Italian Internment Memorial Launch Toronto


June 10th was always a significant date in our household as we grew up. This date represented the date that the war measures act was invoked in 1940 when our grandfather, Giuseppe Costantini was arrested as one of 600 Italian Enemy aliens by the Canadian government. He was interned in Petawawa for 10 months leaving a young motherless family in Ottawa to fend for themselves.

Every year on the anniversary of this event, our parents , Ross and Kay (Costantini) Pavia got together with other families of those interned such as the Tiezzi family to enjoy a meal, a bottle of wine and to share the memories and stories of this sad time. We heard about the hardships they endured of being fatherless, about the day our home on Rochester St was raided and ransacked by the RCMP looking for our grandfather and how our mother Kay swooshed child protection services away with a broom so they would not take her siblings away. We read the censored letters from the camp and about the hardships the internees endured and the days the families spent trying to get their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons home.

In 1990, fifty years later the Canadian government offered an unofficial apology but it wasn’t until 2005 that monies were allocated to memorialize those who were interned. Locally, in Ottawa there is a wall at Dante Piazza (corner of Gladstone and Booth) . On May 31, 2012 at the Columbus Centre, Lawrence Ave in Toronto a permanent exhibit entitled “ITALIANS AS ENEMY ALIENS: WORLD WAR II” was officially opened. This exhibit was funded by the Community Historical Recognition program,Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

It was a beautiful but emotional evening for the families of the internees from across Canada who wandered the exhibit reading internees letters about camp conditions,viewing artifacts, timelines, videos of stories, and seeing sketches and carvings made in the camp.The free exhibit is part of our Italian heritage and Canadian history. It is open daily and so the next time you are in Toronto, take time to visit. It is worth the trip.

Rosemary Poggione and Cathy Bourguignon
Granddaughters of Giuseppe Costantini