Back to Top

This Week in Research: Italians in Canada- 150+ Years

This September, Laurentian University’s Italian Studies Program and the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW) organized a national conference on the presence of Italians in Canada. Italians in Canada: 150+ Years was organized by Paul Colilli, Diana Iuele-Colilli, Christine Sansalone (all of the Italian Studies Program at Laurentian), as well as Nic Battigelli, a retired teacher with the Sudbury Catholic School board; local author Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli; and Licia Canton, editor-in-chief of Accenti magazine. Laurentian University is an ideal place for such a conference due to the prominent teaching and research emphasis on Italian-Canadian studies in its Italian Studies Program.

The conference consisted of a mix of literary readings and academic presentations. Academic sessions featured topics such as The Literary and Linguistic Archives of Italian-Canadian LifeDocuments from before and during the War YearsConstructing / Reconstructing Italian-Canadian Lives; Photographing and Writing Cultural IdentityBetween Creation, Economics and Linguistics; and The Markets and Produce of Cultural History. Thirty-nine speakers presented in total. Academic presenters included Salvatore Bancheri, from the University of Toronto’s Italian Studies department; Simone Casini from the Universita Degli Studi di Perugia in Italy; and Silvia Caporale-Bizzini from the Universidad de Alicante in Spain. Artistic endeavors were also well represented, with speakers such as Frank Spezzano, producer of Canada’s first bilingual Italian theatre company, and Vincenzo Pietropaolo, a documentary photographer from Toronto. Naturally, the Italian-Canadian writing community was strongly represented as well, with writers and bloggers such as Frank Giorno, Cristina Pepe, and Rosetta Rosati. Both days also included book exhibits put on by the participating authors.

The focus of the conference was on the representation and critical assessment of Italian-Canadian cultural history—history being a major component of ethno-linguistic identity. Many of the various readings and presentations sought to explore the tension created between the past and the community’s hopes for the future, and how this tension shapes the present. The creative and critical writings presented at the conference bridge a gap in Canadian history, moving from a past heavily defined by ethno-linguistic differences into a present and future where different languages and ethnicities are no longer considered to create significant divisions within the country. Through different disciplines ranging from poetry to academic critiques, attendees were exposed to a wide variety of perspectives and modes of thinking regarding the past, present, and future of Italian Canadians.

The refereed conference proceedings will be published by the journal Italian Canadiana, housed in the Frank Iacobucci Centre for Italian Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto.