Early Italian Immigration to Canada and Brantford

A brief summary of Italian immigration to Canada and Brantford

Photo - Stephanie Family arrives at Pier 21 from Naples


Immigration out of Italy began in 1861. Economic changes in the mid-1800s pushed Italians to make the decision to leave Italy. Many Italian peasants in southern Italy rented and sharecropped land, which often resulted in hardly enough to pay the landlords, while others owned small portions of land that only provided them with a small monetary return.

When they began to immigrate, this created a migration phenomenon that lasted until the introduction of fascism and picked up again after World War II. From 1898 on, Italians chose either the United States or Canada to start a new life. The greatest number of Italian immigrants came from regions such as Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzi, Molise, and Sicily. From the beginning of this migration phenomenon until 1914, most of Italy’s emigrants were farmers, shepherds, gardeners, peasants, and other farm workers.

Post-1914, more tradesmen and craftsmen began to make the trip over. During the First World War, the numbers of immigrants was reduced, but by 1920-1927, the numbers rose again. Immigration faced another lull during the Second World War. 

The first Italian to arrive in Brantford to settle was Filippo Tommaso in 1891. Tommaso was twenty-seven years old, trained as a labourer, and married to a woman named Susan of Irish heritage. Tommaso is remembered as the first recorded immigrant to be living in Brantford; however, Cathy Murtland (née Bonaccorso) of Simcoe, explained that Leonardo Fardella and his wife Santa Ceravola, were living in Brantford in the 1880s. Their daughter, Frances Fardella (married to Salvatore Domenico) gave birth to a child, Francis Anthony Domenico, in Brantford on October 29, 1886. None of these names appear in the census of 1991, but it can be proven that they lived in Brantford for the remainder of their lives.  

At the time of Tommaso’s immigration, the Canadian government typically did not permit entrance to southern Italians, but instead welcomed British, White Americans and northwestern Europeans. Some Italians did successfully immigrate to Canada, however, either through entrance from the United States, or due to permits allowing them to work on the railroads or for construction of urban infrastructure. Early immigrants to Brantford tended to be poor, were unable to speak English, but were willing to accept jobs that other individuals did not want to take.

Photo - Maria Antonelli with Children (cir. 1918)


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