In the early 1860s, Italians began trickling into British Columbia via San Francisco. Fleeing grinding poverty back home, they came north to the isolated valleys and cities of the province to pan for gold, raise cattle, dig coal, fell timber, build railroads, smelt copper and refine lead, or to start small businesses. BC welcomed them grudgingly.
Recounting the stories of individual Italian immigrants, celebrated author Lynne Bowen has crafted a loosely chronological narrative of the Italian settlement of BC. It's a story rife with discrimination and tragedy, with families torn apart when their men left Italy for more promising futures, but always there is a rich sense of community and a sense of pride.
Here we meet Joseph Fontana, who incensed his fellow striking miners when he crossed their picket line near Ladysmith. We meet Sabina Teti, who ran a boarding house in Vancouver's Italian district of Strathcona. We hear stories of the 53 Italians who were rounded up from BC and shipped off to Kananaskis internment camp for fear that they would form a fifth column in support of Mussolini. Through these stories, Bowen also reveals the Canadian immigration, labour, and multiculturalism issues of the time.
Today, the BC Italian community is Canada's oldest by 50 years. Bowen has spent 10 years conducting interviews and combing through newspapers, government records and letters to write this definitive history. Whoever Gives Us Bread will appeal to the large Italian population in BC and across Canada as well as to readers of social history.