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Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times: Italian Canadian Experiences During WWII

Italian Canadians, now considered a successful and important part of Canada’s multicultural identity, were once considered enemies of the state. On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Great Britain and her allies; in reaction, the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared as “enemy aliens” an estimated 31,000 Italian Canadians considered a threat to the safety of Canada.

These individuals were fingerprinted, photographed, and ordered to report monthly to the RCMP and local authorities. Those considered most dangerous, around 600, were sent to three internment camps in Alberta, Ontario, and New Brunswick for a period of up to five years. Though lives were disrupted and reputations damaged, not one internee would be of officially charged with a crime in a court of law.

Drawing from a series of oral histories collected between 2010 and 2012, “Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times: Italian Canadian Experiences During World War II” conveys the personal stories of a cross-section of Italian Canadians, including internees and their families, neighbours and fellow community members, and helps demonstrate the varied and far-reaching effects of that period of time.

To visit the official website and digital archive, see www.ItalianCanadianww2.ca

Permanent Exhibit

Location: Joseph D. Carrier Gallery, Upper Gallery/Alberto DiGiovanni Library (2nd Floor)
Gallery Hours and Admission: Exhibit is currently closed for conservation. Please stay tuned for more information about the exhibit.

For more information contact:

Cultural Arts Department
Columbus Centre
Tel: 416-789-7011 Ext 248
Email: cultural@villacharities.com

For more info on the Italian Canadian Experiences During WWII project, go to italiancanadianww2.ca.

Travelling Exhibit

To book this travelling exhibit for your museum/organization, contact us!


Riflessi: Italian Canadian internment Memorial by Harley Valentine (located in the Villa Colombo gardens at Dufferin and Lawrence Ave. West)

RCMP plant a tree to show regret for their role in the internment of Italian-Canadian as Enemy Aliens in 1940.

On September 18, 2018 at an official ceremony in Ottawa attended by children and grandchildren of internees, the RCMP formally acknowledged its role in executing the coerced removal and encampment of circa 600 men of Italian origin. At the beginning of WWII, these men were taken from their families and forced to labour activities for three years, until September 1943 when the Fascist Government fell and Italy ceased to be at war with Canada. Villa Charities and Columbus Centre join the families of the internees and the entire Italian-Canadian community to express their appreciation for this formal acknowledgment by the RCMP.

This dark moment in the history of the Italian-Canadian community was studied, documented and presented in exhibitions both at the Columbus Centre and around Canada through a multi-year research and archival project led by the Columbus Centre. Two permanent installations are dedicated to the memory of these men: a sculptural monument on the grounds of the campus by artist Harley Valentine and a permanent memorial wall in the Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery bearing the names of all the internees . The result of this comprehensive research project developed by the Columbus Centre is available on line at italiancanadianww2.ca.

For full coverage of the ceremony from CBC, please click here.



Click to view or download our Fall & Winter 2018/2019 Program Guide


Beyond Barbed Wire: Essays on the interment of Italian Canadians. Pick up your free copy from the Cultural Arts department or download it from here.

Contact info:
416-789-7011 Ext. 244/248