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Saturday, May 18, 2024
  The events that happened in June, 1940, changed forever the life of the entire Italian community in Canada. On the night of June 10, 1940, at 10:00 pm the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable W. L. Mackenzie King, announced:

The minister of Justice has authorized the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take
Italians during the Internment WWII
oil painting of camp Petawawa.
Courtesy of the Windsor Star
  steps to intern all residents of Italian origin, whose activities have given ground for the belief or reasonable
suspicion that they might, in time of war, endanger the safety of the state, or engage in activities prejudicial to the prosecution of the war.

The plans had been in official documents ever since the previous September(1939), when one of the most influential civil servants of the era, Norman Robertson, had sent a memorandum marked “secret” to the head of the RCMP’s intelligence section…. It included a list of several hundred names of Italian Canadians suspected of being threats to the country and therefore eligible for arrest and detention should war break out with Italy… Robertson said in his report to the minister of justice that while some Italian Canadians were zealous members of the Italian Fascist Party, and had taken its oath of allegiance, most were not. (Kenneth Bagnell, Canadese: A Portrait of the Italian Canadians, 1989, pg.73).
  Almost overnight, a hard working, largely invisible segment of the Canadian population suddenly found itself the target of racial prejudice from neighbours and of close surveillance by governments. In Toronto and Windsor, enemy aliens, even those not interned, were fired from work. Windsor city council suspended ‘enemy aliens’ employed by the city and the dominion Department of Transport fired all ‘enemy aliens’ working on the construction of Windsor airport. Italian Canadians who ran small businesses became easy targets of physical violence and economic intimidation.
  ( Franca Iacovetta and Robert Ventresca, Redress, Collective memory, and the Politics of History, pg.391. Enemies Within, 2000)
In Ontario, from Sudbury and North Bay to Hamilton and Windsor, citizens volunteered to assist the police, acting as drivers for cars that took the men to the police stations. Here and there few rocks were thrown and windows smashed, but for the most part, small crowds gathered and contented themselves with shouts of: "Give it to him” or “Take him away for good”. (Kenneth Bagnell, Canadese: A portrait of the Italian Canadians, 1989, pg.81).  
  The camp’s official designation was Internment Camp No. 33. It was opened on September 23, 1939 at the Forest Experimental Station located at Centre Lake with  a  capacity of 800 internees. There were 28 different nationalities. The majority were German and Italian. Over 600 men were interned in the Prisoner of War Camp in Petawawa, Ontario. It took more than three months
Courtesy of the Windsor Star   for families to learn about these men. There were twelve large barracks in the
camp with 60 or more people each, surrounded by two high barbed–wire fences. The internees were men between the ages of 16 and 70. They were lawyers, doctors, candy-makers, carpenters, bakers, pressers, wine makers, priests, contractors, postmen, shoe shiners, bricklayers. The camp on the Petawawa River was founded in 1904 as a training ground for the artillery. During the First World War, the camp was a training ground for more than 10,000 soldiers and an internment camp for more than 1,000 German and Austrian prisoners of war.The camp was reopened in1940. The internees wore jackets with a large red circle on the back for the guards in the tower to shoot if any one tried to escape. The men were lonely and worried; they were guilty of no crime. Some of them would stay for a few months; the others would remain for years. Letters from home were censored, no family visits were allowed. The loss of freedom, the confusion attending their arrest, the uncertainty regarding the length of their confinement and the sudden removal from their families and place of business, created a sense of bitterness and frustration among them.(Enrico Cumbo, Sports and Inter-Ethnic Relations at Camp Petawawa. Polyphony, Vol.7 No.1 Pg.31, 1985).  

Kenneth Bagnell would call this chapter of the history of the Italian community Days of Darkness, Days of Despair:  In every part of Canada, the Italian community knew the internment as a historic tragedy; it would not recover for two decades. Italians had been on the verge of finding a sense of pride and a feeling of place in Canada… Even worse, it was rife with confusion, discouragement and even resentment, as young Italians, feeling fresh stigmas because of the labels placed upon their elders, began to shy away from any assertion of their culture. A minority within a minority would never fully forget. (Kenneth Bagnell,

  Canadese: A portrait of the Italian Canadians, 1989, pg.96).
Another phenomenon called “Italians betraying Italians” out of greed, rivalry, or jealousy probably resulted in the internment of the innocent Italians. This aspect of internment remains a source of bitterness for those affected; the healing must come also from within  the community, not only from outside. ( Franca Iacovetta and Robert Ventresca, Redress, Collective Memory, and the Politics of History,pg.402. Enemies Within, 2000) 
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