Development of a Working Class Ottawa, Canada Neighbourhood, 1880-1950
Italian and Irish Catholic Immigrants
December 16, 2012:
In this essay, I'll examine two immigrant groups, the Roman Catholic Irish and the Italians in an Ottawa, Canada working class
neighbourhood between the years 1880 and 1950 and try to discover how ethnic, religious and gender differences affected the adjustment of
these groups during their assimilation to the Canadian citizenship reality at the time. Did this geographic microcosm of immigration
to urban Canada become a "mosaic" or a "melting pot"? I hope to shed light on this question mainly by the use of primary source material.
The neighbourhood examined here is bounded by the Lebreton Flats industrial area (in Victoria Ward) along the Ottawa River to the
north and in the south by Carling Avenue / Dow's Lake. To the west is the Bayswater area including the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway
(now the O-Train). The boundary on the east is Bronson Avenue. Its political boundaries were defined as including Dalhousie Ward
and west half of Victoria Ward with some earlier connections to Ottawa Ward and By Ward in Lowertown Ottawa. Also included is Preston Street
which is the centre of Ottawa's Little Italy. The neighbourhood is shown on the following map. For purposes of this
paper, "the neighbourhood" is defined as Dalhousie Ward; "the village" is defined as Ottawa's Little Italy.
Map Source: Ottawa: An Illustrated History, by John H. Taylor, page 114
This working class neighbourhood began to be urbanized in the 1860's by Irish famine immigrants who had originally settled
close to the docks where Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River and in the By Ward Market area between 1846 and 1854.
Ottawa's first slum clearance program soon displaced these Irish Catholics to make way for Major's Hill Park and the
Governor General's property before Confederation in 1867. Many of these Irish families moved to the Ashburnham Hill neighbourhood
(Bronson Avenue and Nepean Street).
The second flood of Irish into the area began in the 1880's and resulted from a population shift consisting mainly of descendants
of the Irish Catholics who had worked on the Rideau Canal starting in the 1820's and who, by now, mostly lived on farms in the neighbouring
rural townships (which are now part of the City of Ottawa, themselves). The industrialization and urbanization process pushed
and pulled excess adult children from their family farms into the neighbourhood from nearby rural townships including the Manotick Station
area in northern Osgoode Township, from the South Gloucester area and from Jockvale in Nepean Township and also included descendants
of the 1823 Peter Robinson Settlers from west Huntley Township.
Also, by 1880, the first immigrants from Southern Italy were arriving in Ottawa, settling first in Ottawa Ward but migrating,
starting about 1900, to Little Italy.
Eight Italian Families in the 1881 Census in Lowertown, Ottawa:
The following Italian heads of households, (all male, average age 36), appear in the 1881 Census for Ottawa Ward in Ottawa.
These men were all born in Italy between the years 1836 and 1854 and represent the earliest migrants from Italy to the Ottawa region.
No other city ward included Italians in the 1881 census.
Table Source: 1881 Census Records are from a three CD set of the 1881 Census of Canada created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
(the Mormon Church). The 1881 census is also searchable online at www.familysearch.org.
BAIGI, Francis born 1844 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (Painter)
BEZANO, Alfred born 1836 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (Plasterer)
COURSOLLE, Jacob born 1840 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (Cab Driver ... Horse and Buggy)
GRECAU, Raphael born 1850 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (name is GRECO)
LAUREN, Joseph born 1854 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (Marble Worker)
LA MOTHE, Hemo G. born 1851 Male French, Birth: Italy (note: French)
MUSCARDINO, Stephano born 1854 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (Colporter)
VARALO, Johnny born 1839 Male Italian, Birth: Italy (Gianni, Musician)
Were these eight Italian men all sojourners, I.E. did they come as single men to make money before returning to Italy? According to the
household census records, they were all married men with families - for example, here is the family record for Alfred Bezano listed
above: It appears that the sojourners didn't come to Ottawa until later:
Alfred Bezano Male 45 years Born in: Italy
Marguerite Bezano Female 33 years Born in: Quebec
Joseph Bezano Male 15 years Born in: Quebec
Jean Bezano Male 12 years Born in: Ontario
Elmire Bezano Female 14 years Born in: Ontario
Adéle Bezano Female 10 years Born in: Ontario
Marie Louise Bezano Female 6 years Born in: Ontario
Denise Bezano Female 4 years Born in: Ontario
According to the 1881 census, Alfred Bezano married a French Canadian lady, likely in Montreal, and their first child, Joseph, was born
there in 1866, a very early immigrant Italian family.
