Brock students provincially recognized for preserving Italian immigrant stories

A group of Brock University students is being provincially recognized for the work they’ve done to preserve the personal stories of Italian immigrants online.

Students in ITAL/CANA 2P98: Italians in Canada and Italy-Canada Relations recently received the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Youth Achievement and Young Leaders Award for their contributions to the Archival Research of Italian-Canadian Immigration and Culture Project (ARICIC).

“Their projects are important to the Italian-Canadian community, particularly after documents were destroyed at Italian cultural centres during the internment years,” says instructor Teresa Russo. “Their research recovers some of the loss narratives during that period and documents new ones from other periods of Italian immigration to Canada.”

The course saw Brock students working with peers from the University of Toronto to research, interview and document immigration stories from Italian communities in Toronto and Niagara, which were then added to the archive.

Sam Caravaggio was one of the ITAL 2P98 students who recently received the Lieutenant Governor’s 2020 Ontario Heritage Award for Youth Achievement and Young Leaders Award for their contributions to the Archival Research of Italian-Canadian Immigration and Culture Project (ARICIC).

“The ARICIC site primarily records the diverse stories of Italian-Canadians, but those stories cross with other important narratives because Italian immigrants shared communities with other immigrants and with people who already lived in Canada, like in Toronto’s Ward neighbourhood and the ethnic community around the Welland Canal,” says Russo. “Thus, their research also brings value to other narratives.”

The students’ research examined the diverse and varied immigrant Italian contributions to Canadian society.

Danielle Pace chose to look at the contributions of Italian-Canadian women in the workplace during the First and Second World War eras.

“I was able to conduct research of archival data and published works in order to examine the great contributions that Italian-Canadian women made during war periods,” she says. “The artifacts I was able to find and the information I gained was extremely eye-opening, as the stories of war I have heard my entire life solely involved men on the battlefront.”

Pace appreciated the opportunity to learn stories that are not always told in textbooks.

“Through this project, I realized that stories make up my understanding of history, and in order to know the truth about Canada’s history, we must continue to research and learn about the voices that are not always heard,” she says.

Sam Caravaggio’s research looked at the exploitation of migrant Italian workers during the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the early 1900s. The focus was sparked by his own experience taking the CPR from Jasper, Alta., to Vancouver, B.C.

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to research some of the history behind the railway as well as the contributions from Italian migrant workers,” he says. “I had assumed that the large percentage of Italian workers involved with the development of the CPR were new residents of Canada, but I discovered in my research the majority were seasonal workers who would come to Canada for a few months and then return to their families in Italy with their earnings.”

The results of their research, and new archival material the students collected, such as passports and photographs, are now available in an online archive hosted by the Ontario Heritage Trust.

“The students’ work has preserved historical documents, archives and oral histories, and has made these resources easily available to an international audience through an online platform,” said the Ontario Heritage Trust in a press release.

The students creatively incorporated archival research with oral tradition, language, art, music and social traditions in their research projects. They had hands-on archive experience with the help of David Sharron, head of Brock’s Special Collections and Archives.

As a Concurrent Education student, Caravaggio learned first-hand the learning benefits offered by small class sizes.

“With 15 students in the course, Dr. Russo was able to give us her full attention, reach ever single student, further our learning through open discussion and assist us throughout the entirety of the process,” he says.

The Brock students originally presented their research posters at the Italian Canadian Archives Project (ICAP), hosted by Brock’s Faculty of Humanities and the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures in 2019. This led to the creation of the Archival Research of Italian Canadian Immigration and Culture Project.

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