2019 Families that were in the Central Okanagan prior to 1919.
2020 Families that arrived in the Central Okanagan during the 1920s and 1930s.
2021 Families that arrived in the Central Okanagan during the 1940s and 1950s.
2022 Families that founded the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club in 1966.
2023 Families that were born in the Central Okanagan in the 1920s and 1930s.
2024 Families that have been in the Central Okanagan 50 years or more.
The following list gives the year each family story was published. Copies of the family stories can be found on line at:
Printed copies can be found at the KCIC Library, the downtown branch of the Okanagan Regional Library, (Genealogical Collection) or the Kelowna Public Archives.
FIVE YEAR INDEX
Alimonti, Gina and Max Yarrow 2023
Alimonti, Joseph and Rosa Culos 2019
Alimonti, Katie and Addy Klein 2023
Alimonti, Nick and Sheila Paisley 2023
Alimonti, Pasquale and Domenica Fulvimari 2019
Andreucci, Angelo and Anna Maria Biagioni 2022
Andreucci, Luciano 2022
Arcuri, Girolamo and Caterina Filliponi 2020
Arcduini, Nellie and Jim Campbell 2021
Balagno, Carlo and Felicita 2020
Barrera, Camillo and Nina Buscaino 2023
Barrera, Pasquale and Francesca Alimonti 2019
Barrera, Peo and Mary Kolody 2023
Bazzana, Celeste and Jean Schneider 2022
Bazzana, Luigi and Lucia 2020
Bertoia, Riccardo (Dick) and Mary Casorso 2021
Bertolami, Sergio and Clelia Lunatici 2021
Bertucci, Antonio and Sandra Crocetti 2022
Bertucci, Cesare and Anna Cavani 2020
Bertucci, Vincenzo and Valentina Bolotzky 2022
Biagioni, Alfredo and Domenica Lunardi 2020
Biagioni, Giovanni and Giulia Tagliasacchi 2022
Bianco, Ernesto Angelo and Sabina Chiola 2021
Bigattini, Egisto 2021
Borgnetta, Tony and Tina Cantino 2020
Bregolisse, Ubaldo and Assunta Porfiri 2020
Butt, Giovanni and Maria Franz 2020
Butt, Giuseppe and Marie Joyal 2020
Butticci, Jack and Lilly Woods 2019
Cacchioni, Agostino and Marietta Lauriente 2021
Calissi, Alfredo and Valentina Bachmann 2021
Calissi, Lorenzo and Liliana Coli 2022
Calissi, Pietro and Erika Petzold 2021
Capozzi, Pasquale and Maria Mussatto 2019
Capozzi, Tom and Gail Plecash 2023
Casorso, August and Mary Millar 2019
Casorso, August and Muriel Haines 2023
Casorso, Carolina and Charles Fritz 2019
Casorso, Charles and Mary McCunnin 2019
Casorso, Felix and Veronica Reiter 2019
Casorso, Giovanni and Rosa Bevilacqua 2019
Casorso, Joseph and Ethel Winship 2019
Casorso, Leo and Marian Prowse 2019
Casorso, Louis and Caterina Dapavo 2019
Casorso, Mary and Dick Bertoia 2023
Casorso, Pete and Alice Canty 2019
Casorso, Tony and Marguerite McGarrity 2019
Casorso, Velma and Bert Sperling 2023
Cavani, Carlo and Silvia Grassi 2020
Ceresi, Nicola (Nicholas) and Elizabeth Latka 2021
Ciaccia, Ambrogio and Concetta Ciancone 2019
Ciancone Family 2019
Ciancone, Alessio and Laura Maria Guidi 2022
Cimbaro, Arrigo and Elsa Schneider 2022
Cimbaro, Gino and Teresa But 2022
Constantini, Armand and Lillian Mitchell 2023
Constantini, Louis and Lucia Alimonti 2019
Culos, Mattia and Cestilia Bazzana 2019
Dal Col, Carlo and Isabella Guidi 2022
Dal Col, Fortunato and Gius. Santamaria 2020
Dapavo, Catarina and Louis Casorso 2019
Dapavo, Dino and Rosa Gaspardone 2019
Dapavo, Maria and Samuele Turri 2019
Dapavo, Mario and Sabina Luperelli 2021
Dapavo, Mike and Barbara Arnold 2023
Dapavo, Rosa and Giovachino Lanfranco 2019
Di Maria, Rosario and Giovanna Randazzo 2021
DiRenzo, Luigi and Silvia Vicaretti 2021
Fabbro, Gelindo and Gina 2022
Favali, Lawrence and Helen Seminoff 2023
Favali, Mike and Marjorie Thomson 2023
Favali, Oreste and Luigia Lenzi 2019
Fellini, Vincenzo and Maria 2022
Filice, Giovanni 2022
Filice, Rosario and Iolanda Russo 2021
Francescutti, Oreste and Katie Lanfranco 2021
Gallucci, Elmo and Carmela Purificati 2022
Gaspardone, Angelo (Andy) and Agnes Burns 2021
Gaspardone, Luigi and Maria Bevilacqua 2019
Ghezzi, Joseph and Linda Gobbi 2020
Giordano, Bob and Edna Wilson 2023
Giordano, Santo and Carmela Gallo 2020
Grison, Florentino and Elizabeth Bazzett 2022
Guaschetti, Antonio 2020
Guaschetti, Carlo and Delfina Balagno 2020
Guidi Families 2019
Guidi, Alfredo Gius. and Angelina Suffredini 2021
Guidi, Angelo and Maria Rosa Letizia Pellini 2021
Guidi, Ferruccio Pietro and Umile Coli 2020
Guidi, Luigi and Ersillia Rossi 2021
Guidi, Luigi Ralph and Clara Santina Guidi 2022
Guidi, Pietro Nello and Ersillia Pellini 2020
Iafrancesco, Pasquale and Vittoria Ficocelli 2021
Lanfranco, Camillo 2019
Lanfranco, Catherine and Tony Welder 2019
Lanfranco, Delphine and Wayne Slyter 2019
Lanfranco, Domenico and Alice Canty 2019
Lanfranco, Giovachino and Rosa Dapavo 2019
Lanfranco, Katie and Luigi Francescutti 2019
Lanfranco, Louisa and Mike Marchuck 2019
Lanfranco, Margaret and Carl Hewitt 2019
Lanfranco, Mary and Ted Toombs 2019
Lanfranco, Paul and Mary Duggan 2019
Lanfranco, Pete 2019
Manzocco, Giovanni 2022
