New paper: Italian immigration to Kelowna and its lasting legacy

Cover image for Okanagan History 86.

The Okanagan Historical Society’s latest issue of Okanagan History is out, and I’m proud to have an article published in this year’s annual report. Roughly ten years ago (when I was an undergraduate), I received UBC Okanagan’s undergraduate research grant. This grant was an incredible opportunity, as allowed me to spend the better part of the summer travelling throughout the province of British Columbia visiting archives and museums. My research topic was Italian immigration to BC’s Central Okanagan and West Kootenay regions between the 1880s and 1920s. Italian immigrants played a big part in BC’s emerging economy – particularly the primary resource sector (mining and smelting), the Kettle Valley Railway’s construction, agriculture, and the development of the Okanagan’s wine industry. Italian immigration to BC was (and probably still is) an under-studied aspect of the province’s history, as the majority of immigrants settled in Ontario and Quebec. I had a wonderful time learning how to work with archival materials, reading family letters, and looking at town directories. There were two big waves of Italian immigration to Canada. One wave took place during Italy’s unification as a nation-state. Unification was a long and painful process that spanned from 1848 to 1871. The second wave took place during the rise of fascism in the early 1900s to the 1920s. These tectonic events created economic uncertainty, so Canada became an attractive destination. I still feel grateful to have had an awesome project supervisor, Professor Maury Williams. I wrote up my findings and presented them at a student conference and that’s where my research ended.

In 2020, I was contacted by Don Rampone of the Kelowna Italian Club (a social club and historical society). Mr. Rampone had found an old UBC press release about my research and was looking for archival sources on Italian immigration to Kelowna, specifically. I sent him the Kelowna portion of my unpublished manuscript, and pretty soon we were editing the piece together. Tara Hurley, an archivist at Kelowna Museums, was kind enough to help me track down sources so I could fix up the citations. We posted an earlier version of the article on the Italian community’s website. Later, Don and the Okanagan Historical Society asked if I could re-publish the piece in their 2021 annual historical report. This was pushed to 2022 which was a blessing, as it gave me time to re-work the article a bit more. My colleague Peter Houston (MRU Library Archivist) also provided some valuable feedback on the piece.

I’m thrilled to finally see this article in print. Following graduation, it was always my goal to return to, and publish, this research. It’s satisfying to have finally achieved that goal. Older editions of Okanagan History have been digitized by UBC, and are accessible online.

  • Citation: Christiansen, E. (2022). Italian immigration to Kelowna and its lasting legacy. Okanagan History, 86.

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