By Brenda M. Shaw
The 1st Italian to arrive in BC was a naval officer named Captain Alejandro Malaspina. Alesandro Malaspina was born in Mulazzo, a small principality ruled by his family. Today, part of Tuscany, it was then part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, a fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire. Alessandro’s parents were the Marquis Carlo Morello and Caterina Meli Lupi di Soragna. He entered the Royal Navy of Spain in 1774. Knowing that Cook had previously surveyed the coast west of Prince William Sound and found no passage, Malaspina, employed by Spain, ceased his search at that point and sailed to the Spanish outpost at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island in 1791.
It would be many years after Malspina’s arrival before our ancestors made their way to British Columbia but when they did, they came to all parts of BC. Families with Italian roots have made a rich and significant contribution to the history of BC. In several waves of immigration, they arrived to build the province - as agricultural pioneers, early miners, brick masons, industrial workers, community founders, industrious citizens and community leaders. Each played an important role in making their communities - and BC - stronger.
The first known Italian immigrant to arrive in Kelowna was Giovanni Casorso in March of 1883, followed by his wife, Rosa, and their children in July of 1884. Rosa and her children had an arduous journey from Piedmont, Italy to San Francisco, to New Westminster and on to Kelowna. They travelled from Kamloops to Kelowna by stage coach.
Luigi Rampone was next, coming in April of 1893. Giovanni Casorso sent for him to help farming the lands at the Mission. Giovachino (Joe) Lanfranco arrived in February of 1901, and from that date on, a quick succession of Italian families began arriving in Kelowna… Ciaccia, Risso, Gaspardone, Guidi, Pioli, Favali, Rossi, Turri, Cavani, Bertucci, Ciancone, Camillo and Domenico Rampone, Orsi and Dal Col are all among the many early families.
In 1883, Giovanni Casorso was running the Catholic Mission’s agricultural lands at Kelowna and pioneering several of the Okanagan’s agricultural industries. The Casorsos introduced Australian style sheep sheep farming, raised herds of pigs to supply their “Sanitary Market” butcher shop and, half a century later, began to grow grapes commercially. Today their Pioneer Ranch store is just down the road from the original Mission site. (Closed 2018)
In my search for my family, I have compiled a great deal of information on the Italian families that eventually made Kelowna and the surrounding areas their homes. These records are found on the American Family Immigration Site known as Ellis Island. From 1892 to 1925, most immigrants came through Ellis Island in New York. The first thing that they probably saw was the Statue of Liberty. They came from every part of the world, some with all their possessions, but most of them with the clothes on their back and very little money in their pockets. The Manifests at Ellis Island are often very informative and give a great deal of information… where they were from, who they were going to see, who they were leaving behind. The records usually give their home and their age and marital status and how much money they had, It is from these documents that I was able to connect families that married in Kelowna and I was able to name brothers and sisters, fathers and children from the information given in the manifests. They were destined for Kelowna, Vernon, Trail, Rossland, Summerland and Revelstoke, BC with the majority of them heading to Kelowna. It must have been quite a trip from New York to the wilds of the Okanagan Valley in BC and its’ small communities. As is the custom, many of the families arriving would be housed with a settled family until they got on their feet.
Soon the City of Kelowna was beginning to become home to several Italian families. Amos, Angelo, Luigi and Pietro Guidi, Samuele Turri, Michelle Rossi, Cesare Bertucci, Oreste Favali and Carlo Cavani were from the same area that my grandfather, Angelo Pioli, came from. Their villages of Mozzanella, Pontecosi, Felicia di Camporgiano, Pievefosciana, Castiglione di Garfagnana, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, Villa Collemandina and San Romano in the Toscana region, province of Lucca, were only few km apart and their families knew each other and were often related by marriage.
In the early years, the Italian immigrants in Kelowna did a variety of labouring jobs, often in the field of agriculture. After meeting their obligations with the Immigration authorities of working the land for one year, the Italian immigrants began to work in their chosen trades or start new careers. Samuel Turri went to work for the City of Kelowna Water Department, eventually becoming a foreman… Casorsos had a cattle ranch amongst many other vertures; Capozzi had a store and soon a winery; Pioli was a brick mason; the Guidi’s were masons and plasterers; the Rampones, Lanfrancos, Favalis, and many others, were farmers.