Marcanio, Frank and Romi Pantoli 2021
Martin, Angelo and Teresa Quarin 2020
Martinelli, Angelo and Clelia Turri 2020
Mattioda, Andy and Helen Walker 2023
Mattioda, Peter and Giuseppina Antonietta 2020
Menta, Giulio and Giovanna Fellini 2020
Morello, Dominico and Olivia 2020
Mussato Family 2019
Nobili, Father Giovanni 2020
Ongaro, Augusto and Luigia Maria Pavan 2021
Pellegrini, Arturo and Teresa Scodellaro 2020
Petretta, Domenico and Maria Luperelli 2021
Petretta, Giovanni and Gina Prioreschi 2021
Pioli, Angelo and Annunziata Mathilde 2019
Porco, Giovanni and Luisa Altamare 2020
Porco, Theresa and Phillip Pugliese 2020
Pucci, Florindo and Anna Filice 2022
Pugliese, Phillip and Theresa Porco 2020
Puppato, Mario and Maria 2022
Quirico, Gabriele and Pierina Boreo 2019
Rampone, Albert and Rose Barrera 2023
Rampone, Camillo and Emma Ducharme 2019
Rampone, Domenico and Gius. Borgnetta 2019
Rampone, Dora and Roger Simoneau 2023
Rampone, Ernie and Shirley Tallman 2023
Rampone, Irene and Fred Gabel 2023
Rampone, Louis and Phyllis Holland 2023
Rampone, Luigi and Melania Rampone 2019
Rampone, Valentino and Elsie Russo 2023
Rantucci, Carmine and Ida Ciancone 2019
Rantucci, Elmo and Emma Turri 2023
Reorda, Elsie and Jim Hagel 2023
Reorda, John and Carolyn Ryder 2020
Rinaldo, Bruno and Franca Spagnol 2022
Risso, Alan 2023
Risso, Antonio and Maria Ollino 2019
Risso, Gaspar and Inez Hewer 2019
Risso, Gundo and Lynnea Anderson 2023
Risso, John and Toni Russo 2023
Risso, Rhoda and Larry Weisgarber 2023
Risso, Vincenzo and Annetta Rampone 2019
Rossi, Josi 2020
Russo, Amedeo (Andy) and Armerinda Pucci 2021
Russo, Geniale and Maria Filice 2021
Russo, Giovanni and Genoveffa Pucci 2020
Russo, Guerino (Gary) and Ida Fata 2021
Siviglia, Lorenzo and Giuseppa Prioli 2021
Sprovieri, Antonio and Letizia Grandinetti 2020
Tade, Biagio 2022
Tomasini, Celeste and Gianna Trevisan 2022
Toombs, Sharon and Jim Clements 2023
Truant, Leonardo and Maddalena Angela 2020
Truant, Santo and Italia 2020
Turri, Caesar and Nita Guidi 2023
Turri, Luisa and Alfredo Bonaldi 2022
Turri, Pietro and Esterina Gragnani 2021
Turri, Samuele and Maria Dapavo 2019
Vaccaro, Beatrice and Ray Nicholls 2023
Vaccaro, Renato and Renata Turri 2022
Vaccaro, Silvio and Rosa Ducharme 2019
Vecchio, Michele and Giuseppina Maio 2020
Verna, Emilio and Marianna Di Renzo 2021
Zaino, Domenico and Nicolina Luprelli 2021
Zol, Luciano and Maria Andreucci 2022
“So our grandchildren will always have something to eat.”
“The bread you eat is attained by the sweat off your brow.”
The First Arrivals
The Piemonte region, at the foot of the Alps in north west Italy, is home to five small towns: Tonco, Villa San Secondo, Frinco, Morgandino and Corsione, in the Province of Asti. They were the hometowns of many of the Central Okanagan’s earliest Italian arrivals.
It started with Giovanni Casorzo, landing in New York, in 1882. He spent the year digging sewers in New York and doing odd jobs in San Francisco before making his way, with Carlo Guaschetti, to Nanaimo, British Columbia. This was a well established gold trail during the second half of the 1800s. From Vancouver Island, the gold trail led to New Westminster, which had been the staging area for those heading up the Fraser Canyon to the Cariboo Gold Fields. By the 1880s, New Westminster was a busy port, as it was also the base for the construction of the British Columbia section of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
It is at New Westminster, in 1883, that Giovanni Casorzo and his friend, Carlo Guaschetti, were contemplating forestry jobs. When, talking in their native Piedmontese language, that they were overheard by Father Coccola. Father Coccola, who had recently arrived from Corsica, was a member of an Oblate Order. Father Coccola introduced Giovanni and Carlo to Father Pandosy, who was running an Oblate Missionary and Ranch in the Okanagan. Father Pandosy sold them on “…the idea of Central Okanagan as the place to spend a happy life and as the spot with the greatest farming potential in the interior of British Columbia. More, the mission would offer Casorzo and his friend, Gauschetti, a living whilst they established themselves agriculturally.” (p16 The Casorso Story)
Giovanni and Carlo both worked for the Missionary fathers, for several years, before establishing their own farms. They both filed pre-emption claims at the intersection of Mission Creek and Casorso Roads. In 1884, Giovanni sent for his wife, Rosa Bevilacqua, and his three children: Carolina, Antonio and Carlo (Charlie).
Numerous fellow countrymen came from Tonco to help Giovanni on his new ranch. Two of these, Carlo and Felicita Balagno, arrived in 1887. Carlo worked for Casorzo before claiming his own preemption in the Duck Lake area. Luigi Rampone was sent for in 1893. He too, soon started his own farm next door to the Mission and the Casorzo properties.
