When on 1 August 1940, the first issue of Il Giornale Italo-Canadese appeared in Montreal, the Italian communities scattered across Canada were in disarray and lived in fear. A witness from that time, the parish priest of the Catholic Church of the Madonna della Difesa in Montreal, Rev. Guglielmo Vangelisti, wrote that ‘Italians were afraid even to go to mass on a Sunday.’
There were no newspapers, no Italian language radio programs and no other means of mass communication to provide any comfort or a sense of community. The internment and the order to register with the police filled everyone with a sense of foreboding and doom that could not be dispelled. Moreover, some staunch fascists who had managed to avoid internment were energized by the military successes of the Axis troops throughout Europe. These men continued to spread the fascist credo and visited the families of the internees reassuring them that a victorious Mussolini would soon liberate their relatives and reward them for their loyalty. Moreover, rumours that the RCMP had Italian spies and informers reporting the names of those who should be taken into custody further poisoned relationships within an already frightened Italian Canadian community.
Within this context, Antonino Spada’s new editorial venture started its publications. Il Giornale italo-canadese was a four-page tabloid or, as Spada described it, ‘a one-man effort.’ The editorial board defined the newspaper as ‘the organ of loyal Italo-Canadians,’ and maintained a cautious approach to politics, claiming its equidistance from the opposing fascist and communist poles. A five-column title in the first issue in our possession, boldly states: ‘Neither fascists, nor communists: We Remain Loyal Italo-Canadians.’ It is noteworthy that, early in the Forties, communists were perceived as being as dangerous for Canadian political stability as the fascists were. Indeed, communist militants staunchly opposed WWII, which they defined as an ‘imperialist’ war, and some of their leaders were interned along with followers of fascism.
Il Giornale italo-canadese’s uncompromising anti-communist stance caused a deep rift between the militant anti-fascists of Montreal and those of Toronto, particularly in 1942-43 when the editor of La Vittoria was communist militant Enio Gnudi. The rivalry between Spada and Gnudi in the Fall-Winter of 1942-43 is difficult to decipher completely and might be due to the fact that Spada followed directives emanating from the RCMP with which he cooperated. Indeed, when WWII broke out, Spada’s political orientation and attitude changed drastically: a development possibly sustaining Luigi Bruti Liberati’s theory that Spada might have been an RCMP informer.
Spada’s Il Giornale italo-canadese and, later Il Cittadino Canadese, clashed openly with Augusto Bersani’s La Vittoria engaging in bitter polemics, leaving behind an acrimonious trail of hostility that was eventually expressed in Spada’s social history Italians in Canada (1969) where he writes: ‘the antifascist press in Toronto had three names, La Voce, Il Lavoratore, and L’Unità. It was dictatorially inspired and was never in a position to create interest among the Italians in Toronto.’ Beside the fact that a newspaper called L’Unità was never published in Toronto or anywhere else in Canada, Spada conveniently forgot to mention that he had been an assiduous collaborator and (financial) supporter of left-wing periodicals during the Thirties.
At first glance, Il Giornale italo-canadese’s pro-Canadian stance could be explained by the nationalistic frenzy still pervading Canada in the August of 1940. However, the few issues of the periodical in our possession seem to suggest that the ostentation of Canadian patriotism actually revealed Spada’s active involvement with Canadian internal operations.
Cumbo, Enrico Carlos. 2000. ‘“Uneasy Neighbours”: Internment and Hamilton’s Italians,’ in Iacovetta, Franca, Roberto Perin, Angelo Principe (eds), Enemies Within: Italian and Other Internees in Canada and Abroad. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 107-108.
Radforth, Ian. 2000. ‘Political Prisoners: The Communist Internees,’ in Enemies Within, pp. 194-224.
Repka, William, Katleen Repka. 1982. Dangerous Patriots: Canada’s Unknown Prisoners of War. Vancouver: New Star Books.
Spada, Antonino V. 1969. The Italians in Canada. Ottawa: Rivera, p. 118.
Vangelisti, Guglielmo. 1958. Gli Italiani in Canada. Montreal: Chiesa Italiana di N.S. della Difesa.