Earlier this month the Montreal Chapter of the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association (CIBPA) announced plans for a project to commemorate the internment of Italian Canadians during WWII.
Funded with a $168,376 grant from Heritage Canada’s Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP), the CIBPA is commissioning a statue, created by local artist Egidio Vincelli, that will be on permanent display in the entrance of the Casa D’Italia in Montreal’s Little Italy. The project will also include the creation of 20 replica statuettes that for the next 20 years will be awarded annually to the recipients of the CIBPA Personality of the Year Award. And finally, a 40-page trilingual guidebook will be published and distributed to the various CIBPA chapters across Canada and to other Italian Canadian organizations within Quebec.
On June 10, 1940, Canada declared war on Italy and declared Italians and Italian-Canadians living in Canada as “enemy aliens.” Under the War Measures Act, over 600 Italians from across Canada were interned in internments camps. Some remained there for years, without ever being charged with a crime or brought to trial. Many more Italian Canadians were required to report to authorities on a regular basis.
The Canadian government has never offered an official apology to the internees, but instead created this one-time Program to fund internment-related projects by various community groups across Canada. Some of the projects that have already been completed include an archive center, with an accompanying website, at the Columbus Center in Toronto (http://www.italiancanadianww2.ca/villa/home), and a two-volume book publication by the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (http://www.aicw.ca/aicw-remembers).
What all the community projects have in the common is the desire to both educate the Canadian public about the internment, and to commemorate those that were directly affected.
“The best way to commemorate what happened is to not forget the men and the families that were affected,” explains Giovanni Chieffallo, ex-officio president of the CIBPA.
“The statue will help us remember, and the guidebook will hopefully entice people to find out more,” he continues.
Chieffallo spearheaded the CIBPA’s project and application process. Joyce Pillarella, an oral historian and teacher based in Montreal, will be researching and writing the 40-page guidebook.
“My approach to the book is to give people an overall view of the period. What led up to that, how people got on the lists. What were the fascist organizations of the time. How the newspapers covered the events,” Pillarella explains.
Pillarella has a personal connection to the story of Italian Canadian internees. Pillarella’s grandfather, a fiduciary of the fascist social group in Montreal’s Ville Emard in the 1930s, was one of the internees.
“This is our history as Montreal Italians, a shared history. Whether we were affected or not directly, it affected us as a community,” Pillarella comments.
The statue and the guidebook will be officially unveiled on December 12, 2012 at the Casa D’Italia in Montreal.