Next on the scene was Giovachino Lanfranco, from Villa San Secondo, who arrived in 1901. On a subsequent trip in1914, he brought with him Pasquale Barrera and Gabriele Quirico. Both Pasquale and Gabriele farmed in close proximity to the Mission.
Luigi Gaspardone, from Corsione, had married Maria, a cousin of Rosa Bevilacqua Casorzo. In 1903, Luigi made his journey to the Okanagan Mission to work on the Casorzo farm. By 1907, his wife, Maria, and children, Camillo and Angelo, joined him.
Following Luigi Rampone, in 1902, were his brother-in-law, Vincenzo Risso (from Morgandino) and spouse Annetta Rampone (from Frinco). In 1904, Vincenzo’s brother, Antonio, made the journey from Frinco, with Luigi’s son, Domenico, and Luigi’s niece, Catarina Dapavo. Both Vincenzo and Antonio Risso started farms near the Mission site.
By 1904, Giuseppe (Josi) Rossi, the first arrival from the Tuscany region, made his appearance in the Okanagan. In 1908, Ulissi and Guglielmo Guidi were here and they sponsored Nicolai Ceresi and Alfredo Biagioni. (1909) In turn, Nicolai Ceresi sponsored Federico Lenzi in 1910 and Palmizio Favali in 1913.
1910 saw Angelo Pioli working his way through the US and eventually landing at the Casorzo farm.
1912 saw the arrival of Samuele Turri and his five amigos: Angelo, Amos and Pietro Guidi, Cesare Bertucci and Carlo Cavanni. They arrived in New York and according to Samuele Turri, on page 136 of ‘An Italian Immigrant Looks Back…’ “After processing by immigration officials ‘The six Immigrants’ boarded a train and that night we entered Canada; we still had six more days and nights before reaching our final destination… On February 17 we steamed into Kelowna aboard the paddle wheeler Okanagan and that night we had a big party to celebrate our arrival. At first I stayed with a dear friend, Nicolai Ceresi…”
Unlike the Piemonte arrivals, the majority of these Tuscan early arrivals were involved with the masonry industry. They were responsible for many of Kelowna’s early buildings, bridges and rail projects. A concentration of families from the Tuscany region was located in the North end of Kelowna, near the train station.
The third northern Italian region to have early immigrants to the Central Okanagan was Udine, which borders Hungary, on the north east coast of Italy. Records show that John But(t) arrived in 1906 and Pasquale Orsi in 1910. Pasquale was followed here by his brother, Egidio Orsi, in 1913. Augusto Ongaro arrived in 1911, Mattia Culos, Fortunato Dal Col and Silvio Vacarro in 1912, and Angelo Martin in 1914. The Udine arrivals were involved with a variety of jobs including masonry, farming and shoe making.
Belgo Work Camp
The Belgo Canadian Fruit and Land Company came into being in 1909. They purchased raw land on the north side of Mission Creek, about eight miles east of Kelowna. Water rights on the north fork of Mission Creek were acquired, thus allowing them to irrigate 600 acres. Ditches, pipes and syphons were needed to distribute this water to the Gallagher / Joe Rich road area. For construction purposes, this area was to become known as No. 1 Camp Site. Next to this area, a small townsite was planned, with a magnificent view overlooking the whole of the central Okanagan area. A crew of Italian immigrants (87 listed on 1911 Census) was hired to do the pick and shovel work and clear the right of way.
The majority of these Italian immigrants arrived in Canada between 1907 and 1911. Only a few family names are still locally recognizable: Fabris, Cristante, Francescutti, Bertuzzi, Rossi, Cacchioni, Constantini, Pioli, Culos, Dal Col, Alimonti, Pazzuto and Morello.
Two of the Belgo Camp workers, Pasquale Alimonti and Louis Constantini, were from the Abruzzo region of Italy. They had met each other in 1904, in Philadelphia, while working on railway construction. Following a 1914 railway project near Princeton, they made their way back to Kelowna and started farms in the Rutland and Ellison areas. Also from Abruzzo were Ambrogio Ciaccia, 1902, Ulderico Ciancone, 1909 and Carmine Rantucci, 1910.
Many Italian immigrants worked in the mining or service industries in the Kootenays, before making their way to the Okanagan. Antonio Sprovieri and Girolamo Arcuri immigrated in 1888, Anna Mussato and Peter Mattioda in 1905, Pasquale (Cap) Capozzi in 1907, Lorenzo Siviglia in 1908, John Reorda and Egisto Bigattini in 1909, Phillip Pugliese and Michele Vecchio in 1910, Santo Giordano in 1911 and Cesare Butticci in 1914. “Thousands of “foreigners” in the eastern United States heard that Fernie was the Pittsburg of Canada. A dubious claim to fame, perhaps, but a signal that there were plenty of jobs mining coal, sawing logs and building more railways in the Elk River Valley.” (Lynne Bowen Page, 112)
Kettle Valley Railway
Similar to the Belgo Canadian Work Camp in 1911, the Kettle Valley Railway operated construction camps from 1912 to 1914. Some of our early immigrants were involved with the construction, and remained in Kelowna following its completion. Included are Ippolito Pioli, Palmizio Favali, Angelo Martin, Ernesto Bianco, Pasquale and Joseph Alimonti, Louis Constantini, John Reorda, Jack Butticci and Samuele Turri. In the early 1900’s, labour agents, or padroni, were instrumental in recruiting Italian workers. It was not unusual for padroni to operate in Italian, American and Canadian cities that were very near to harbours. Lynne Bowen in her book ‘Whoever Gives Us Bread’, (pp 182-183) states “Italian masons specialized in mortarless rock construction, which is visible not only in the stone abutments of the trestles but also in the walls that support the railway bed… No other ethnic group could match the special rock-working skills they had acquired, building houses, terraces, roads, tunnels and trestles in their mountainous homeland…. The existence of rock ovens at these sites seems proof of an Italian presence.”
