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Divisions Within the Community
The “hot bed” for Fascist Activity
The Text Book Controversy
Italians in Windsor
– Their Experience in World War II

(Source for most of the material: Walter Temelini,The Italians in Windsor, Polyphony, Fall/Winter 1985, Vol. 7, No. 2)

   
   
Divisions Within the Community
   
  The Windsor Italians are not a homogeneous unit. They are as different as their regions of origin. There is no greater division than that of the North/South. One unfortunate example of this occurred in 1920 when a local chapter of the Dante Alighieri Society was formed. Their aim was a noble one: to disseminate Italian culture, language, literature and national sport and to foster a spirit of citizenship and loyalty to the adopted country of the Italians abroad. However, the North/South split was revealed in an article in the December 18th, 1920 issue of the Border Cities Star. This article, which made negative comments about Italians in general and Southern Italians in particular, praised the membership of the local Dante Alighieri Society: “The personnel of the local society, is of very high grade, being mostly recruited from the Northern provinces and the Tyrol, Tuscans, Lombards and Venetians, all of an entirely different type from the turbulent inhabitants of the Southern Italian Peninsula”.

It should be noted that in 1970 a new branch of the Dante Alighieri Society was founded, this time with the full and equal participation of all Italians (and non-Italians too).
   
 
 
The “hot bed” for Fascist Activity?
   
  In January, 1936, George Tiberi, the Italian vice-consul from Toronto came to Windsor. 300 Italians gathered to listen to his speech on the justification of Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and to appeal to them for contributions to his campaign. Many women offered their gold wedding rings to help “Il Duce”. A few protestors, mostly members of the Italian Cultural Club of Windsor, were dismissed as communist sympathizers.

Windsor developed a reputation as a “hot bed” of fascist activity. (Fascism is a political philosophy or regime that exalts nation and race and stands for centralized autocratic government, severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition).

However, during the 1930s, there existed in Canada (precisely in Blairmore, Edmonton, Montreal, Niagara Falls, Port Arthur, Toronto, Vancouver and Windsor) several non-fascist workers’ clubs, united in the Alleanza Operaia Italo-Canadese (Italo–Canadian Workers Alliance).
   
 
 
The Text Book Controversy
   
  In May 1938, the Separate School Board and the Italian community came under fire as fascist propaganda was found within children’s Italian readers that were used in Saturday Italian classes. The local newspaper reported the five day inquiry which followed. The scandal rapidly involved not only the Italian community and the Separate School Board, but the City Council, the Italian vice-consulate, the Department of Education in Toronto and Canadian Immigration in Ottawa. The school was found to be a part of an international fascist program of indoctrination under the direct supervision of the Italian Foreign Office. It must be recalled that this period of history was marked by the fear of communism and many (and not only some Italians) regarded fascism as a useful tool in the fight against communism. The end result was that the entire Italian community suffered. Italian anti-fascists in the community refused to be identified, fearing reprisals against themselves and their relatives in Italy.
The 1938 controversy was not forgotten and led in due time to indiscriminate hostility against all Italians.

The period between two wars, in spite of the controversy, stands out as a time of dynamic change for the Windsor Italian community. (Julius A.Molinaro and Maddalena Kuitunen, The Luminous Mosaic, Toronto, 1993)
   
 
 
Italians in Windsor – Their Experience in World War II
   
  When Mussolini declared war on Britain, June 10, 1940, an explosion of anti-Italian feeling erupted throughout Canada. Over 150 policemen and citizens participated in the rounding up of the enemy aliens in Windsor. They became prisoners of war and were held without evidence. Many Italians were fingerprinted and registered as “dangerous Italian elements”. They were interned for further questioning. This had a devastating effect on the men and their families. To this day many of the affected families do not wish to speak about their experience. Italians in the Windsor area were fired from all city work as well as from many industries.

As a result, they lost their primary income and often their homes. Many were reduced to desperate situations. Families of an unemployed enemy alien, who was not interned, were not eligible for government assistance. No strangers to hard times, the community weathered the storm. Their positive response included participation in the Canadian war effort, by offering volunteers and financial aid. For example, the Italian Mutual Benefit Society donated $1200 to the Red Cross in March 1942.
 
 
 

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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