Giovanni Pietro Antonio Nobili was a Roman Catholic priest, Jesuit, and missionary. While there are no accounts of Father Giovanni documenting his time in Kelowna, he did work with the local First Nations peoples in this area. He was born in Rome to Domenico Nobili and Rosa Eutizi on April 28, 1812. Giovanni entered the Society of Jesus in Rome in 1828 and took his first vows in 1835. As a Jesuit scholastic, he taught humanities at several Jesuit colleges in Italy before his ordination in 1843. Soon after, he volunteered for the Jesuit missions being prepared for the northwest coast of North America. Nobili, four other Jesuit priests and six sisters sailed from Antwerp, Belgium in 1844 and arrived at the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Vancouver, Washington.
For the next ten months Nobili ministered to the many French Canadian employees at the fort and learned many Indian dialects. In June of 1845 he left for New Caledonia. While at Walla Walla, Washington, Father Giovanni received instructions to proceed north into the interior to visit as many Indian tribes as possible. Nobili continued north, stopping to visit Fort Okanagan (Washington) and Indians from the Siouxwaps (Shuswaps) and Thompson tribes. On August 9, 1845, by agreement between Grand Chief Nicola and Father Nobili, a settlement was founded at Nicola Prairie (Garnett Lake, Summerland). Still heading north he stopped at Fort Alexandria on the Fraser River, to Fort George (Prince George) and finally Stuart Lake.
In 1846 he reported back to Fort Colville and was instructed to continue his mission to the Indians of New Caledonia. By 1847 the Jesuits founded nine Missions in the Pacific Northwest.
By 1848, the Jesuits decided to leave New Caledonia to the local clergy and concentrate on gold-rush California. In May of 1849, Nobili made his way to San Francisco, where he served as assistant pastor. The next year Father Nobili founded a Jesuit College, the first Catholic college in California. While supervising construction in 1856 he stepped on a nail, contracted tetanus and died on March 1. He is buried in the mission church, now the chapel of the University of Santa Clara. Although Giovanni’s life was short, his establishment of the first non-native settlement in the Okanagan Valley was an important step in our area’s history.
Italian immigrants to Kelowna came in waves, according to Erik Christiansen a University of British Columbia Okanagan researcher. “A good number came after 1870, as a result of the unification of Italy, which created considerable political turmoil in the country. As a result, many Italians came between the late 1890’s and early 1900s, generally to work, as there were lots of opportunities, particularly with the Canadian Pacific Railway and in mining. Then, after 1920, you see another surge of immigration, partly due to the rise of fascism. Once the Italians started to make money, they began to build infrastructure and communities,” says Christiansen. (UBC Okanagan News, October 16, 2009)
Despite their relatively small population, Italian pioneers had a large and lasting influence in Kelowna. Large portions of the winery industry and farmland were developed by Italian pioneers. Other pioneer Italians, who came to the Okanagan Mission area, did not live here for many years. They had made their way here following the gold rush route: San Francisco first and then British Columbia. Many of them tried their hand at mining on Vancouver Island and the Kootenays. Those more inclined to live off the land made their journey to the Okanagan. They tried their hand at farming, but after a number of years made journeys back to Italy, Vancouver Island or California.
“Okanagan Mission” names found in records before 1915 include Capellino Tuigi, Louis Capaloni, Angelo Porimi, John Capasta, Louis Crosetti, Giovanni Betuzzi, Enrico Alberti, Lorenzo Lulani, Vincenzo Ambrozzi, John Maggiora, Domenico Luinardi and Giuseppe Selippa. Other surnames found include, Liva, Mei, Venezia, Guerra, Colautti, Bechelli and Malacarne. While their contributions to our past are not known at this time, we salute their help in creating our community in which we now reside.
Throughout June, we will be posting the stories about thirty families who we do know about.
Our 2019 stories
These were the first families we featured in our posts in 2019. Each is linked to their profile
1. Giovanni and Rosa Casorso
2. Pasquale and Maria Capozzi
3. Luigi and Melania Rampone
4. Giovachino and Rosa Lanfranco
5. Vincenzo and Annetta Risso
6. Domenico and Giuseppina; Camillo and Emma Rampone
7. Antonio and Maria Risso
8. Gaspar and Inez Risso
9. Pasquale and Domenica Alimonti
10. Samuele and Maria Turri
11. Joseph and Rosa Alimonti
12. Pasquale and Francesca Barrera
13. Gabriele and Pierina Quirico
14. Louis and Lucia Constantini
15. Tony, Charles, Joseph, Louis and Pete Casorso
16. Domenico, Peter, Camillo and Paul Lanfranco
17. Catherine, Katie, Louisa, Delphine and Margaret Lanfranco
18. Maria, Rosa, Catarina and Dino Dapavo
19. Ambrogio and Concetta Ciaccia
20. Mattia and Cestilia Culos
21. The Ciancone Family
22. Oreste and Luigia Favali
23. The Guidi Families
24. Carmine and Ida Rantucci
25. Silvio and Rosa Vaccaro
26. The Mussato Family
27. Jack and Lilly Butticci
28. Angelo and Annunziata Pioli
29. Luigi and Maria Gaspardone
30. The Orsi Family
1938 Italian Picnic and wrap up
During Italian Heritage Month in June we paid tribute to thirty of the pioneer Italian families that were in Kelowna prior to 1919. We welcome your comments, corrections and additions to these stories. Our thanks to Shirley Larsen (Risso), Gertie Bachmann (Culos), Brenda Shaw (Pioli), Linda Ghezzi (Mussato), Becky Chapman (Orsi), Gina Yarrow (Alimonti) and Elmo and Emma (Turri) Rantucci for their help in gathering this information. Special recognition to Bob Hayes (Okanagan Historical Society) for his inspiration and guidance.