There are very few records of this Italian workforce. Lynne Bowen states: “Of the hundreds of Italians who built the KVR from Penticton to Hydraulic Summit, only the dead are known by name, and then only in government death records. Newspapers did not identify these men by name. It was enough to call them “Italians” when they died or ran afoul of the law… (page 184). “…many of them found jobs as navies on railway construction projects. Large gangs of Italian Sojourners would become essential to the building of Canadian railways, but it was not until the first transcontinental CPR line was nearing completion that Italian labour made an appearance in contemporary accounts.” (Page 88)
The arrival of Italian families prior to 1920 is quite linear compared to those arriving later. In the 1920s the children of a number of Kelowna families began to intermarry. Catarina Dapavo married Louis Casorso; Rosa Dapavo married Giovachino Lanfranco; Maria Dapavo married Samuele Turri and Davide (Dino) Dapavo married Rosa Gaspardone. Pasquale Alimonti’s son, Joseph, married Rosa Culos; daughter Francesca married Pasquale Barrera; and daughter Lucia married Louis Constantini. Mattia Culos married Cestilia Bazzana; Giovachino Culos married Stella Fabris. These intermarriages began to cross the native Italian region borders of Piemonte, Tuscany and Udine. It was another step forward in the integration of the Italian families into Kelowna’s culture. It has been said that the Italian families in Kelowna were more united than those in Italy, which had only become united as one country in 1861.
Life in Italy
For many, life in Italy was one of poverty. Lynne Bowen in ‘Whoever Gives Us Bread’ describes a young girl, Maria, that “…would search the alleyways of Castelsilano for bits of cloth, glass, twigs and metal. It was all reusable. “Everything was so precious.” She goes on to say: “For northerners, their land was “rich in everything but opportunity.” There were far more farmers than could make a living on the land. …like so many before, had grown up believing that the only solution to the problem lay on leaving Italy. “Emigration was in their history and in their hearts.” (P 262)
An article on the Italian Diaspora (mass emigration) from Wikipedia.org states that: “The first diaspora of Italians began around 1880 with the rise of Fascist Italy. Poverty was the main reason for this diaspora, specifically the lack of land as property became subdivided over generations. Especially in Southern Italy, conditions were harsh. Until the 1860s, most of Italy was a rural society with many small towns and cities and almost no modern industry in which land management practices, especially in the south and the north-east, did not easily convince farmers to stay on the land and to work the soil. Another factor was related to the overpopulation of Southern Italy after the improvements in socioeconomic conditions after the Unification. That created a demographic boom and forced the new generations to emigrate en masse in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, mostly to the Americas. The new migration of capital created millions of unskilled jobs around the world and was responsible for the simultaneous mass migration of Italians searching for ‘work and bread’.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_diaspora)
Contadini: Self sufficiency
In her book “From Sojourners to Citizens, Alberta’s Italian History”, Adrianna Davies describes the Italian situation as: “The majority of the land was held by landowners who made use of ‘contadini’, labourers or sharecroppers, who lived in conditions similar to medieval serfs, and who would never aspire to ownership. Where land was held by ordinary families, inheritance reduced plots to such a diminutives size that families could not be supported on the crops and animals raised.” (Page 118)
While living in these humble conditions, our ancestors showed that they were, to a great extent, self sufficient. They lived with, and off, the land. Many of them were listed on birth marriage and death records as ‘contadini’. The exact translation of ‘contadini’ defies a one word description. Its basic definition is ‘peasant farmer’. Some definitions indicate they were ‘share croppers’, living and working on land owned by someone else. They made their living by sharing the proceeds of the crops being grown. Others owned a small piece of land and worked at other local farms, businesses or trades. Most did not have a single occupation, rather they worked many jobs as the season dictated.
But it goes further than this. ‘Contadini’ can also be considered to be ‘self sufficient farmers’. Most were able to grow much of their own food and grapes for wine making. They raised animals, made their own butter and cheese, did their own butchering and cured their own meats. They hunted and they fished. Foraging the lands around them they found berries, chestnuts, dandelions, mushrooms, chicory and asparagus. They raised their own sheep giving them milk, meat and wool. Spinning and weaving were common household activities. In their attics they raised silk worms and sold the silk to local weavers. They made most of their own clothes, blankets and linens. They gathered branches, wood and pine cones to fuel their fires, weave baskets and fuel their cooking stoves. Their parents and community members taught them to work with wood and stone to build their own houses. They were able to work with leather to make their own shoes and harnesses for their work animals. Operating a community metal forge allowed them to craft their own simple tools.
Lynne Bowen, in “Whoever Gives Us Bread,” describes their life as “With a garden behind each house and a barn next door to stable a cow, some chickens and two pigs, each family raised everything they needed for a balanced diet, albeit one with little variety” (Page 2)
Trading and bartering with others in their small towns, allowed them to share their talents. Working for others earned them some funds to buy coffee, sugar and goods they could not make or trade. Compared to today’s standards, they were extremely self sufficient. The concepts of self sufficiency and living with the land was brought with them to America and it would serve them well.
Due to poor economic conditions in Italy for many generations, Italian men were forced to become ‘sojourners’. A sojourner is a person who resides temporarily in a place for the purpose of work. Often they found themselves mining in Belgium, France or Germany. Even those working the land would spend the winters, away from their families, at industrial camps. It was all part of being able to support their families. Most of the earliest immigrants to America, were men who left their families in Italy, with the intention of making some money and soon returning. Many of these early arrivals made more than one such trip before deciding to return to Italy or send for their families.
Adrianna Davies describes the situation: “The vast majority of immigrants, however, were ordinary men who wanted to improve the lot of their families by seeking work abroad, making money and returning to create a better life in Italy. They were known as ‘sojourners’ or ‘birds of passage.’ While some labourers (the designation for unskilled day labourer in Italian passports was ‘bracciante’) went to France, Germany, Switzerland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and North Africa, the lure of North America was strong. While many Italians immigrated to South America, by the latter half of the nineteenth century the United States and, later Canada, became preferred destinations. The building of transcontinental railways and urban infrastructure as well as opening of mines promised work and prosperity for all.” (Page 14).