The Italian community in Kelowna was a very large, tight-knit community. Immigrant families often stayed with those families who had come before them. Such was the case with my grandparents. When my grandfather came in 1910, he went to a family relative, Felice Briando in New York and from there to the Black Diamond Mine in Washington State where he caught up with friend Alfredo Biagioni… together they came across the border into BC and on to Summerland. Alfredo built the old stone house now known as Zia’s… my grandfather stayed with him for one year and worked on the land and also helped build the house and the old stone fence that surrounded the property. After going back to France and Italy, in 1913, my grandfather Ippolito Angelo Pioli married my grandmother Annuziata Campigli in Fuecchino, Italy. They came back to Kelowna that year and lived with the Casorso family until their home on Coronation Avenue was built. As did most of the Italian families, my grandparents often put up new immigrants until they found work and were able to begin on their own.
The Italian Pioneers has a real sense of community and volunteered wherever they were needed… the building of the road to Carmi and the Kettle Valley Railroad were just two projects that the Italians worked on. The Kettle Valley Railroad was in the process of being extended into the Kelowna area in 1912 and work continued until the completion of the railway track in 1914. Each weekend the pioneer Italian men and others from the North end of Kelowna, packed their lunch and water and would meet in the North end and head out to the work site, walking all the way to the McCullough end of the railroad. They worked all day long in the hot sun… each contributing his skills and working alongside many other nationalities. They walked many miles each and every weekend to help finish the construction of the Kettle Valley Railroad at the Myra Canyon and McCullough end where they laid down track and also prepared the roadbed for the coming track. The men, who were brick masons, built the foundations beneath the trestle. Those foundations were still standing after the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, in August / September of 2003, demolished twelve of the eighteen trestles.
Friday evenings would find these families gathered together cooking, drinking, playing music, dancing and playing cards. They would rotate from house to house, sometimes walking long distances to be together. Children would fall asleep under the table listening to their parents laughing and signing. Today, over one hundred years later, some of these families still meet to enjoy dinner and conversation. The KCIC club was formed in 1966 as a way of staying in touch and gatherings together to share their heritage. The club has many more Italian immigrant families that came much later, but the feeling of family and togetherness still remains a strong tie.
Sundays would find the Italian families at Church. In the early years there was only the Church of the Immaculate Conception. For the Italian community it was an important event each week to share their faith together. Afterwards they would often gather to visit with friends and neighbours when the men weren’t involved in some project like the Kettle Valley Railroad.
According to the 1911 census schedule for Kelowna, my grandfather, Angelo Pioli, had come to Canada in 1908. He went back to France, but he must have liked it here because, in 1910, he sailed again from Marseilles, France where his sisters Zelinda and Maria were living. On this second trip to Canada, my grandfather brought some vine cuttings with him and planted them… they did not survive the first winter and in 1913 he returned to France, for a visit and to marry, and he again brought vine cuttings (vinifera)… he was laughed at and told they would never survive… but survive they did… flourishing for many years on the Coronation Avenue property; the infant wine industry had begun.
In the late 1920’s, Pasquale, “Cap” Capozzi, began to put together the dream of a winery. With the help of his partner W A C Bennett, along with Joseph Ghezzi and the financial help of the many Italian families, Calona Wines was founded. The Italian families that contributed to the beginning of the winery were given shares and the Pioli family was no exception in being stockholders. With the first $3500 that Angelo invested, Cap was able to get the wine presses off the docks in Vancouver and into production in Kelowna. Angelo, along with a few other families also put up the money to buy the boilers as well. Soon Calona Wines was up and running.
It is with this same spirit of camaraderie, that the Italian community stood together. They built churches and clubhouses and helped each other build their homes and raise their barns… they donated money and time to the betterment of Kelowna and in times of need they lent their time and their backs to whatever was needed. They attended their churches and blessed the arrival of their children… godparents were chosen from amongst their community and were an important part in the lives of the second generation Italian/Canadian children.
Many of these families are interwoven through marriage… the names of those who came to Canada to begin new lives is long and incomplete but some of the names are found in street signs throughout Kelowna ,while some of them have their family still living in the area.
770 Lawrence Ave.