Other families arriving here before 1919 include: Bertucci, Rossi, Dal Col, Biagioni, Ceresi, Cavani, Betuzzi and Pellini. We have started collecting information on these families and welcome any help you can give us. By the 1920’s many more families made their journeys to Canada. We would love to have their stories recorded as well.
In 1910, the first Orsi family member to arrive here was Pasquale. In 1915 he married Maria Coli. Next was his brother Egidio, who arrived in Kelowna in 1913. Egidio met his future wife, Elsie Woods, at the “Kelowna Evaporator” where they were both working. Here, fruits and vegetables were dried and sent overseas to England for consumption by the troops serving in the First World War. Egidio spent ten years in Seattle as a member of the San Carlo Opera Company. By 1925 he moved back to Kelowna where he became a masonary contractor eventually forming Orsi and Sons Contracting. Elsie, who had arrived from England in 1914, was well known for her athletic prowness, particularly swimming, bowling and fishing. They had three children: Rino Les (Elsie), Gladys (John Chapman) and Arthur (Virginia).
Luigi Gaspardone arrived in Kelowna in 1904 and his wife, Maria Bevilacqua, made her journey in 1907. Maria was cousin to Rosa Bevilacqua, spouse of Giovanni Casorso. Luigi started work on the Casorso Ranch and continued all his life working on numerous Kelowna area farms. Luigi and Maria raised four children: Rosa (Dino Dapavo), Giuseppe (Dorothy Bernard), Angelo (Agnes Burns) and Camillo (Theresa Ungaro). They also raised foster child Maria Quadrello (Angus Davis).
Ippolito Angelo Pioli and Annunziata Mathilde Campligi were from the Tuscany region of Italy. Angelo came thru Ellis Island in 1910 and made his way to Kelowna to stay with the Casorso family. He farmed on seven lots in the Coronation Avenue area and did his chosen profession as a brick mason. In 1912 he went back to France where he met my grandmother. In 1913 they left for Canada and back to Kelowna where Angelo enlisted in the Calgary Horse Regiment. Angelo and Annunziata had two children, Lina (Russell Shaw) and Lino Pioli (Mabel King). Angelo worked on the Myra Canyon trestles with Alessio Guidi pouring the foundations for the trestles. They were proud Canadians and loved their new country. They loved living in Kelowna, spending time with the many Italian families that lived there.
Story contributed by Brenda M Shaw (Oliver)
Jack Butticci came to Canada in 1914 at age fifteen. He first worked on the Kettle Valley Railway and later on the S. S. Sicamous as a stoker and fireman. He also worked for the Occidental Fruit Company and Calona Wines. He concluded his working career by starting Kelowna Steel Fabricators. Jack married Lily Woods, sister to Elsie, who had married Gildo Orsi. Jack and Lilly had two children William (Faith Hubbard) and Alice (Fred Minchin).
In 1904, Domenico Mussato emigrated to Canada and operated a shoe repair shop in Phoenix. His wife, Anna Meyer, arrived in Canada, travelled by train with her five children, and joined him in 1905. When the Grandby Mine closed in 1919, Domenico deserted the family. With the help of Pasquale Capozzi, who had asked for the hand of eldest daughter Mary, Anna moved with her seven children to Kelowna. Anna opened a candy and ice-cream store on Bernard Avenue. In 1923, Anna left Kelowna with Marcella, Lizzie, Gina, Jasper “Joe” and Mickey and headed to Hollywood. Son Bert married Mary Zahn and daughter Gina married Giuseppe Ghezzi. In 1931 Giuseppe Ghezzi, along with Pete Casorso, May Casorso and John Maggiora, drew up the first agreement to buy equipment to form Calona Wines.
Silvio arrived in North America in 1912 travelling from his residence in Germany with friend Abramo Dal Col. In 1922 he married Rosa Ducharme who came to Kelowna from North Dakota. Silvio operated a shoe and harness repair shop that was eventually taken over by his nephew Renato Vaccaro (Renata Turri). Silvio and Rosa had four children: Silvia (Lukonsly), Maria, Beattrice (Nichols) and Ida (Blaley). Their home on Burtch Road was well known for its colourful display of portulaca that grew out to the road.