Lynne Bowen adds “Many families in the past century and a half could tell a similar one (story): unable to earn enough to feed his children and aging parents, the father leaves Italy to find work so that he can send money home. He goes to Europe for several months each year, or to North or South America or to Australia where he had brothers, cousins or townspeople. He works at whatever job he can find - usually one requiring a strong back, a job at the bottom of the ladder. He may return home on occasion, often leaving his wife pregnant after each visit, or his family may join him eventually in the new country.” (page 4)
Life In Kelowna
Those immigrants who decided to stay in Kelowna, kept with them, their work ethic from Italy. They worked hard, respected the land and lived modestly. For several years they would lease land which they farmed in the summer months and moved off to sawmills, railway, road construction and mining camps during the winter. They became cooks at boarding houses and ranches. They worked at any and all types of manual labour jobs. Living in boarding homes, or small one and two room houses, was the norm. They lived without electricity, indoor plumbing or running water. Self sufficiency was again valued. They grew extensive gardens, raised animals, hunted and fished and lived hand in hand with the land. Laundry was taken in, bread was baked for bachelors and housecleaning services were provided.
Within in a relatively short period of time they were able to acquire their own farms or small acreages. Those not into farming became involved in trades such as brick work and masonry. They took in boarders or new immigrants. Even after becoming well established, they continued their self sufficiency life style. Their close relationship with the land was one of the fundamental reasons the early Italians in Kelowna were unlike those in other parts of Canada.
The Pandosy Mission
The Immaculate Conception Mission (Pandosy Mission) was the centre of the early Italian’s life in Kelowna, ever since 1883, when Giovanni Casorzo and Carlo Guaschetti made their journey here with Father Pandosy. The Mission was run by the French speaking Oblate Fathers. It attracted many other French speaking families to the area: William Pion, Cyprian and Theodore Laurence, Bernard Lequime, August Gillard, Jules Blonde, France Ourtoland, August Calmels and Joseph Christien.
The earliest arriving Italian families settled in farms in close proximity to the Mission. The Mission provided employment and they ran the Church, both being a very important part of their lives. Integration of their language and cultures became a matter of survival. They very quickly became well versed in English. Both Giovanni Casorzo and Carlo Gauschetti “…agreed to work for the mission for six years and, in return, the missionaries would help each to establish a homestead. The pay was $15 per month, plus board. Hours of work stretched from 6 am to 6 pm - longer when necessary.” (page 17 the Casorso Story)
Bringing Christianity to our First Nations peoples of the Okanagan was the goal of the Mission. A very close relationship was established between the First Nations people and the early settlers.
“Father Pandosy said that the country to which they were going was an Indian paradise called the Okanagan - a valley of big heads carved by Nature on the mountains. ‘There’s Nature’s etching of an Indian maiden asleep on a mountain top gazing at the stars. If you take time to study the valley, its legends and its people, there will be much to interest you,’ the missionary promised.” (Page 17 The Casorso Story)
During Giovanni’s first six years at the Mission, he was a cook, ranch hand, cowboy, carpenter, teamster and packer. His goal was to learn all he could about Canada’s land, climate and agriculture. He lived closely and learned about the First Nations peoples and acted as an unofficial agent between them and the Mission. Rosa Casorso was told “You will have to make everything you wear from animal skins, or what you can fashion with wool. The food you eat first has to be gathered or hunted, then preserved…. You will see and deal with many Indians… you will also have to learn to speak Chinook and English. It’s a case of survival, said Giovanni Casorzo.” (Page 48, The Casorso Story)
During the 30s and 40s, most of the Italian farms relied on a close relationship with at least one Japanese family who worked on a share crop basis with them. These families lived on the farms and, like their Italian share partners, lived frugal lives. They were equally, quite self sufficient. Also helping on the farms, were newly arrived Italian immigrants. Many of them were granted their status, provided they worked for one year as a farm worker. After the year was up, many of them left the farms, brought their families over and went on to their chosen occupation.
By 1930, members of the local Italian community got together, pledged $25 each and formed the Italian Community Club, ‘Pendozi District’. Elected officials included: President Camilo Rampone, Vice President: Edoardo Quirico, Secretary: Gino Bazzana, Treasurer: Gaspar Risso and Directors: Giuseppe Alimonti and Samuele Turri. Letters of application included ones from: Johnnie B Casorso, Mattia Culos, Vincenzo Risso, N Peter Casorso, Antonio Borgnetta, Giovachino Lanfranco, Dominico Lanfranco, Augusto Ongaro, Domenico Rampone, Ernesto Bianco, David Culos, Pasquale Barrera and Angelo Martin. Other early members were Gundo Risso, Louie Casorso and Antonio Risso.
Using mostly volunteer labour, they built a hall at the corner of Casorso and Gordon Roads. A record was kept of the hours volunteered and credits were made towards future dues. Members came from a variety of occupations and locations around Kelowna. Invoices for the club show they supported most of the businesses in Kelowna and hired non Italian trades when needed. This is another example of how our early Italian families were well integrated into their new culture. The club was active in promoting community volunteer work such as the construction of the east side road to Naramata. Several stories of their successes and tragedies were reported in the local newspapers. In 1938, Agostino Cacchioni and friend, Vittorio Martinato, were on their way to do some blasting work, when a terrible vehicle accident took Vittorio’s life. (Kelowna Courier, August 11, 1938)
Living with the land
Depression years, and the subsequent war time years, were definite tests of survival skills. Rationing, unavailable goods, and job shortages were faced by all, but perhaps for the Italian families that were accustomed to living with the land, it had less effect. For most farmers, living with the land also meant living with the seasons. Labour was never factored into costs. Their dawn to dusk activities were all part of their daily life that led to self sufficiency. This was also true for most of Kelowna’s Italian families, even those in trades and businesses.
