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Monday, October 2, 2023
The massive Italian presence in Canada is a post World War II phenomenon.

In 1947, Canada removed the Enemy Alien Act. The immigration restrictions were lifted, the gates were opened, and hundreds of thousands of Italians came to Canada, becoming Canada’s fourth largest ethnic group. The majority of Windsor Italians, perhaps as many as 75 percent, arrived between the late 40s and the 1970s. In each successive decade since 1941 the number of the Italians more or less doubled: from 2,400 in 1941, to 4,100 in 1951, to 8,600 in 1961 to 17,900 in 1971. (Walter Temelini, The Italians in Windsor, Polyphony Vol. 7, No. 2)

The reasons for these record number of the mass migration are political and economic. Canada and Italy encouraged it. Canada needed unskilled and semi-skilled manpower as a result of economic expansion and labour shortage, and Italy had a torn economy and the worst unemployment in Europe. Italy had the opportunity to become a leading supplier of labour. Also, Canada was facing an international political pressure. On one hand, stood the huge expanse of Canada with a population of only twelve million and a need for people for both economic and geopolitical considerations. On the other hand stood a defeated Italy with a population of 47.6 million and the worst unemployment in Europe… Canada came to be viewed as a natural safety-valve for Italy’s problems. This important, international aspect of Canada’s postwar policy was clearly outlined in March 1949 by the Canadian Embassy in Rome… (Franc Sturino, Post-World War Two Canadian Immigration Policy toward Italians, Polyphony Vol. 7,No.2)

The pre-war Italians in Canada wanted to sponsor their families and relatives. It is reported that these inquiries started in 1946. In 1947, according to the law, Italians who were Canadian citizens would apply for the entrance of the first degree relatives. In January, 1948, Canada opened an embassy in Rome. By the fall of 1948, Ottawa had expanded its categories of eligible kin to include not only first and second degree relatives -- for example wives and brothers -- but also more distant kin such as orphaned nephews and the spouses and the children of sponsored relatives. (Franc Sturino, Post-World War Two Canadian Immigration Policy toward Italians, Polyphony Vol. 7, No.2)

In the 1950s, Canada was the main destination of the Italian immigrants; it was considered a land of opportunity. The immigrants found work and a chance to build a better life. Why? Canada had a relatively open policy toward the immigrants, which resulted in a massive migration. Ottawa entered into a bilateral agreement with Italy to foster and process large-scale immigration to Canada. Many people came to join the families. Canada’s government enacted the sponsorship system. The new regulations intended to allow Italians to sponsor the immigration of any relative or friend, providing a job waited for them. The effect of the policy was that it reactivated the migration networks that previously linked Italy and Canada but were interrupted by the advent of fascism and the war. (Pier 21:History of Italian Immigration into Canada)

It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of the new generation of the Italian immigrants in this period came through the family sponsorship program. In 1958, new records showed that Italians surpassed the British Immigrants by 2,000. New immigration regulations, issued in 1962, emphasized the education, training and skills. The semi-skilled labourers categories of the relatives that could be sponsored were reduced considerably.

Essentially, in the 1960s the poorer, labouring classes of Italy were politely but firmly told that they were not longer of sufficient “quality” for Canada. For almost a century common workers and peasants had dreamt of proving their worth by emigration to the new land. For all intents and purposes, this dream, despite its revival in the fifties, had now come to an end. (Franc Sturino, Post-World War Two Canadian Immigration Policy toward Italians, Polyphony Vol. 7, No.2)
Immigrants 1961-2001
Total Number of the Immigrants
Italian Immigrants
Immigrant Population
Before 1961
Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.ca)
By 1981, over half a million Italians had immigrated to Canada. These postwar settlers made up 70 per cent of the Italian ethnic group--which numbered over 750,000 in total. (Franc Sturino, Contours of Postwar Italian Immigration to Toronto. Polyphony Summer 1984)
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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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