Maltese in Toronto

Although Canada's coolness towards the Maltese militated against any significant inflow of settlers into that country, yet small colonies of Maltese were to be found in Toronto, Montreal, Windsor, Winnipeg, Edmonton and in the province of British Columbia. The Maltese in Winnipeg and in the Far West were among the first to organise themselves as ethnic communities. However, by the late 1920's these communities had ceased to grow and eventually lost many of their members because of lack of employment and the fact that few men had their families with them. Some went back to Malta, others crossed over the border into the neighbouring U.S.A. and the rest drifted towards cosmopolitan Toronto.

As had happened in Detroit soon after the first wave of Maltese immigration into that city, the Maltese living in Toronto felt that their religion was not only a valid bond which held them together but it also served as a bridge to help them foster communication with their Canadian co-religionists.

In 1916 a Maltese priest, Father Fortunatus Mizzi from Valletta of the Capuchin Order, was visiting Toronto. His visit had followed that of a Jesuit, Fr. Tabone, who had been in Toronto some months before. The Maltese in Toronto did not have a resident Maltese priest and the presence of Fr. Fortunatus, even if a temporary one, was greatly appreciated. Fr. Fortunatus had been received by the archbishop of Toronto, Mgr. Neil McNeil, and was asked to write a memorandum on the needs of the Maltese community in Toronto. That memorandum was composed on July 5,1916, and it provides a true insight into the Maltese community in that city.

According to Fr. Fortunatus the Maltese in Toronto in 1916 numbered some 200 people. About eighty of these lived in West Toronto, while about seventy were in the vicinity of Mount Carmel church. What was left were scattered in various parts of the city. The community was made of fourteen families with about twenty-seven children, but the priest had spoken to various men who were expecting the arrival of their wives and children. There were single men who had arranged for their Maltese brides to join them. The women within the Maltese community were fifteen.

During the summer of 1916 there were enough jobs and most men said they were employed. The men worked as architects, electricians, carpenters, stone-masons and labourers. Some of the women were hired to sew. In 1913 the Maltese had suffered great misery because of the hard time they had gone through when there was no work available. Even in 1916, when the situation had visibly improved, "the immigrants of every nationality whatever find themselves here in a very miserable state. They are packed in houses, sleeping four or even more in the same room in the midst of disorder and want of cleanliness".

Most Maltese avoided being involved in braw S and in any kind of disorderly behaviour, but lonely men tended to move into areas where they were liable to find undesirable company. Some Maltese visited by Fr. Fortunatus lived very economically in order to save money and send it home to their families, "for they undoubtedly send home twenty-five and thirty dollars, and even more, every month".

The writing of Fr. Fortunatus points to some of the problems which faced the Maltese in Toronto in 1916. Most Maltese spoke only their own tongue and therefore found it very laborious to communicate with the world around them. This language problem would be solved if a priest from Malta, who was fluent in English, would take up permanent residence among his countrymen living in Toronto. The priest would be ideal to act as a liaison between the Maltese on one hand and the civil and religious authorities of Toronto on the other.

Men outnumbered women; moreover many of the men were married but were separated from their wives and children. The Maltese were mostly working class, yet they were generous and they contributed, from what they had, to the local church. Fr. Fortunatus noted that "they went to confession with the aid of an interpreter. They never missed Mass merely in order to avoid paying their dues. One man, Mr. Azzopardi, collected 300 dollars for the diocesan seminary".

Archbishop McNeil was told that a permanent pastor who spoke Maltese would be a great asset to the Maltese community. In spite of their small number and their meagre financial resources, the Maltese had told Fr. Fortunatus that they were willing to raise 600 dollars a year to support their pastor. A Maltese priest capable of speaking both his own language and English could serve a Canadian parish also, as the Maltese wanted to mix with Canadians "for once they have decided to stay in this country, they would rather become Canadians altogether".

The first permanent Maltese pastor of the Maltese living in Toronto was to be the Rev. Alphonse Cauchi who hailed from Valletta as Fr. Fortunatus did. He arrived in Toronto in 1925 when he was forty-five years old. He was a learned Augustinian friar who had obtained a double doctorate and had made a name for himself in intellectual circles when he taught in Rome for six years between 1914 and 1920. From Rome Father Cauchi went to Philadelphia to take a teaching post. It was in Philadelphia that he learned about the needs of his countrymen living in Toronto.

After his first visit Father Cauchi did not stay in Toronto, but he did keep in touch with the Maltese community. His first visit had been very successful and for the next three years he visited Toronto regularly.

In July 1926 bishop Michael Gonzi of Gozo, Malta, paid a visit to the Maltese in North America and Toronto was one of his stops. While in Toronto, Mgr. Gonzi was told of the pressing social and religious needs of the Maltese community. The bishop had already seen the good work being done by Maltese priests among immigrants from Malta and who had now settled in New York and Detroit.