Plastics, disposable and convenience items were generally not part of their lives. As a result ‘garbage’ was almost non existent. Their scant resources were reused or refashioned into something new. Flour and sugar sacks were made into diapers, pillow cases and towels. Small pieces of cloth were used to wrap food and to make small bags for carrying goods. Clothing, hung up outside to dry, lasted much longer than those put in a drier. When it was outgrown or had parts worn out, it was altered and refashioned as hand me downs. Those that were beyond repair were cut up for braided or hooked rugs, blankets and rags. Drawstrings and hems were cut off and used as small ropes in the house and garden. European wedding dresses were dark blue or black, so with minimum altering were able to be used for everyday wear. Even after white wedding dresses became the style, they were often dyed and used for other special occasions. Many were made into christening gowns for the newly born offspring.
Food scraps went into a slop bucket, that became food for the chickens and pigs. Bones and meat scraps became stews and soups. Tin cans and glass jars were used many times over before they became eventually unfit for use. Paper was used to light fires and, the ashes from the stoves and furnaces, were essential for the out houses. Ashes were also used for the production of soap.
All sorts of fruit and vegetables were grown. Left over vegetative matter and manure were put back into the land to fertilize next year’s crops. Crops were harvested, dried or preserved and stored for winter use. Food was eaten in season, based on what was grown that year. Growing their own grain gave them bread and pasta. Their cows, goats, sheep and chickens gave them an uninterrupted supply of meats, eggs, butter, cheese and wool. Cows grazed on roadsides during the day so that the pastures could be kept for night use. They foraged the surrounding lands for chicory, mushrooms, asparagus and dandelions. Hunting, fishing and trapping were important to their survival. With their gains they cured their own meats and made their own sausages.
At times, the seemingly self sufficiency, and living at ‘no apparent cost’ made Italians the object of jealousy by the non Europeans. There are many newspaper accounts of them being brought before the law for hunting out of season, fishing with a gaff rather than line and hook, or for trapping rabbits. More often than not, after an explanation that all were for their survival, their cases were thrown out of court.
Each fall, work parties collected wood from the nearby forests to fuel their cooking stoves and furnaces. Fence posts and beanpoles were made from trees collected during the winter. Furniture was often handmade from packing crates or used lumber. Grasses, reeds and canes were harvested and woven into seats for chairs or baskets for food storage. Willow twigs, instead of twine, were used to tie up their grapes and other crops.
Fascism and World War II
The rise of Fascism in Italy during the 20s and 30s was an unsettling time for the Kelowna Italians. In 1922, Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy. Canada was quite supportive of Mussolini’s programs to revitalize Italy. One of the programs was to encourage a second wave of emigration to Canada. At the same time, Canada was encouraging the establishment of agricultural settlement. “In 1923, Italia Garibaldi, the granddaughter of Giuseppe Garibaldi, visited Canada to promote the formation of Italian agricultural colonies… In 1924, following on the high of her visit, fascia (Fascist locals) were set up in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Venice.” (Page 23, From Sojourners To Citizens)
In the 20s, Kelowna was already a well established Italian settlement, so Italia concentrated her efforts in Alberta. By the 30s, Italian consuls in Canada had started Fascist organizations in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. One of their objectives was to raise funds to support the Italian government. A pact signed between Hitler and Mussolini, led to the attack on Ethiopia in 1935 and Albania in 1939. By 1940, when Italy declared war on Britain, local Italians found themselves caught between two worlds. Even though many of them had enlisted, and were fighting with the Canadian and British forces, they were treated with suspicion.
To alleviate the suspicions, the Kelowna Italian Community Hall suspended operations. They supported rationing programs and collected their dimes and nickels to “Sink the Subs”, with the realization that it could be some of their Italian families on those same subs. At the same time (1944-1947), a program to honour 25th wedding anniversaries saw many couples honoured with silver trays from the Canadian Italian Colony of Kelowna. Perhaps this was a last ditch effort to sway the alliances of our well integrated local Italian families.
When Prime Minister W L Mackenzie King invoked the War Measures Act, the RCMP identified approximately 600 Canadians of Italian descent with ties to Fascist groups. They were arrested and interned at a camp in Kananaskis, Alberta and later transferred to Petawawa, Ontario. It is not surprising that there were no local Italians arrested.
Third wave of immigration
Post World War II brought on a new wave of Italian immigrants. They came from all parts of Italy but those from Southern Italy (Calabria) predominated. Southern Italians were facing much more difficult economic times than those from the more industrialized northern regions. Unlike the first wave of immigration, at the turn of the century, many of the immigrants in the 1950s were skilled workers. Many of them had unpleasant experiences during World War II. Stories of German troops living in their homes, are hard to shake. But, like their earlier counterparts, they retained a strong work ethic.
They often took jobs away from their homes - at mines, sawmills and construction camps. Their spouses and children took in cleaning, laundry and sewing jobs. The women ran boarding homes and the children worked weekends and breaks in orchards, vineyards, mills, dairy operations and farms. For many of them, their goal was to acquire a small piece of land so they could follow their family traditions of growing grapes, making wine, growing fruit and vegetables and raising animals so they could make their own sausages and cure their own meats.
Living with the land (or living off the yard, Lynne Bowen, page 286) was important to our early Italian immigrants. It was not just a matter of economics, it was what daily living was all about; it was the right thing to do. It gave them immense satisfaction, that they knew where their food came from and what was in it. To this day, many families still gather to forage for mushrooms, make tomato sauce and stomp the grapes at Vendemmias.
Beatrice Celina Vaccaro was born in Kelowna, BC, on July 9, 1926 to parents Sylvio Vaccaro and Maria Rosa Ducharme. Beatrice was the second child, with siblings Sylvia (Alphonse Luknowsky), Maria (Hugh Drybrough) and Ida (Bart Bleile). She was raised on the family acreage at the corner of Burtch (Byrnes) and Guisachan Roads. She attended Central Elementary School and then Kelowna High School. She began working at the Okanagan Shoe Repair shop, that was owned by her parents, when she met Ray Nicholls.
