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They made little 'canadiens'

I Protagonisti tells the story of Italians

by Barbara Black

It took about two years for Professor Filippo Salvatore, who has an active second career in journalism and publishing, to edit and choose the many images for I Protagonisti Italiani di Montreal (The Italian Protagonists of Montreal).

The book, an imposing, well-illustrated volume, traces the Italian presence not just in Montreal, but in Canada, all the way back to Giovanni Caboto (annoyingly renamed John Cabot by his English backers), who discovered Newfoundland for Europe in 1497.

This early history is presented in the first chapter of I Protagonisti by Concordia History Professor Bruno Villata, who also includes, by name, hundreds of Italian soldiers known to have served in Canada in the earliest days of New France.

Many of them, naturally, stayed, married, and made little canadiens. For Salvatore and his colleagues, this sort of historical data gives the lie to any suggestion that the Italians are an "immigrant" population.

Don Taddeo contributed a chapter to I Protagonisti on the emergence of the Italian-Canadian middle class and the "education wars" of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Quebec nationalism, expressed in restrictions on access to English-language schools, met with resistance by Italian Montrealers.

Taddeo has worn a great variety of hats over his career. A Communication Studies professor who has been Dean of Engineering and Computer Science, he is currently Executive Vice-Chair of Concordia's Capital Campaign. Back in the early 1970s, he was a member of the MontrealEnglish Catholic School Board.

Salvatore himself wrote two chapters, one on the successful fight to erect a statue to Caboto in a Montreal square, and another on the war years, when Italians in Montreal were made acutely conscious of the fact that Canada was at war with their mother country, and reacted in wildly different ways. He is the author of Fascism and the Italians of Montreal, which has been published in English, French and Italian.

I Protagonisti is expensive -- $150 -- but it's a testament to the great contribution that Italians have made over three centuries to Canadian life, both anglophone and francophone, in cuisine, fashion, construction, commerce, services, government and culture.

The Italian community in Quebec can be properly said to have
dated from 1880, during the first of several waves of immigration. Now, it is about 250,000 strong, second only to that in Toronto. Salvatore hopes that every family of Italian origin will buy a copy to show proudly to their children, and that it will become a standard reference
for scholars.

The official launching of the book will take place on November 13 at Casa d'Italia, a restaurant near the Jean Talon Métro station, and everyone is welcome.

Italian book

Bruno Villata, Filippo Salvatore and Don Taddeo all contributed to I Protagonisti Italiani di Montreal. Above them rises the statue of Caboto. A project of the Italian community of Montreal, it was erected in the summer of 1997, 500 years after The Matthew touched the shore of Newfoundland, in the renamed Cabot Square, at the corner of Atwater and Ste. Catherine St.

Copyright 1998 Concordia's Thursday Report.