Present Situation of Maltese in Canada

Author: Richard S. Cumbo

The number of people of Maltese origin living in Canada is estimated at about 30,000 (1996 Canadian Census). If the children of Maltese immigrants were also included, the number would reach about 50,000. The majority of immigrants who came to Canada from the Maltese Island arrived after the Second World War. Most of these live in the Province of Ontario, totalling about 25,000. It has always been difficult to obtain an accurate number of Maltese-Canadians living in Canada. One of the reasons is that in the early days when Malta was a colony of Britain, Maltese were considered British subjects and registered as such.

The first documented Maltese to arrive in Canada was Louis Shickluna (Scicluna), “native of Malta”, who in 1838 came to St Catharine's Ontario, and established a large and prominent shipyard on the Welland Canal. Louis Shickluna was born in Malta in 1808 and at the age of 16 left his birthplace. A carpenter by trade he was employed in the construction of ships at Youngstown, New York in 1835. Between 1838 and 1880 he directed the construction of more than 140 vessels primarily for use on the Great Lakes. Shickluna died in 1880 and his son Joseph continued to operate the shipyard at St Catherine's until 1892. In 1980 the Ontario Heritage Foundation erected a plaque near the site of his shipyard in honour of the great Maltese-Canadian.

My first talk is on the present situation of the Maltese in Canada, at times I will have to revert to the past in order to relate it to the present.

The present situation of the Maltese-Canadian community specifically in the Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A.) in comparison to how it was back in the 1960s and 1970s, may not be bright however there is hope. Later I will explain what I mean by this.

I will primarily focus my talk on the Maltese-Canadians of Toronto (the area known as the Junction) because this is where the largest and oldest community exists. This is no way to demean the other vibrant communities in the Province of Ontario or for that matter the rest of Canada. Throughout Ontario which has a population of approximately 15 million (the population of Canada is just less than 30 million) many small concentrations of Maltese may be found. Some of these are substantial in: Mississauga, Ottawa, London, Windsor, St Catherine's, Hamilton, Guelph, Whitby, and others. These cities are all in the Province of Ontario where the majority of Canada's Maltese population lives. Maltese make up one tenth of one per cent of the population of Canada.

On the east coast of Canada, namely the Maritime Provinces (which have colder winters) there are individual families, however not in a concentrated area. The Maltese-Canadians of the Maritime Provinces are served by an Honorary Consul of Malta. Recently through an initiative of the Honorary Consul General of the Atlantic Provinces, early Maltese Migrants (as well as all emigrants arriving in Canada through Halifax) are to be duly noted by the Federal Government of Canada in a museum called Pier 21.

Canada's west coast presents a different picture altogether. In the Province of British Columbia, which has a more temperate climate, a substantial number of Maltese-Canadian families can be found living in Vancouver and its suburbs. During the 1980s an organization was formed and called the Canadian Maltese Association of British Columbia. This organization survived for a number of years however now it appears to have floundered. Other pockets of Maltese-Canadians can be found in northern British Columbia namely at Powell River.

Usually employment opportunities, to join other family members or the economic situation of an area and other factors often helped emigrants in deciding where to emigrate. Canada, unlike Australia, New Zealand and other “warm” countries, does not have a year round moderate climate. Then again weather patterns in Canada vary from coast to coast. The most favourable weather is found on the west coast, however arriving at one end of Canada and then having to travel across the country was probably a deterrent to many Maltese migrants. Arriving on the economically poor east coast and with its harsh winters was not a favourite with many migrants. As with most other emigrants to Canada, Ontario and Quebec were the two favoured destinations for new Maltese immigrants. Toronto, with an old and established Maltese community was the most popular selection for Maltese migrants to Canada.

The early Maltese in Toronto, who numbered about 200 in 1916 and 400 by August of 1917, were settled mainly in two areas in the city. One community could be found living in the vicinity of St Patrick's Shrine Church and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in downtown Toronto. The other community was (and still is) in the then still developing area known as West Toronto Junction. The Junction provided lower cost housing and many job opportunities. St Cecilia's Church served the spiritual needs of the Junction Maltese. Both communities had a similar problem in that they required a priest who understood Maltese especially for confessions.

During the turn of the century many Maltese priests (mainly belonging to various religious orders) travelled the Province serving their flocks. When the opportunity was available some would visit the Maltese communities however not on a regular or permanent basis. (The names of all the early Maltese priests are noted in a more extensive history of the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto.)

A priest who seemed to understand the need of a permanent Maltese speaking priest was a Capuchin Friar - Father Fortunatus Mizzi. Father Fortunatus (1880-1945) was born in Valletta, son of Dr Fortunatus Mizzi and brother of Dr Enrico Mizzi former Prime Minister of Malta. Father Mizzi came to Canada in 1906 and lived in Ottawa where he founded the Italian Church of St Anthony of Padova. In 1916 Father Mizzi at the request of the Archbishop of Toronto, submitted a detailed report of the plight of the Maltese living in Toronto.

Probably inspired by one of the visiting priests of group of Maltese men of the downtown community decided to form an organization with one of its main goals the founding of a Maltese church and the preservation and retention of Malta's cultural and language. The organization founded was the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto, it was established in September of 1922. Eight years later after many petitions to the Toronto Roman Catholic Archbishop, discussions with the Junction Maltese and with both communities involved, this goal was achieved. St Paul the Apostle Church was built and it's first pastor was Augustinian Friar-Father Alphonse Cauchi (1880-1943). Since 1922 the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto has played an important role, especially from 1922 to the mid-eighties in the community. In 1997 it celebrated its 75th anniversary and the honoured guest was the then Prime Minister of Malta Dr Alfred Sant.

