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How Sarnia’s Italian-Canadian Community Has Preserved its Story

I am the daughter of an Italian immigrant from southern Lazio (Ciociaria) who was raised in a small Ontario city called Sarnia.   As in so many towns and cities across Canada we had a church (now closed) that provided mass in Italian from 1956-2008 and was a centre where the newly arrived Italians congregated.   In addition an Italian-Canadian Club was formed in 1957.

In our home my parents told us many stories about their journey to Canada, why they immigrated, their struggles to rebuild their home and how life was in the “old country.”  As children we would also listen to stories when people came to visit or we visited newly arrived paesani. Nearly everyone who was part of this Italian community came from rural roots and very humble origins and from “Ciociaria”.

In my early thirties I tried to find documentation about this Italian-Canadian presence in Sarnia, but to my surprise there was none to found. It looked as if it would be up to us, members of the community to research and write our own story.   The problem was figuring out how do we go about this, and whether other cities across Ontario had done this type of work.  Remember this was in the late 1980’s before computers were common tools for communication.

The first thing we did was to bring together interested members of the community and leaders within the community. Included in this group was the Italian- Parish priest, some high-school teachers of Italian origin, high school students and others who had an interest. We gathered, formed a committee and met on various occasions to discuss a strategy of engagement.  The students researched microfilms at the library from newspaper articles etc.   We found that there were experts in Toronto and after a few tries we connected with an expert who was willing to assist us.  He gave us a protocol and methodology to follow.

Others on the committee were given tasks such as, organize interviews and collect documents, which were dropped off at the church, organize the material and a team who compiled the story.  We raised some funds locally to help with this project.  This group organized workshops for high school students, created a pictorial exhibit of the materials and then wrote the publication “One by one…Passo dopo passo”  History of Italian Community in Sarnia-Lambton 1870-1990.

Here we are 25 years later working on adding to this story in Sarnia.  It is important that we individually and collectively take responsibility to preserve this history because it is our legacy as Italian-Canadians and our history as Canadians. But more needs to be done on a National scale and that is why ICAP exists.

– Caroline Di Cocco

The book is available through, in the National Library of Canada and in the local book store, the Book Keeper, in Sarnia.