Further Up North

In October 1945 a Liberal member of Parliament for Winnipeg in Canada said in Ottawa that Canada needed a serious immigration policy because the population of the country was not large and the same speaker felt that it should be doubled within the next twenty-five years. There were vast areas which were very thinly populated and even in the larger cities there was a dearth of both skilled and unskilled labourers. The speaker, Mr Leslie Mutch, urged the Canadian Parliament to launch an energetic immigration programme to absorb many of Europe's displaced persons and thus help Canada's own population to expand which would also mean a more diversified and therefore a healthier economy. (29)

Maltese had arrived in Canada from as early as the nineteenth century. Small groupings of immigrants from Malta and Gozo were then to be found in Winnipeg and in Toronto. In 1910 the Malta Emigration Committee was trying to induce workers to settle in British Columbia. Two years later, a member of that same Committee, Dr Charles Mattei, visited Canada and he too was of the opinion that conditions did favour a Maltese presence in the Canadian west. It is estimated that during the first seven months of 1913 about four hundred and seventy one Maltese emigrated to Canada. Many more would have followed were it not for the chaos brought to the world by the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. (30)

When the Great War was over interest in Canada was revived. From 1918 to 1920 the total of known Maltese emigrants to that country was slightly over six hundred. Most of them settled in Winnipeg, Toronto and British Columbia. But here again restrictive legislation militated against the entry of foreigners. A Literacy Test was imposed, immigrants were expected to carry enough money on them to see them to their final destination, and they had to arrive in Canada directly from their country of origin. Such restrictions, especially the last one, kept the numbers of non-British immigrants low. Perhaps the number of Maltese living in Canada prior to the outbreak of the Second World War was probably not more than three thousand. (31)

In 1923 Canada wanted immigrants who would be described as agriculturalists, farm labourers and female domestic servants. Also allowed in were wives of husbands already living in the country and dependent children under the age of eighteen. The husband had to show that he was willing and capable of supporting wife and children. (32)

British subjects were allowed in but Maltese were excluded. Since a number of Maltese males already in Canada were single they could not use the family reunion advantage. In 1945 Capt. H. Curmi, Malta's Commissioner in Australia, wanted to go to Canada to discuss the possibility of improving immigration prospects for the Maltese by helping to rephrase the Privy Council Order of 1923. Curmi condemned that Order as a stigma on the Maltese, a stigma they did not deserve especially after what they did for the Empire during the war. In fact Capt. Curmi had a meeting with Mr A.L.Jollife, Director, Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources. Jollife was of the opinion that changes in the 1923 Order were unlikely because the Canadian Government still needed to obtain a clear idea on what the internal situation will be like once the world went back to normality. (33)

The British Government did make some representations on behalf of the Maltese which helped to remove some of the old and completely unfounded prejudices against the Maltese which had clouded the brains of Canadian officialdom. (34) On August 23,1946, the British High Commissioner in Ottawa wrote to Mr Joilife informing him that 670 men with 480 dependents wished to enter Canada. The High Commissioner, Sir Alexander Clutterbuck, urged Mr Jollife to consider the applications from Malta sympathetically. In 1947 only twenty-seven Maltese emigrants left for Canada even if the number of those who had applied to do was 1,200. The Lieutenant Governor's Office warned that unless those who wished to emigrate to Canada had close relatives already over there, the chances of being admitted were very slim. It advised those with no close relatives in Canada to think of going to some other place. The situation had not as yet changed much from 1930 when Malta's chief spokesman on migration, Mr Henry Casolani, complained that Canada's doors were closed to the Maltese while other British subjects and aliens were being accepted. (35)

The Candian side was being pressured to be to the Maltese by relaxing the harsh conditions of 1923. Fortunate Malta had a number of friends in Ottawa and in London. Among Malta's Canadian friends was the popular Mr Lester earson who agreed that his countrv should show a more generous disposition towards prospective migrants from the loyal island of Malta. In 1947 Mr Pearson was Under Secretary for External Affairs and in 1963 he made it to the top when he became Prime Minister of Canada and kept that position for five years. (36)

In September 1947, Mr A. MacNamara, Deputy Minister in the Department of Labour in Canada was writing to Mr Jollife:

"I do not see any reason in the world why we should not accept people from Malta. My Suggestion would be that you must offer to bring to Canada two or three hundred Maltese as labourers on the understanding that those of them who are tradesmen would be given the opportunity to qualify as soon as they become familiar with the language, customs, etc. In the meantime I will take the responsibility for two hundred men to be brought in on the terms above outlined. (37)