Raymond Herbert Nicholls was born on May 11, 1925 in Lajord, Saskatchewan. Beatrice and Raymond were married on January 11, 1946 at the Immaculate Conception Church on Sutherland Avenue, Kelowna. In 1950, they moved to Carmi, BC, to be closer to Ray’s work, hauling logs for Olinger. Ray hired a team of horses and a faller and hauled logs to the Carmi sawmill. Two years later, he bought a 1954 Mack logging truck. He also bought two ‘TD 9 cats’ for skidding the logs out of the bush and that was the start of Nicholls Logging. When the Carmi sawmill burnt down in 1968, the wood prices were too low to start up some place else and that was the end of Nicholls Logging. Beatrice and Ray went into a partnership with Lyle Shunter, buying a ‘966 front end loader’ and started L & B Contracting. The company was excavating in the BC area. When they decided to semi-retire, they took up ranching and custom haying on Guisachan Road.
Beatrice and Raymond had five children: Deanne Sylvia (Bob Kelley), Raymond Alfred (Jillian), Cindy Louise (Barry Dennett), Trina Marie (Dean Titanich) and Mark Dwayne (Mona). They have 13 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren and 8 great great grandchildren.
In her younger days, Beatrice enjoyed going up to the cabin in Carmi and getting out to do some fishing. She loved being outside and could often be found in her garden. Her passion was her family, and she enjoyed the many gatherings. She also enjoyed going on bus tours with her siblings. Reno was her favourite destination. She was so proud to call Kelowna her home, for sixty-seven years.
Ray was one of the early members of the Kelowna Yacht Club, Regatta Committee and the Fish and Game Club. Ray was the President of the Kelowna Aqua Ski Club, which was on the west side of the lake. You could find many members there using the ski jump and the slalom course. He taught water skiing, and he used his powerful boat to pull the once famous “pyramid girls.” (often with six skiers in tow)
Beatrice passed away on June 9, 1994 and Raymond on June 22, 2019.
Contributed by Mark Nicholls, son.
Caesar Turri was born in Kelowna, BC, in 1924, the son of Samuele and Maria Turri. Nita was born in Kelowna in 1927, the daughter of Emilio and Dolinda Guidi. Both Caesar and Nita went through school and graduated from Kelowna Secondary School. Upon graduation, Caesar worked for Collinson’s Motor Cycle Shop, before joining the Canadian Air Force, during World War II. Nita worked at a local cannery, before going to work at Fumerton’s, a prominent Kelowna department store.
Caesar and Nita were married in 1949. They had three children (Linda, Don and Audrey). Caesar established his own backhoe business and then went to work for the City of Kelowna, eventually becoming Superintendent of Water and Sewer.
Caesar was an active hunter and fisherman. He was also active in the community, including more than thirty years as a volunteer fire fighter, president of the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club, and serving on the boards of the Kelowna Fish and Game Club and the Kelowna Catholic School Board. Nita managed the household until all three children became adults. At that point she returned to Fumerton’s and when it eventually closed, she went to work for James Haworth & Son Jewellers.
Upon retirement, Nita and Caesar travelled several times to Italy and across Canada. An annual vacation to Mabel Lake coincided with the salmon run. They were very social people, spending a lot of time with family and friends. They were active gardeners, members of St Pius X Parish and active with their grandchildren. Nita passed away in 2017 and Caesar in 2021.
Contributed by The Turri Family
Sharon Laura Toombs and her twin sister, Sheila Betty Toombs, were born in Kelowna, BC, in 1938 to parents, Mary Lanfranco and William Edward Toombs. They grew up in Kelowna’s north end before moving to Vancouver, BC, with their parents. They finished their schooling in Vancouver.
Sharon’s first job was doing office work for Maple Leaf Milling in Vancouver. She married James (Jim) William Clements in 1957. Jim was born in Vancouver in 1938 to parents, Lorre and Hazel Clements. Jim began work in equipment sales, working his way up to sales manager for Structural Instrumentation, specializing in logging weigh scales. With this job, came travelling the world to sales conventions and promoting his products.
Jim and Sharon had two children, Danny James, 1957, and Linda May, 1960. They have two grand children, Jade and Robin.
Sharon and Jim lived in Vancouver for a few years before Jim was transferred to Edmonton. After seven years, they moved back to Vancouver. In 1977, Sharon was so happy to move back to her hometown of Kelowna. They bought a house in East Kelowna and lived there for thirty seven years. Here they were very involved with the Kelowna Golf Club and playing bridge. They thoroughly enjoyed their swimming pool, hosting many poolside BBQs.
In 2013, Jim, had the beginnings of dementia, so they downsized to a gated community. Jim passed away in 2018. Sharon keeps herself busy playing bridge three to four times a week and enjoys her daily walks, using the time to contemplate her family and friends.
To reconnect with her Italian roots, she joined the Kelowna Canadian Italian club about four years ago. It has been a wonderful source of new friends and many delicious dinner gatherings. She has also joined the Legion, where she really enjoys the dinner dances. She has many fond memories of her years travelling the world with Jim. “Life is good” says Sharon.
Contributed by Sharon L. Toombs Clements
Rhoda Risso was born in 1938 in Kelowna, BC, graduating from Kelowna Senior High. Larry Weisgarber was born in 1937 in Regina, Saskatchewan. He moved to Richmond, BC, where he graduated and went on to join the Royal Bank. When he was transferred to Kelowna, he met his future wife, Rhoda. Larry married Rhoda in Kelowna, December 20, 1958.
After their marriage they moved to Victoria, BC. Larry left the bank and joined Canadian Pacific Airlines, where he pursued a thirty-six year career as Director of Insurance. Rhoda taught ballet to both children and adults, at night school classes, for twenty-six years.
They have three children: Laurie (1959), Sandra (1961) and Richard (1967). Laurie now lives in Kelowna and works for Sun-Rype. Sandra resides in Ottawa and has four children: Adam, Stephanie, Melanie and Natalie. Richard lives in Surrey, British Columbia, works for Air Canada and has two children: Sasha and Sophia.
In 1994, Rhoda and Larry retired and purchased property in Peachland, BC, where they built their house. Rhoda was an active member of the Peachland theatre scene for many years. She also took a special interest in the Risso family history and has written several articles about them.
With Larry’s declining health, Rhoda moved to a Kelowna townhouse in 2020. Larry passed away shortly after.
