Vancouver's Society of Italians

Vancouver's Society of Italians

by Raymond Culos


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This is the dynamic story of the men and women who constituted Vancouver's three main Italian mutual aid societies from 1904 to 1966: Sons of Italy, the Veneta and the Vancouver Italian-Canadian associations. Full of fascinating photographs and intimate family histories, Vancouver's Society of Italians is rich in stories of individuals who came to British Columbia seeking personal fortune and a better way of life. This compelling social history is written with great sensitivity by Ray Culos, a second generation Italian-Canadian whose knowledge and commitment to the community are recognized among his peers. The heart of the book is the first-hand accounts of how the early immigrants established their community and nurtured the business leaders, labourers and professionals who have contributed so much to Canadian culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550171884
Publisher: Harbour Publishing Company, Limited
Publication date: 01/01/1998
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Raymond Culos was born in Vancouver in 1936. His 37-year career with the Vancouver Sun, The Province, and the Southam Newspaper Group included management positions in advertising, circulation, marketing and staff training departments. During the 1970s, he contributed to a regular column in L'Eco d'Italia. Culos lives in Burnaby and is a member of the Confratellanza and the Italian Cultural Centre Society.

Read an Excerpt

When Italy entered the First World War on the side of England and France, its government immediately launched an appeal for the voluntary repatriation of all military-age Italian nationals living in Canada and elsewhere. These men were offered return-trip travel vouchers to la patria in exchange for military service.

The Sons of Italy Society concerned over its sickness and death benefit obligations, issued a terse statement to members volunteering for active duty in the service of Canada and Italy. Those joining the military would be suspended from the society. They would, however, be eligible for reinstatement on their return to civilian life.

Among those who enlisted in 1915 for active service in the Italian military were a group of Italians from Vancouver and the BC Interior. The volunteer brigade assembled at MacLean Park to begin drill exercises before officials completed arrangements for their passage to Italy. Young children, including Sammy De Filippo, watched in fascination as the recruits went through their exercises.

Bill Canal recalled his father, Pietro, mentioning that among the recruits were men formerly in the Italian Army who participated in the exercises. "A group of them formed something like a citizens' militia and would drill up on the MacLean Park playground. I remember my father saying that he and Filippo Branca were a part of it. My father had received some military training in Italy, you see. Neither one of them was called upon for anything, but it was an honest gesture on their part."

Jimmy Scatigno joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps. His brother Angelo Ruocco, still living in Castelgrande, served with Italy's crack Bersagliere Regiment. Although wounded in a gas attack, he was able to leave Italy after the war to join his brothers in Vancouver where he became a successful tailor and respected businessman.

The Sons of Italy raised funds for the Italian Red Cross in 1917 and the Italian Wounded Veterans' Association in 1919. In 1920, the society received a Diploma of Merit for its donations to the National Association of the Wounded and Invalid Veterans of the Great War.

There had been an economic recession in British Columbia around the time of the First World War and many families endured hardship. According to Rinda Dredge her father had become very resourceful in order to feed his family during this period. It was around the end of the war when my father learned that Canadian soldiers were being bivouacked at the PNE grounds. We - and other Italian families - would go down to the temporary barracks at six in the morning in hope of getting some of the unused breakfast food. There were big tins of jam, bacon, bread - bread galore - and we would just run in there and stuff all the left- overs in our sacks. My dad got to know one of the cooks and would give him some wine made by my uncle Lu. I was the oldest, so I brought the wine because the cook would only let the kids come in to take away the left-over food items. One day my dad brought the, cook a gallon of wine. As I was only 10 or 11, Dad had to give it to him because I couldn't carry the damn thing," concluded Rinda Dredge.

Table of Contents

Foreword Judge Dolores Holmes

Chapter 1 - Farewell Marino
Addio Marino

Chapter 2 - Liberty, Brotherhood, Equality
Liberta', Fratellanza, Uguaglianza

Chapter 3 - Murder!

Chapter 4 - A Pioneer Family of the Society
Una Famiglia Pioniera della Societa'

Chapter 5 - For the Homeland!
Per La Patria!

Chapter 6 - Remembering the Dead
Ricordate i Morti

Chapter 7 - The Italian Ladies' League
La Lega Femminile Italiana

Chapter 8 - The Best in Sports
I Mighori Nello Sport

Chapter 9 - The Grape Merchants
I Commercianti d'Uva

Chapter 10 - The First Italian Hall
La Prima Casa dItalia

Chapter 11 - The Italian Girls' Club
II Circolo Giovani Italiane

Chapter 12 - The Vancouver Italian-Canadian Society
La Societa' Italo-Canadese di Vancouver

Chapter 13 - Political Polemics
Le Polemiche Politiche

Chapter 14 - The Veneta's Twenty-fifth Anniversary
II Venticinquesimo Anniversario della Societa' Veneta

Chapter 15 - Founding the Italian Newspaper
Il Giornale Italiano e'Nato

Chapter 16 - Italian Celebrations
Le Feste Italiane

Chapter 17 - The Italian Language School
La Scuola Italiana

Chapter 18 - The Internees
Gli Internati

Chapter 19 - Remember the Soldiers
Ricordati dei Soldati

Chapter 20 - The Banquets
I Banchetti

Chapter 21 - The New Order
La Nuova Era

Chapter 22 - Precious Memories
Memorie Preziose

Chapter 23 - The Italian Activities Committee
II Comitato Attivita'Italiane

Chapter 24 - The Requiem and Birth
Il Requiem e la Nascita



I am delighted to write a foreword to Raymond's book about the early Italo-Canadians in the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia.