On August 5 of that same year, another prominent Maltese prelate stopped at Toronto. He was Monsignor P. Gauci. In a letter written by him at the time of his stay in Toronto he let it be known that "the last Maltese priest to stay in Toronto was in March last year. I gave a mission. The colony consists of nearly 300 souls, most of them from Mellieha. They are mostly labourers of good behaviour. Everyone speaks well of them". Gauci's impression seems to tally with that of Fortunatus twelve years before.

One of the Maltese who had welcomed Mgr. P. Gauci was a certain John B. Cutayar Grey who had emigrated to Toronto some years before. This gentleman wrote to Malta to say that Gauci's visit had filled the hearts of the Maltese with pride and joy. He also said that two newspapers, the "Mail and Empire" and the "Daily Star", gave extensive publicity to Gauci's visit and both carried lengthy reports on the large meeting held at the Circolo Colombo, in St. Patrick's Street.

In his speech, Mgr. Gauci urged his listeners to be faithful to God and to Canada. He also appealed to the Maltese and to the Italians not to give up their respective languages. At the same time he reminded them of their duty to be loyal to Canada and to the British Empire.

Mr. Cutayar Gray noted that the occasion at the Circolo Colombo was a memorable one. Although the Maltese community was very small, the visit by Mgr. Gauci had aroused great interest in the city. The Torontonians began asking questions about the Maltese. They also wanted to know more about the priest who was able to address a gathering made of Maltese, Italians and Canadians in their own languages.

The Rev. Alphonse Cauchi was able to take permanent residence in Toronto in 1928. In that year Archbishop Neil McNeil appointed him as pastor of the Maltese community. The memorandum written in 1916 by Fr. Fortunatus bore its fruit fourteen years later. Father Cauchi started working from the church of St. John the Baptist on Dundas Str. and Gore Vale Avenue. He said Mass for the. Maltese, organised their outings, acted as their welfare officer, wrote their letters and was very often called to act as their interpreter. He was also told of the wish of his flock to build a Maltese church. Both Archbishop McNeil and the civil authorities regarded Rev. Cauchi as the "de facto" spokesman for the Maltese living in Toronto's Junction.

Soon after taking his post as pastor, Father Cauchi was issuing a regular parish bulletin which he edited in English and Maltese. The first number of that bulletin contained an article under the title: "The Pearl of the Mediterranean". The article gave a general description of Malta. The writer was a Maltese Sister of Mercy who was then living and working in Jamaica.

In that same issue there was a portrait of Father Cauchi. A few biographical notes gave the information that the new pastor had been in Rome where he was professor of Canon Law at St. Monica's College. A short article in Maltese was about the Catholic priesthood and was titled: "X'inhua s-Sacerdot?".

The bulletin gave a description of Father Cauchi's installation as parish priest of the Maltese. The report claimed that about 700 people filled St. Patrick's Hall in McCaul Street where they heard a Maltese reading an address of welcome to the archbishop. In that address the archbishop was told that that was a great day for the Maltese in Toronto when they welcomed a priest from their country to work among them. The presence of a Maltese priest would help the Maltese to hold on to that faith which was given to their forefathers by Saint Paul himself. The Maltese brought to Canada their faith which their ancestors had defended with their own lives. TI address ended with a pledge of loyalty by the Maltese community to the Catholic hierarchy in their country of adoption.

The first challenge facing the new pastor was the building of a church for his Maltese community. The archbishop gave his consent but progress was slow as the times were very hard because of the Depression. Eventually the basement of the new church took shape and in 1930 Archbishop McNeil blessed the basement which was then used as a place of worship. That basement was the beginning of Toronto's Malteese National Parish dedicated to Saint Paul.

The name of the Rev. Alphonse Cauchi becane synonymous with the history of the Maltese community in Toronto. He worked hard and was greatly respected. He died on October 2, 1943 when he was in his 64th year. His funeral was he on October 5 and holy Mass was celebrated Archbishop James McGuigan of Toronto. The funeral oration was delivered by the Rev. J. Ryan. A final farewell in Maltese was delivered by the Rev. Louis Micallef who had travelled from Detroit to pay his last respects. More than fifty priests took part in the funeral which was watched and attended by nearly every Maltese in Toronto. Father Louis Micallef was in Toronto in 194He when he preached a mission to the Maltese. 1 died soon afterwards on April 3rd.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

top-of-pageprevioustopic-indexnext Email-A-Page



We need your support to continue working on this site. Help us.
Text and pictures (c) 2001-2017 Malta Emigration Museum and/or its contributors.

Consultancy, hosting, programming and technical assistance provided by A6iT.