On December 19,1947, Mr Allison Glen, Canada's Minister of Mines and Resources announced that arrangements had been made with the Government of Malta to allow five hundred men into Canada. A joint announcement to this effect was made in Valletta and in Ottawa on March 1, 1948 (38)

Maltese children in Canada, 1952

Maltese children in Canada, 1952

A selection team which included a doctor, was to proceed to Malta in order to interview the candidates. Those selected were to be first on their own and would he placed in employment by C.anada's Department of Labour. Medicals were strict, especially in cases where traces of tuberculosis were suspected. The men's dependents also to be examined to ensure that they were fit even if for the time being they were to stay behind. Transport to Canada was to be the responsibility of the Maltese authorities. (39)

Prime Minister and his Cabinet were with Canada's decision to allow Maltese into the country. Addressing an elated House on February 28, 1948, Dr Boffa had this to say: "Arrangements have been made for the admission to Canada of five hundred immigrants as Construction workers. The movement will take placece this spring and my Government will make the arrangements concerning transport. Canadian officials will come to Malta to make the selection and conduct the necessary immigration, civil, medical formalities. On arrival in Canada the . migrants will be placed in employment by the Canadian Department of Labour. There is no need to state that as regards emigration to Canada the door was altogether, or partly closed, and now as has been seen by this announcement, the door is being opened and I hope will open even more". (40)

The Honourable Members of the House joined in a chorus of approval, shouting: Hear! Hear!

Considering the long and unsympathetic dismissal of Maltese pleas for a fair hearing, this was certainly an improvement on the Canadian side. Even at this late stage, and after Malta's heroic contribution to the Allied victory, racial prejudice against the Maltese was never far from the surface. In a letter of March 10, 1948, Mr F.B. Cotsworth, Acting Superintendent of European Migration, enumerated his own points on why Maltese immigration to Canada should be carefully monitored. Cotsworth thought that the rate of tuberculosis among the Maltese could be high. He also felt that single men should be preferred because most married men in Malta liked to father many children. It was his opinion that the Maltese could be troublesome. (41)

Mr J. Robillard, who was to accompany the Canadian selection team to Malta, presumed that the Maltese selected will have to be of European or British ethnic origin. He was afraid that some Maltese could carry in them traces of Arab or Asian blood in their veins. However, once Mr Robillard had done his job and personally met a number of Maltese prospective emigrants, his fears were assuaged and he was of the opinion that Canadians had nothing to fear from the Maltese as they were physically and civilly of a very good standard.

The selection team was in Malta on April 26,1948. The examiners were: Mr J. Robillard, from the Canadian Emigration, Rome. Mr D.B. Scanlon, security officer, Rome. Dr La Salle and his wife, both ,medical officers, Rome. Dr H.B. Jeffs, medical officer, London. Mr W. Carnhill, Labour representative, Ottawa.

In his report Mr Carnhill wrote that the team interviewed more than two thousand applicants, but he thought that only 1,364 were really serious about living in Canada. There were three hundred who were not necessarily rejected but he thought that they had to be questioned further. Those who were rejected were only thirty-six and these failed either because they were considered as too old or because they were unsuitable for the Canadian market. Mr Carnhill observed that most applicants were ex-servicemen with good skills. He did warn these men that in Canada they would be considered as general labourers with no special considerations to be expected.

The general impression made by the Maltese on the Canadian selectors was entirely positive and it was Mr Carnhill's impression that the men he interviewed would be readily accepted by most Canadians anywhere and that they had the makings of solid citizens. Mr Carnhill also noted that the candidates spoke good English, had good manners and were prepared for hard work. He also thought that the Maltese officials underrated those they classified as unskilled because these would be readily acceptable to Canadian employers looking for good workers.

While Mr Robillard and his team were in Malta, the Prime Minister of Malta, Dr P. Boffa, and his minister responsible for emigration, Mr j J. Cole, attended a meeting in Valletta, called by the Malta Prospective Emigrants Organisation. The M.P.E.O. wanted to bring together all those who wished to emigrate to Canada in order to prepare them for the great challenge that awaited them in that foreign land of which they knew very little. Moreover, both Dr Boffa and Mr Cole insisted that the experiment about to be made with those five hundred pioneers had to succeed because from the outcome of that group depended the future of Maltese settlement in Canada. Dr Boffa told his listeners that from his experience gained during the First World War, he considered Canadians as the finest people in the world. He also said that he knew that many Maltese would prefer to emigrate to Canada and make it their adopted country. The office where prospective migrants went to be interviewed by the Canadian selectors was being popularly referred to as Canada House. The Prime Minister said that every day, from early morning until dusk, the doorway and stairs were thronged with men, young and not so young, with their women and children, who waited anxiously for their turn to be interviewed . (43)

Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7

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