B.C.’s Italian history explored by author

Whoever Gives Us Bread is Lynne Bowen’s sixth book on B.C. history.

Author Lynne Bowen's new book focuses on the Italian community in B.C.

Author Lynne Bowen's new book focuses on the Italian community in B.C.

Unemployment at home forced thousands of Italian men to cross oceans and continents for a way to support their families.

They came to British Columbia and took what work they could get – often that meant in the mines across the lines of striking workers.

“The men just came temporarily,” said Lynne Bowen, author of a new book on the Italian community in B.C. “Because their families were in Italy, they had nothing to lose being strikebreakers.”

Whoever Gives Us Bread is Bowen’s sixth book on B.C. history, her previous titles focusing on coal mining, Robert Dunsmuir and settlers.

While Bowen doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of history, she also presents the joyous side of the Italian community, which valued family, good food and friends.

“You shouldn’t try and clean up history,” said Bowen, who is a member of Nanaimo’s Italian lodge. “We all have our weaker points.”

Italian life often surrounded businesses like grocery stores and Bowen met friendly and accepting people during her journeys.

Gatherings are often loud and joyous, with competitions in homemade wine and sausages.

The decision to focus on Italians in B.C. was sparked by a trip to Italy with her husband in the 1990s.

“It was really last minute – [our friends] had an extra bedroom in their villa,” Bowen said. “We fell completely in love with the place.

“Everyone was so nice to us.”

A letter Bowen came across while writing a previous book about the role of Italians as strikebreakers in the early 20th century also sparked an urge to find out why the Italian community had this reputation, which led to interviews and research across the province.

Bowen interviewed leading members of Italian communities across B.C., including Nanaimo, Trail and Fernie. In some cases, elders in the community were previously interviewed with the transcripts readily available.

“I ended up with a lot of information,” Bowen said.

While many members of the communities were happy to share their stories, Bowen found people were quite closed-mouth when it came to shameful incidents, such as support for Mussolini, the Italian dictator during the Second World War, with some declining to be part of the book when asked.

“Mostly, they tried to present a very positive image of themselves,” Bowen said.

Part of the reason for that is the shabby treatment Italians endured in Canada, often suffering racism, segregation and name-calling.

The wave of emigration occurred soon after the principalities and city states of Italy united and the new government failed to address issues.

Land had to be divided among remaining sons, which combined with a high birth rate, meant farms were divided into smaller and smaller parcels.

“Pretty soon no one among the peasantry owned enough land to support themselves,” Bowen said. “Italy has more emigrants per capita than any other country in the world.”

Due to a devastating car accident earlier this year, Bowen is still recovering from surgery to repair broken legs, pelvis, wrist and sternum. Her book launch will take place in September at the Nanaimo Museum.

Whoever Gives Us Bread is available at local bookstores and the museum.

For more information, please visit www.lynnebowen.ca.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Just Posted

Nanaimo author B.S. Thompson has released his debut novel, ‘The Book of Nodd.’ (Photo courtesy Nora Funk)
Nanaimo author invites readers into dangerous world of dreams in debut novel

B.S. Thompson unveils ‘The Book of Nodd’ with online launch June 20

Potters Virginia Dunseith and Ruth Porter present their joint exhibit ‘Dig It’ at Art 10 Gallery until the end of June. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Potters show pieces for home and garden at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Virginia Dunseith and Ruth Porter’s show ‘Dig It’ on display until end of June

Construction work continues on the City of Nanaimo’s new Fire Station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (News Bulletin file)
Next phase of borrowing approved as Nanaimo fire hall construction ongoing

City of Nanaimo CAO says construction on Fitzwilliam Street hall on schedule and budget

Nanaimo Fire Rescue firefighters at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Tenth Street near Southside Drive on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver OK after crashing vehicle off the side of Nanaimo’s Tenth Street

Crews say wet roads a factor a crash Sunday, June 13

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

Most Read