First Arrivals

The first contingent made of one hundred and thirty-one men left for Canada on May 8, 1948, on the ship Manine Perch. They disembarked in Halifax and a local newspaper, The Halifax Herald of May 20, reported their arrival. The Maltese were taken to Fingal Camp which was an old Royal Canadian Air Force Barracks and were eventually placed in different jobs. The places they went to were varied: London, St Thomas, Port Colbourne, Toronto, Cooksville, Peterborough, St Catherine's, Collingwood, Woodstock, Niagara Falls, Oaksvifle, Guelph and Windsor.

Initial impression created by the newcomers from a distant Mediterranean island was favourable. A local newspaper Times journal sent a reporter to interview the Maltese who were described as "a clever lot of fellows, eager to work". The reporter said that 90% were married while more than hall were ex-servicemen proud of their contribution during the last war and also justly proud of the glorious part played by their island in the recent world conflict. The Times journal also said that most of the men had learned their trades according to British standards.

The next group of migrants left on June 17,1948, on board the ship Vulcania. They were three hundred eighty in all. Forty were bound for the U.S.A. while the rest gave Canada as their destination. Their send off was somewhat spectacular. The Prime Minister of Malta, Dr P. Boffa and the Commissioner of Police, were on a special boat and followed the Vulcania right up to the exit of the harbour. Also seeing them off was the local Archbishop, Mgr M. Gonzi, and Mr Cole and Mr Axisa. From the top of the Governor's Palace a signal was given which said: "The Government and People of Malta wish you good luck". Young Anthony Grima, a capable singer with the voice of a tenor, sang his last song in Malta which was the "Maria Christina".

The chaplain on board was Fr Lawrence Bonavia who was later on to be appointed parish priest of the Maltese church of St Paul in Toronto. Among the migrants were two men who were to give their considerable contribution to the Maltese in Canada. They were Mr George Bonavia and Mr Karmenu Sapiano. Mr Sapiano read over the microphone his own farewell poem entitled: "To Malta My Native Land". (44)

The journal of the Malta Civil Service Association commented on the fact that a number of civil servants had given up their prestigious jobs to seek their future in Canada. The editor himself had lost some good friends who were leaving on the Vulcania He had decided to go on a launch to accompany his friends to the very last moment. He said he felt grieved that "Malta had given up so many fine sons". (45)

The Vulcania docked at Halifax on June 25, 1948. The voyage had been quite ordinary till she reached the Straits of Gibraltar, but the Atlantic remained quite rough till they reached Halifax. Some of the passengers complained about the accommodation because they felt quite cramped but they praised the food and they said that wine flowed abundantly. When they arrived in Halifax they noticed a streamer with the phrase: "Welcome home to Canada".

The final anecdote about this group on board the Vulcania concerned a certain stowaway from Malta. He was finally caught as he tried to avoid customs formalities. When interrogated he said that he was twenty-one and that he had been married for nine months and that now his wife was expecting a baby. He had lived for some time in the U.K. but then decided to go back to Malta. He wished to find a job in Canada but admitted that he had no passport and no money. He said that during the journey he spending much of his time in one of the toilets. The stowaway was sent back to Malta. (46)

Later in the year, on October 4, 1948, another group left on the ship Radnik. Among the hopeful emigrants were two hundred and fifty women with one hundred and forty children. Those families with very young children were allowed to take with them an unlimited supply of tinned milk. The Radnik arrived in New York on October 23.

After the departure of these groups the intake of immigrants from Malta to Canada slowed down. The total of Maltese who settled in Canada in 1948 was seven hundred and nineteen. Th total for 1949 was only two hundred and fifty eight. The rhythm was to be again accelerated in 1950, but the authorities in Ottawa and in Valletta felt that before more migrants were sent to Canada the two countries had to agree on a sound policy which was to regulate migration.

The nearly one thousand Maltese who entered Canada between 1948b and 1949, eventually found their places of settlement near some friends or relatives. There were those who in spite of the preparations they were given, did not persevere and decided to go back.

Accommodation was always a problem. Some did not like the food or the weather, while others were simply unable to take in the shock of a different land and a different people. Probably the lack of adequate accommodation and homesickness were the two most serious problems, especially for couples with very young children. The natural growth of the Canadian population and the increase due to immigration made housing very scarce for most people, Canadian and foreign. Added problems were the high cost of rents and a cost of living which was far more expensive than any migrant form Malta had ever known . (47)

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

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.