From Ottawa Ward to Little Italy starting about 1900
By 1911 the Ottawa Italian community has expanded and migrated. They have almost all moved to Little Italy. In the table below, note the
different household structure. Importantly, sojourners appear as lodgers in Italian family households. The family of Dominic and Mary
Calculina contains four single male lodgers of working age.
A Typical Italian Family in the 1911 Census in Little Italy:
44 35 Calculina Dominck M Head M Sep 1883 27
45 35 Calculina Mary F Wife M May 1896 25
46 35 Lipuma Salvatore M Lodger S May 1865 46
47 35 Mondi Guiseppe M Lodger S Mar 1872 39
48 35 Canado Francesco M Lodger S Apr 1868 43
49 35 In**acesa Ga*lano M Lodger S Feb 1877 34
Source: 1911 Census of Victoria Ward, Ottawa, Canada from www.automatedgenealogy.com
The small number of Italian families in Ottawa in 1881 and the large number of Italian households containing sojourners by 1911 illustrate
the heavy immigration over a thirty year period as described by Bruno Ramirez "Just before the Great War put an abrupt end to immigration,
Abruzzi - Molise (in Southern Italy) had reached a rate of departures surpassing all other Apennine regions".
As well, the Ottawa Citizen Online Digital Archives from the 1950's show two examples of men from prominent Italian families
who immigrated from Sicily during the 1890's and lived in Little Italy. See Appendix 1. I believe that Italian families moved from the anonymity of
Ottawa Ward to re-create the small village type of living which they had left behind in Southern Italy. The appearance of sojourners by 1911
foreshadows single men who would later marry and form families in Little Italy.
The Labour Market
The Irish Catholic and Italian families came to the neighbourhood to find work and, in the long-term, to achieve upward mobility. The work was
available as there were two main railway temini located in the industrial centre at Lebreton Flats. Sawmills and lumber mills located at the
Chaudiere Falls had requirements for unskilled workers. There was a labour-intensive brewery at the north end of Preston Street, the city of Ottawa
streetcar barn was on Albert Street and a slaughter house was at the corner of the Railway tracks and Elgin Streets. As well, after Confederation
in 1867, civil service jobs began to slowly open up for residents. All of these jobs were within walking distance for residents of the neighbourhood.
In a National Capital City the size of Ottawa, the acquisition of a Civil Service job was an upwardly mobile move. I checked the 1912 Civil Service List
for the city of Ottawa. There are almost no Italians listed and Irish men from the neighbourhood worked as labourers and messengers for the government,
especially after the Federal Mines and Technical Surveys Buildings were built on Booth Street. It was a foot in the door for their descendants.
Almost all of the young Irish men in the neighbourhood volunteered to serve in WWII - after the depression of the 1930's,
joining up provided quick employment and allowed soldiers to send cash payments back to their families at home. At the end of the war, all of the
returning soldiers were eligible for the Government of Canada's Veteran's Preference and took up civil service jobs by the thousands.
Here is the 1881 Census Record for Patrick Christopher, son of an Irish Rideau Canal worker, farmer, in Osgoode Township,
Ontario, Canada (now part of the city of Ottawa):
name: Patrick Christopher
calculated birth year: 1836
birthplace: Ontario (son of my GGGrandfather who came from County Waterford, Ireland to Bytown to work on the Rideau Canal)
marital status: Married
ethnic origin: Irish
head of household: Patrick Christopher
Census place: Osgoode, Russell, Ontario, Canada
Here is my grandmother's sister, Bertha Christopher, in the 1911 Census who left the farm in 1895, attracted by the lights and sights of Ottawa.
Bertha is working as a domestic servant, the most accessible job available to young single Catholic women:
26 204 Gibson James M Head M Apr 1843 68
27 204 Gibson Margaret F Wife M Dec 1847 53
28 204 Gibson Isabelle F Daughter S Jul 1872 38
29 204 Gibson Helen R. F Daughter S Apr 1884 26
30 204 Kirkwood Margaret F Servant Widow
31 204 Christopher Bertha F Servant Single
Bertha Christopher is one of two domestic servants living in the household of James and Margaret Gibson and their two daughters. Bertha is single;
Margaret Kirkwood is a widow. Bertha was the leading edge for the Christopher family's urbanization process.
