s website at <>.

From 1921 to 1971, Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was considered the Gateway to Canada. They have not only a searchable database on their website for family names, but they also have Pier 21 stories. Their website is <>.

The National Congress of Italian Canadians has a website containing a bibliography to many books on the subject. Their website address is <>. An article on the history of Italians in Toronto from 1815-1915 can be read at <>.

Italians in Ottawa are on-line at <> in “Our Little Italy: Preston Street, Ottawa, Ontario”. Not only are there many stories, but also yearly coverage of St. Anthony's Feast, as well as Italian Week, which has been held every June since 1974.

Perhaps the best known of all Italian-Canadians is Guy Lombardo and his band from London, Ontario. The band was formed in 1916 and was the longest-running act in show business. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians played New Years' Eve in New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel for over 50 years, and the tunes his band played were called “The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.”

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    "A former newspaper reporter in Canada's capital, Ottawa, I became interested in writing about genealogy when researching my own ancestor, Andrew Barclay, an American Loyalist from Boston, Massachusetts, early in 1990. Quickly, my interest spread beyond my own family, and by 1994, I was editing a genealogy newsletter and by 1997, I was editing the Sourcing Canada series of books. Since then, I have gone on to write "My Ancestor Was French Canadian" and a series of booklets on Canadian genealogy. I love to travel the Canadian and American countryside looking for interesting people and places to photograph and to write about." - E.B. Lapointe

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