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      Montreal honors Italian Canadian internees

      Jun. 11, 2013

      Yesterday afternoon, relatives, friends, community leaders and city officials gathered at Montreal’s City Hall for a special ceremony to inaugurate Montreal’s official day of commemoration of the anniversary of the internment of Italian-Canadians during the Second World War.

      Exactly 73 years ago, 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 across Canada were sent to 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.

      In the past couple of years, community groups across Canada have released publications and hosted exhibitions and ceremonies to commemorate this dark moment in Canadian history. Funding for these initiatives were rewarded by Heritage Canada with a one-time program designed for internment-related projects.

      The Canadian government has never offered an official apology to the internees.

      At yesterday’s ceremony, speeches were given by Casa D’Italia president Angela Miniccuci, oral historian Joyce Pillarella, and Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum.

      Pillarella’s speech was particularly touching as she reflected on the shame that kept those men and women affected by the internment silent for decades. She recounted how her interviews with relatives of internees (all of whom are now deceased) were sometimes difficult and always emotional. At the end of her speech, Pillarella asked family members to rise as she read out loud the names of the internees.

      Near the end of his speech, Mayor Applebaum went off book to reflect on a question posed to him earlier by a journalist. He commented that no matter what actions or apologies are made today by politicians and officials, the difficult decision to forgive lies solely in the hands of the families of the interned.

      From July 15 to August 15, Montreal’s City Hall will host an exhibition on the internment of Italian-Canadians. Admission is free and open to all.

      One Response to “Montreal honors Italian Canadian internees”

      1. Joyce Pillarella worked as a local oral historian for us for our project, Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens: Memories of WWII. The interviews she did our viewable on our website, as well as other interviews (87) nationwide with enemy aliens, families of internees. There is also over 1000 digitized objects, photos, and documents online. The project was funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. We’re glad this little-known event is now getting more notice by the general public.