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.