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Friday, July 12, 2024
Checking Documents at Pier21 Courtesy of Pier21
  Italian immigrants who came prior to the First World War often faced a terrible voyage across the Atlantic. The New Immigration published in 1920 notes that in the ship “there is neither breathing space below nor deck room above, and the 900 steerage passengers … are positively packed like cattle, making a walk on deck, when the weather is good,

Keeping With Tradition
-The Working Man's Choir-
  absolutely impossible... The stenches [below deck] become unbearable and many of the emigrants have to be driven

down [during a storm]; for they prefer the bitterness and danger of the storm to the pestilential air below.”

By the time of the largest influx of immigration post World War II, the voyage had improved considerably. Marty Gervais, in "Keeping With Tradition – The Working Man’s Choir: Forty Years of Song with Il Coro Italiano" describes the voyage experienced by Italians headed to Windsor in this later period:

These young men boarded ocean-going vessels like the Vulcania, Saturnia, Cristoforo Colombo, Conte Biancamano, Giulio Cesare – not knowing what to expect when they arrived in Canada, except from the letters their uncles or cousins had sent them. They stuffed bread and cheese and wine in with their belongings, and shared what they had on the ship with others. Many had to travel steerage class and were often seasick on the voyage. Each and every one of these new Canadians arrived at Pier 21 after a nine to 12 day voyage across the Atlantic. When they stepped off the ship, they were met with Canadian immigration officials, who directed them for medical examinations. The process often took up to 18 to 24 hours because the pier could only handle 250 people at any one time...; That didn't end the process for these immigrants. Their steamer trunks were examined carefully, and any liquor or food was seized by Customs. The advice given to Colarossi even before he sailed from Italy was to hide the cheese beneath the dirty socks to discourage Customs from wading through his belongings. (p.30-32)

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The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.


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