During the 1950s up to the 1970s the Maltese-Canadian population in the Junction was at its peak. St Paul the Apostle Maltese National Church under the auspices of the Franciscan Fathers was the heart of the community. In March 1999 the administration of the parish was transferred to the Missionary Society of St Paul. St Paul's Franciscans had served the community with dedication for nearly 50 years.

The Junction community could boast that they had the largest concentration of Maltese living in one geographical area, outside of Malta. With the large influx of migrants during the 1950s the community prospered and grew. A new and larger St Paul's Church was required as well as a new convent and auditoriums. Maltese businesses flourished along the Dundas Street West strip and more Maltese organizations were formed. By the mid-1980s nine Maltese-Canadian clubs had been founded as well as a Maltese-Canadian Federation. The community was being served by Maltese periodicals, a Maltese radio programme and two Maltese Cable television shows. Classes to learn Maltese were being given through the Maltese Heritage Programme. A Malta Trade ommission Office was opened in the Junction in 1972.

In recognition of the Maltese-Canadian contribution to the area, the City of Toronto established a parkette and called it Malta Park. This was achieved through the dedication and collaboration of organizations and the community working together.

Now going back to an earlier statement that I made “the present situation of Toronto's Maltese community may not look bright however there is hope”.

During the 1980s many Maltese families began moving out of the Junction to Toronto's suburbs. Their economic situation had improved and therefore they became more flexible in their housing needs. Maltese-Canadians have always had the reputation of being family oriented. Many after just a few years in Canada purchased their own homes, this was achieved through good work ethics. Due to the Canadian recession, some returned to Malta. With improved conditions in Malta fewer emigrants were coming to Toronto and even at present the number of migrants annually coming to Toronto could be counted on both hands.

The number of clubs in the Junction has decreased from nine to four - the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto (1922), Melita Soccer Club (1963), Malta Band Club (1971) and the Gozo Club (1974). The Maltese-Canadian Federation (1974) still functions in the community. A number of Maltese businesses have closed or moved out of the area. The Malta Trade Commission Office which received the status of Consul General of Malta in 1986 moved to a more central and prestigious location in 1994. In the mid-1990s the Malta Band Club moved out of the Junction to the City of Mississauga. The Gozo Club is presently deciding whether to rent or buy in the Junction or elsewhere. The Junction area in the last 30 years has gone through a depressed state. Many of the centuries old buildings require renovating, parking is not readily available along much of the business strip and various other ethno cultural groups have integrated into the area due to a lower cost of housing.

The Maltese population of the Junction has greatly decreased and this has had an adverse effect on St Paul's church. However it is still due to the location of the church, the few Maltese businesses and organizations which have remained in the area, that the Maltese still consider the Junction as their community.

Another noticeable change is that the number of Maltese-Canadian students taking Maltese lessons has dropped from a peak of over 100 down to about 50 or 60.

However although the picture may not look bright, hope is ever present. The four Maltese clubs which have survived appear stronger and more cohesive. Whereas in the past when there were many organizations, often conflicting with each other, the present organizations try to cooperate and assist each other. St Paul the Apostle Church and its priests of the Missionary Society of St Paul have an outreach program in order to visit the various communities in the Province as well as Maltese organizations. In 1995 the Maltese-Canadian Professional and Business Association was founded with one of its objectives being the promoting and developing closer, stronger, professional and economic business relationship between Malta and Canada. In the mid-1990s two Maltese-based banks (Bank of Valletta and Mid-Med Bank - now HSBC-Malta, plc) opened branches in the Junction as well as elsewhere.

In regards to Maltese media, the Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A.) is now served with one half hour C.F.M.T. cable television show - Le¹en Malti and since 1987 a monthly newspaper - L-A¹bar. The television programme utilizes both male and female volunteers , whereas the other organizations are more male dominated.The televison program and newspaper provide the community with current events from Malta and the community here, both in Maltese and sometimes in English. Some ogranizations have their own member's publications. These publications are important because they not only inform their membership with events of their organization but cover other items of interest as well. They also provide the organization with the freedom of what they publicize and how often.

Articles on the community or about Maltese-Canadians also appear in various (non-Maltese owned) community-based newspapers throughout the G.T.A. Most notable of these are: the Bloor West Villager, the Guardian, Mississauga News, North York Times, the Catholic Register and others.

For many decades George Bonavia's Malta Service Bureau located in Ottawa, has provided a programme heard in Malta with news from the communities of Canada.

Therefore although the original Maltese-Canadian community of the Junction has diminished in stature an effort is still made to keep it vibrant and active. The specific area in the Junction were many Maltese lived was disignated as Malta Village a few years ago. Maltese try to visit the area to attend Mass at St Paul's and sample some Maltese pastry at one of the bakeries left in the area. Two clubs the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto and the Melita Soccer Club still call the Junction their home. The Melita Soccer Club, instead of moving out of the area spent a great sum of money renovating their premises.

Across Canada and especially in Ontario you will find small concentrations of Maltese families living in communities. Where a substantial number is found, usually a Maltese organization is formed. These organizations try to foster and encourage the promotion and retention of the Maltese Island's rich history, culture and language.

The future of the Maltese communities lie within the community itself. Since there are very few new Maltese migrants coming to Canada the population is not expected to suddenly increase. Volunteers working in the various communities are aging and an effort has to be made to interest younger individuals to become more community-minded.

One asset that we Maltese have is a very rich and colourful culture and a unique language. These are excellent tools to use in further educating our youth. The effort has to come from us. If we are truly proud of our heritage, we are the ones that must plant the seeds so that future Maltese-Canadians can benefit from sharing their ancestral background with the Multicultural Mosaic which is - Canada.

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