Mr. Speaker, today I am proud to stand in the House to speak in favour of Motion No. 64, for the creation of Italian heritage month.
Acknowledging the many contributions of Italian Canadians is key to recognizing the youthful mosaic that is our country. Setting aside time to reflect on why our diversity has made our country great is an important reminder that unless we are indigenous, then our family line is an immigrant one. It is an important reminder in this time that Canada needs newcomers to continue to build our country as our population grows and ages.
Multiculturalism is a fundamental Canadian value, and the NDP has a proud history of supporting multiculturalism and honouring our country's diversity. Across Canada there are many stories of the knowledge and expertise that Italian immigrants have contributed to Canadian society, a history comprised of Italian immigrants who established themselves in many communities across Canada.
In my riding of North Island—Powell River, an Italian immigrant by the name of Joseph Rodello built a hotel and store near Comox's wharf in the 1870s. Later on, he had a street named after him that now runs by St. Joseph's Hospital.
In fact, many Italian immigrants came to the Comox Valley in the 20th century to work principally in the coal mines. Often fleeing poverty from distant parts of the world, they came to our region looking for a better opportunity for their families. Their mark on the communities is still visible today.
In Campbell River for over 20 years, the Campbell River Italian Cultural Society has hosted an annual event at Miracle Beach Provincial Park, where hundreds gather to enjoy the outdoors, celebrate their culture, and savour home cooking. The sale of homemade sausages and spaghetti has raised more than $21,000 to support quality care for residents in Campbell River and the North Island.
In Powell River when the mill was just opening, many Italians came to settle in the community for work. Many settled particularly in the Wildwood area in which the Italian Cultural Centre is located still today. During the most vibrant years for the Italian community in Powell River, a great deal of food was produced in gardens and on small farms, fruits, vegetable, and some livestock. Food security is far less of an issue, with considerable local production and excellent growing conditions, a long season and excellent soils in that part of the community.
When we think of long-term impacts, many of those same orchards remain in Powell River though they are not often attended to and are no longer fully harvested. However, the hard work is still benefiting people today, as we are seeing an increase of people who are taking the fruit and providing it to various organizations that feed Powell River's growing number of homeless and hungry.
In my past work as the executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre in North Island, I remember hearing the story of one Italian immigrant whose family had settled in the west coast of Canada. Wanting to have their relatives join it, this man took a boat to Halifax. The reality is that many people when they were new to the country did not quite understand the size of the country. It was an interesting story that he shared with me about how fortunate he was that he brought his accordion with him. Once he arrived in Halifax, he realized he had to travel to the other side of a very vast country. Therefore, he used the accordion to make money to cross the country and be reunited with his family.
It is stories like this that have grown the wonderful diversity of our country. We see the richness that Italians have brought and how strong they have created that culture in Canada of community, family, and feeding one another.
Across Canada, there are 1.4 million Canadians of Italian descent. While the community is alive and thriving today, we must acknowledge that its history in Canada has not always been positive. Canada's allegiance in the Second World War led to many Italian Canadians being singled out as enemy aliens. What we now know is that the Italian community has thrived in Canada even though that dark time happened, while promoting and developing our multicultural fabric.
The numerous organizations that we contacted to discuss this motion were excited and pleased to lend their support. Of course, my province of B.C. declared the month of June as Italian heritage month several years ago.
I am very proud to support this motion, one that allows us the time to appreciate the people who came here to join our country. Their contributions have been significant, be it in the construction of urban infrastructure, the knowledge of arts and trades, or the manufacturing and textile industries, and many more. These men and women worked hard to build the country that we see today.
This motion would allow all Canadians to acknowledge and celebrate the rich cultural traditions we have gained from the Italian community. I look forward to lending my support.