ITALIAN immigration to BC began with the arrival of Father Giovanni Nobili and other Jesuit missionaries who worked in the OKANAGAN VALLEY in the 1840s. They were not the first Italians to set foot in the province, however. That distinction belongs to the mariner Alejandro MALASPINA; sailing in the service of Spain, he arrived at NOOTKA SOUND in 1791. Large-scale immigration of Italians commenced at the end of the 19th century, and newcomers settled throughout BC wherever the opportunity for work existed in construction, MINING, AGRICULTURE, commercial FISHING, the FOREST INDUSTRY and on railway gangs. In the pre-WWI era, only about 25% of Italians settled in Vancouver. The majority went to smaller communities such as TRAIL, for example, where jobs were available in the COMINCO SMELTER, and POWELL RIVER, where the PULP AND PAPER complex was a major employer. Prominent members of this first generation of Italian immigrants included the Vancouver hotelier Angelo CALORI; "Cap" CAPOZZI, the founder of CALONA WINES LTD; the Arduini brothers in KAMLOOPS and Charles MAREGA, the first professional sculptor in the province.

The influx of Italians declined dramatically during the 1930s, then ceased altogether at the outbreak of WWII. During the war an estimated 40 BC Italians were arrested and interned as enemy aliens. After the war and the repeal of enemy alien legislation in 1947, immigration resumed. In general, this second wave of Italian immigrants possessed more skills, education and wealth than their predecessors. By 2001 there were 46,470 people in BC who listed Italian as their ethnic origin, with an additional 79,950 claiming to be part Italian. This amounted to 10% of the Italian-Canadian population. Italian was the language spoken at home by 3,625 BC residents. The majority of these people came to live in Vancouver, where Little Italy developed on the east side of the city near the Commercial Drive area. Another focus for the community has been the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, established in 1905 as just the second ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH in Vancouver. The social hub of this urban community is the Italian Cultural Centre, opened in 1977 and offering language classes, library, daycare centre, banquet facilities and a full calendar of social and cultural events. The Casa Serena, a 90-apartment seniors' retirement home, is next door. Other Casa d'Italia facilities are active in Kamloops, NEW WESTMINSTER, Trail, PORT ALBERNI, VICTORIA, NANAIMO and KELOWNA. Prominent members of BC's Italian community include Justice Angelo BRANCA, the soccer star Bob LENARDUZZI, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, and the labour leader Ken GEORGETTI. In Vancouver the Italian-language newspaper L'Eco d'Italia has published weekly since 1956 and from May 1988 Telitalia has provided local and international programming on the Rogers multicultural television channel.
by Ray Culos