Contributed by Rhoda Risso Weisgarber
John was the first born of four children to Gaspar Risso and Inez Hewer. The children: John (1934), Alan 1(935), Reta (1936) and Rhoda (1938) were all born in Kelowna, BC. John has lived in Kelowna all his life. He went to Mission Creek School (corner of Benvoulin and KLO Roads) from grades one to eight. For two of those years, John went to school at seven a.m. to light the wood stove fires in three classrooms and one teacher’s room. The wood and kindling were split and put into the wood boxes the day before. He was paid five dollars a month, not bad considering a bottle of Orange Crush from Mugford’s Store cost six cents and a pack of cigarettes was thirty cents. Yes, students smoked in the teacher room, after they had all the stoves going. After graduating from Kelowna Senior High (corner of Harvey Ave and Richter street) in 1952, he found employment at S.M. Simpson Saw Mill.
Antonia immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1951, at the age of thirteen. She first lived in Golden, BC, then Winfield, BC, and finally Oyama, BC. She is the first born of nine children to Geniale Russo and Maria Filice. Toni and John were married in Kelowna in 1958. They have three children: Cathy (Ted Cundy) 1959, Robert (Linda Nicholson) 1962 and David (Nathalie Mehl) 1964.
John and his family operated “Casorso Road Produce,” a fruit and vegetable stand, for about forty years on property that grandpa Vincenzo and Annetta Risso had purchased in parcels, starting in 1913. The property is now home to Green Square Town Houses and the Vert Condo developments.
Contributed by John Risso
Lorenzo Segundo (Gundo) Risso was the son of Antonio Domenico Risso and Orsola Maria Theresa Ollino. He was born on December 10, 1908 in Morgardino, Asti, Piemonte, Italy. As an infant, Gundo travelled from Italy, via Cherbourg, France, to New York with his mother, Orsola, and sister, Theresa, on November 10, 1909.
Lynnea Ingrid Anderson, daughter of Andrew L Anderson and Christina Olsen, was born on June 17, 1917 in Riverhurst, Saskatchewan. Lynnea and Gundo were married in 1939. They had four children: Myrna (James Walker), Lorne (Shirley Montgomery), Wayne (Audrey Miller) and Bryan (Peggy Mallet).
Gundo and Lynnea lived at the Gordon and Casorso Road intersection where they lived on a few acres of land (Gordon Drive and Casorso Road) where they raised cows, pigs and chickens. Gundo spent a number of years as a tree faller. With neighbour, Camillo Lanfranco, he operated a wood lot, above Crawford Falls, where they sold firewood to many Kelowna families.
Hunting and fishing not only provided the family with food, but were also pastimes Gundo pursued for many years. With hunting buddies, Camillo Lanfranco and Jack Suzaki, he owned a cabin in the Little White Mountain area. After Gundo’s father, Antonio, passed away in 1961, he moved to Antonio’s farm on Swamp Road. Here he grew prunes and grapes. Lynnea enjoyed knitting and attending the theatre.
Gundo passed away on August 17, 1969 and Lynnea on August 20, 2001. Gundo is buried at the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery.
D. E. Rampone, Kelowna Canadian Italian Club
Alan James Risso is the second of four children born to Gaspar Risso and Inez Hewer. Born in Kelowna, BC, in 1935, Alan went to Mission Creek School (corner of KLO and Benvoulin Roads) for eight years and then to Kelowna Senior School, near the corner of Harvey Ave and Richter Street. He worked at several different jobs as well as helping his dad, Gaspar Risso, on the farm. This land was on Swamp Road, now Casorso Road between Benvoulin Road and Gordon Drive. The blocks of land were purchased by Vincenzo and Annetta (Rampone) Risso, starting in 1913.
In 1957, Alan went to Edmonton, Alberta, to take a mechanics and welding course. He worked in the oil industry and followed the pipeline to Ontario. In 1958 he came back home to farm with his dad. Alan still lives on the farm at 3755 Casorso Road.
Contributed by John Risso, brother
Elsie Irene Reorda, was born in Kelowna, B.C. on November 2, 1924, to parents Giovanni (John) Giuseppe Reorda and Caroline Maria Ryder. She was the third of six children: Jack, Roy, Elsie, Mildred, Dorothy and Roland.
Her father, Giovanni, was born in Turin, Italy on September 25, 1881. He left Italy, in early March of 1909, heading to the United States, seeking a better life. He arrived at Ellis Island on March 12, 1909 and then made his way to Clealum, Washington where he met up with an uncle who had arrived there four years earlier. Three years later, Giovanni moved to British Columbia. He arrived in Kelowna, in 1912, where he got a job pitching hay for John Casorso. He served in the first World War, and returned to Kelowna in 1920. Shortly after he returned, he met and married Caroline Ryder. Caroline was born in London, England on February 2, 1898. She and her family arrived in Kelowna in 1912. Giovanni worked for the City of Kelowna for 31 years. Caroline was kept busy at home raising their six children.
Jim was born in the farming community of Beiseker, Alberta on April 10, 1921 to parents Peter and Anna Hagel. He grew up on the farm and at the age of 21, he enlisted in the Canadian Army. After four years in the army, he was discharged on February 14, 1946. At some point after that, he made his way to Kelowna, B.C.
Elsie received her education at Kelowna Central Elementary and Kelowna High School. She worked at Shaw’s Candy Store and at a packinghouse. Elsie met and fell in love with Matthias (Jim) Joseph Hagel, and they married on February 5, 1951. They had three daughters: Donna, Shannon and Cheryl. They moved to the Rutland area in 1959, where they raised their family. Jim did part time work until he found a full-time job at Chapman’s Transport (later called Motorways), where he worked until his retirement. Elsie, was a full-time homemaker and enjoyed having coffee with neighbours and working in her flower garden. All three daughters married and have children and grandchildren of their own.
Elsie lived her entire life in the Kelowna area. Her husband, Jim passed away on January 28, 2005 and Elsie passed away on November 6, 2019 at the age of 95. Both are interred at the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery, as well as her parents, Giovanni and Caroline.
Contributed by Cheryl Hagel Tanaka, daughter