It is too often we forget the services performed by the earlier Italian families. We forget the services performed by our older peo-ple and relegate ourselves to our own generation peers, and in doing so, we lose and exclude lines of communication with our elders. This results, as we say today, in a "generation gap".

At the turn of the 20th century immigrants came to this country from Italy primarily because of need, and the desire to provide a better living for their family. They came to a country which was, insofar as Western Canada was concerned, a practical wilderness which needed strong and healthy men and women to cope with the problems incidental to a sort of primitive society. Some of them actually came in the days of the covered wagon.

In addition to the proverbial problems involved, these people, in the major part, were poorly educated and came from various parts of Italy. They did not speak our language, and were strangers to our customs and to our country. Despite these very real difficulties, they remained - strong backs, strong characters, urged on by an unchanging desire to succeed. They came to adopt this country as their own because their native country was unable to give them a living. Being for the most part uneducated, after their arrival in Canada, they became engaged in every labouring type of enterprise.

They worked in the mines, they went to the woods, they worked in lumber camps throughout the province, they worked in sawmills and related industries such as pulp and paper. Many went into agriculture of all kinds and fishing, all basic industries of British Columbia; all became successful and became entrepreneurs.

In various areas of the Lower Mainland some lived in groups and for the main part spoke their native language and learned English very slowly and very poorly. This was attributed in part to the poor facilities for learning the language in the location in which they lived and other considerations. Today these difficulties no longer exist. As time went on many graduated from manual employment and went into basic industries and professions or business and became entrepreneurs.

When immigrants arrived in those days, there were no brass bands at the stations, and nothing in the way of immigration services such as we now have to assist newcomers.

Men and women of the community met the trains and the people and helped the new arrivals, gave them food and lodging, helped them to find work and helped them to get to wherever work was available in the province.

These men and women who immigrated to Canada were good, sturdy, strong Italians. The came to this strange land, and liked it. They remained here and became good, rugged citizens and to produce in that family a good harvest of young Canadians, now no longer Italians but Italo- Canadians. Because of this ethnic origin, they also preserved a good knowledge of the native land of their fathers, of great men, of its great cultural history and heritage, and consequently felt it their duty to preserve this knowledge in community affairs.

They personified the type, like my grandparents, who realized that although they were uneducated, they had a primary duty to educate their children so that their children might be prepared for a life that was beyond the reach of their parents when they arrived.

These children and succeeding ones went to school and graduated into various professions and occupations. This illustrates the fact that the opportunity was there and that Italo-Canadians succeeded. They earned and brought respect to this ethnic group.

With the generations so expanding into different occupations, the Italo- Canadians were gradually accepted into the great family of the Canadian nation. Italo-Canadian boys married Canadian girls or girls of other ethnic groups. Italo-Canadian girls did the same. Most Canadians of Italian origin have maintained the heritage of Italian culture and preserved it in order to enrich their lives. What a difference 50 or 75 years makes in the life of an ethnic group and in the life of a nation.

Around the time of the First World War, Vancouver was a relatively small town of thirty or forty thousand people which included about a thousand Italians. Now in the twilight of the 20th century, this city has become the third largest in Canada and has, in the Greater Vancouver area, a population of well over one million people of whom forty or fifty thousand are Italo-Canadian.

This is a massive change in a comparatively short period of time; one cannot help wondering what the contributions of our children, as Italo- Canadians in the next century will be.

I would hope that this book would help its readers to remember some of the names of the early Italian settlers in the mainland - names such as Philip Branca, John Galetti, John Crosetti, Anlgelo Calori, Tony Cianci, John Carrelli, Cirillo Braga, Peter Tosi, the familiar Minichiello, Benedetti, Brandolini, Stefani, Benetti, Canal, Girone, Gallia, Battistoni, Ruocco, Berardino, Caravetta, Nadalin, Rossi, Valente, Culos - to name only a few of the many.

These all were the pioneers who went to meet our immigrant forebears and to help them get jobs and settle, and who then went on to help write the wonderful factual history of the Italo-Canadians in this province which constitutes a true record of great achievement.

I think it is eminently fitting that such a chronicle of this wonderful period of history of the Italo-Canadians in the Lower Mainland has been written by Raymond - and that he is carrying on the tradition exemplified so strongly by his parents, Marino and Phyllis Culos, of service to our community.

Our families, the Minichiellos and Brancas stretched back to the 1920s - close friends, sometimes on different sides of the fence, but always with a sincere respect for that position, and always with a strong friendship that has successfully passed the test of time.

I take this opportunity to publicly thank Raymond for the many hours he has spent in compiling this history.


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