The Catholic religious centres for the area during the early twentieth century were St. Patrick's Basilica on Kent Street for the Irish and
St. Anthony of Padua, a National Italian church for the Italian community from 1913 to 1936. The Irish church-goers began to increasingly
attend St. Anthony's Church when it became a territorial and multi-ethnic parish in 1936. This period was marked by heavy Irish immigration
to the neighbourhood from the rural area during the Depression. In Planted by Flowing Water by Mark McGowan et. al. , the role
of Father Ferraro who was an immigrant agent, one-man employment agency and an early social worker for the parish is documented. The good works of
Father Ferraro are further documented by Kathleen Talarico, in her M.A. Essay Standing Shoulder to Shoulder written at Carleton University in 2008.
The multi-cultural evolution of St. Anthony's Church can be seen in my own birth certificate shown in Appendix 2. There are two baptisms shown on the page.
The top one was performed by Father Ferraro where the mother was Italian. The second baptism was performed by Father Patrick Pharand for an Irish mother (mine).
For Irish Catholics, St. Anthony's was the religious centre of their lives. For the Italians, the church was a far-reaching cultural centre as well.
Map Source: Planted by Flowing Water, by Mark McGowan, etc.
On school days, there was no interaction between Public Schools and Separate Schools - there are only three city blocks along Gladstone Avenue
separating Cambridge Street Public School and St. Anthony's Separate School. Students played in their own sports leagues at school. The only
pupil to pupil interaction during school was for First Communion when Grade 3 Catholics were allowed to attend Catechism classes at St. Anthony's School.
Things were different after school and on weekends when the school children mixed completely, ignoring and unaware of any ethnic or religious
differences. Soccer and hockey were the two main sports, enjoyed played enthusiastically by both groups. It was different among the parents. They were
friendly but not close because of the language differences of Italian and English speakers.
By the 1930's both Irish and Italian students were attending high-school at Glebe Collegiate Institute and the High School of Commerce which
shared a building at the corner of Bronson Avenue and Carling Avenue. Many male teenagers attended Ottawa Technichal High School.
Female students were usually channelled into training for typing and general office courses at the High School of Commerce, to meet the needs of an
expanding civil service. Male students were more likely to attend the academic program at St. Patrick's High School across the Pretoria Bridge
(or at Glebe Collegiate if we came from a public feeder school). Merging of Italian and Irish families are shown in the increasingly common
inter-marriage as documented in the DROUIN records of St. Anthony's Church. Especially after WWII,
when many of the young Irish men from the neighbourhood had been present at the Allied liberation of Italy. Intermarriage between Italian and
Irish became more common. Two of my Irish uncles ate out very well in Italian homes and restaurants for years. Both uncles had been present at
the invasion of Italy near the end of the war and they developed life-long friendships with Italian men on their arrival home. The Italians were
overwhelmingly grateful that men from their own church and neighbourhood had helped to liberate their homeland.
Influence of the British Empire
During the period examined by this essay, Canadian Immigration and settlement policy was geared to achieving an ideal civilized society based on
British moral and life-style expectations. The concept of "Empire", while very important to the English, Irish Protestant and Scottish immigrants,
was mostly irrelevant to both the Italians and the Irish Catholics, except insofar as it paralleled their own aspirations toward middle-class
respectability. The descendants of the Irish canal labourers were far removed from Ireland, although they cheered the creation of the Republic
of Ireland in the 1920's. Many of the descendants of the famine immigrants in Ottawa blamed the English for not doing more to alleviate the famine
conditions in Ireland in the 1840's. See www.bytown.net/wicklowemigrants.htm. The Italians from their villages in Southern Italy
had no early direct connection with Britain. The Empire was very strongly propagandized in the Public Schools in Ottawa; it was almost unheard of
in the separate schools. Most of the inter-ethnic conflict in the neighbourhood involved French vs. English or Irish Catholics vs. Irish Protestants
and English immigrants, especially among the descendants of British Home Children and other English working class immigrants who attended the
low Anglican Church, St. Luke's, on Somerset Street. The Protestant-wide sentiments in the neighbourhood were based on wide-spread prejudice
against Roman Catholics, including against the large French speaking population.
The first paragraph of this essay asked whether this microcosm of immigration to the neighbourhood became a "mosaic" or a "melting pot"?
Both ethnic groups have become strong members of Canadian society. However, the Italian community has more tenaciously and proudly
maintained its cultural heritage, both as individuals and as a group. The Irish Catholics are all proud Canadians but in most families,
the ties to Ireland have long been severed. Except for the annual St. Patrick's Day Celebrations which is inclusive of many people in
Ottawa and the Valley, of all ethnic groups.
