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      Remembering the Italian Canadian Internees

       
      By
      Dec. 14, 2012

      This past Wednesday (December 12, 2012) at the Casa d’Italia in Montreal’s Little Italy, oral historian and teacher Joyce Pillarella stood in front of hundreds of invited guests to give an emotional and powerful presentation about the publication of her book, Remembering the Internment.

      Funded by a grant from Heritage Canada’s Community Historical Recognition Program, the Montreal Chapter of the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association (CIBPA) commissioned Pillarella to put together a publication that would both commemorate the lives of Italian Canadians interned in Canadian internment camps during the Second World War and also serve as a educational tool for the Canadian community at large.

      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 and Italian-Canadians 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).

      Pillarella’s speech reflected on the shame that kept those men and women affected by the internment silent for decades. She spoke of how families were separated for years, how reputations were ruined and livelihoods destroyed, all because hundreds of Italian Canadians were labeled “enemy aliens” and interned without ever being found guilty of a crime.

      Wednesday evening’s event also marked the official unveiling of a sculpture by local artist Egidio Vincelli that also commemorates the internment. The statue was funded by the same grant that saw the publication of Remembering the Internment. The sculpture will be on permanent display in the entrance of the Casa d’Italia.

      Dozens of relatives of those men who were interned (all of whom are now deceased) were present at Wednesday’s gathering. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening was when Pillarella asked those family members to rise as she read out loud the names of the internees. The family members would later pose for a group photo.

      Ten thousand copies of the trilingual Remembering the Internment will be distributed free of charge to the various CIBPA chapters across Canada, as well as libraries, schools, and other Italian Canadian organizations within Quebec.

      “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.

      For further information about Remembering the Internment, please contact the CIBPA directly via their website at www.cibpamontreal.com.

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