In a sense, "you can go home again". Italian families are much more likely today to visit family in Italy than the Irish Catholics are to
visit Ireland, mainly as tourists. Ireland is farther back in time for them. For Irish Catholic families, going home is usually a trip to
visit the pioneer family or cemetery farm in one of the adjacent rural townships. Both of my Irish Catholic grandparents moved from
the farm in their forties but died thirty years later in the city and their funerals were held at St. Anthony's Church but they were
interred in the Irish Catholic Church, St. John the Evangelist, in Osgoode Township, adjacent to their
My generation will all be buried in a rather no-name cemetery called Capital Memorial Gardens, along with many of our old Italian friends
and neighbours. No proud, upright celtic crosses, no ornate frescoes, just bronze, in-the-ground markers containing names and dates.
A loss of some colourful cultural heritage for both groups.
(Images and Appendices not included for privacy reasons).
Burgess, Anne, A Story of Emigration: Southwest County Wicklow, Ireland, to Ontario, Canada, 1847-55, (Ottawa, c. 2010,
at http://www.bytown.net/wicklowemigrants.htm). Primary source documents are included in this material of assisted
emigration of tenants from the Fitzwilliam Estate during the Irish famine)
1881 Census of Canada Records contained on a four CD set created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church).
The 1881 census is searchable online at at http://www.familysearch.org.
(Not as powerful for historical research purposes as is the CD version).
1901 and 1911 Census of Canada Records, searchable online at http://www.automatedgenealogy.com
Government of Canada, The Civil Service List for the year 1912, Containing the names, occupations and rates of pay of all Persons employed
in the several Departments of the Civil Service (Ottawa, 1912, printed by the Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty)
Can be viewed at the Library of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontarial Genealogical Society (OBOGS)
Registers of St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, Booth Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 1908-1963, online images available from the
DROUIN Collection (see Link Above)
Obituaries from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, 1950-1967, (see search methodology at http://www.bytown.net/citizensearch.htm)
Baker, William M., "God's Unfortunate People: Historiography of Irish Catholics in Nineteenth Century Canada",
in The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada, (Robert O'Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds, eds., Toronto, 1988), pages 59-74
Hurturbise, Pierre, Mark G. McGowan and Pierre Savard, Planted by Flowing Water - The (Roman Caholic) Diocese of Ottawa, 1847-1997,
(Saint Paul University, Ottawa, 1998)
Iacovetta, Franca, "From Contadina to Worker: Southern Italian Immigrant Working Women in Toronto, 1947-1962",
(in Immigration in Canada: Historical Perspectives, Gerald Tulchinsky, ed. Copp Clark Longman, Toronto), pages 380-402
Iacovetta, Franca, The Writing of English Canadian Immigrant History, (Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa, 1997)
Murphy, Terrence and Roberto Perin, eds., A Concise History of Christianity in Canada, (Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1996)
Nicolson, Murray W., "The Education of a Minority: The Irish Family Urbanized", in The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada,
(Robert O'Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds, eds., Toronto, 1988), pages 759-84
Ramirez, Bruno, On the Move, French-Canadian and Italian Migrants in the North Atlantic Economy, 1860-1914, (Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1991)
Talarico, Kathleen, Standing Shoulder to Shoulder: The Experiences of Southern Italians who Immigrated to Ottawa in the Postwar Period,
(M.A. Essay at Carleton University, 2008, Carleton Library Call Number M.A. 2008 T35) (in the basement, have to pre-order to get at it)
Taylor, John H., Ottawa: An Illustrated History, (James Lorimer and Company, Toronto, 1986)
Zucchi, John E. Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935, (McGill-Queens University Press, 1988)
"The Founding of St. Anthony's Church in 1903", Extract from How the Italian Mission Was Founded.
By Rev. Father Fortunato, O.M.C., From L'Angelo delle Famiglie, January-February, 1930 at http://ilpostinocanada.com/ottawaitalians/Community/theFoundingOfStAnthonysChurch.htm
March 23, 2014:
The "TREE Streets" in Dalhousie Ward
During the time of urbanization and industrialization in Ottawa, thousands of pioneer farm families moved
to Dalhousie Ward and settled in the "Tree Street Neighbourhood". These streets, shown in the map below
were Maple Street, Elm Street, Spruce Street, Cedar Street, Poplar Street, Willow Street, Oak Street
and Balsam Street. A couple of other streets were / are Margaret Street, Anderson Street and Eccles Street.
Map Source: Ottawa In Maps, 1825-1974, by Library and Archives, Canada, 1974, no ISBN, page 35.
Also, during the depression of the 1930's, many farm families moved to this area. My Grandparents moved
from Osgoode Township to Willow Street in 1931.
Rochesterville was named after John Rochester.
E-mail Allan Lewis
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