It was a quiet Monday afternoon in 1940 when government authorities swept the home of Christine Demarco’s grandfather and hauled him off to an internment camp.
Carmine Demarco was 17 when he came to Canada in 1902.
He was naturalized in 1907, then briefly returned to Italy to fight for the Allies during the Great War.
Demarco returned home to Ontario when the war ended in 1918 and served as president of a group of First World War battalion veterans.
He married, began raising three children, and ran Demarco’s Confectionery, a family business that Christine likens to Trail’s Star Grocery.
“All across Canada at approximately 1 p.m. that day (June 10, 1940) RCMP and local authorities identified and raided Italian homes,” Demarco said. “They entered my grandparents store, their home, searched it from attic to basement, and arrested him without warning and without explanation of charges.”
In the darkness of night, her grandfather was transferred from a Thunder Bay jail to a stock yard in Toronto. From there, Demarco was sent and confined in Petawawa, one of four Italian Canadian internment camps in Canada.
“During this time those who feared any connection in association with our family boycotted the family business…store windows were soaped with humiliating messages and threats,” she said. “Many prominent Canadians, including doctors, lawyers, a few German farmers were interned, even the Mayor of Montreal, who was in the same hut as my grandfather.”
Demarco, who lives in Rossland, spoke to a crowd of invited guests Sunday afternoon at the opening of “Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times: Italian Canadian Internment Experience.”
After three years of planning, the Trail and District Public Library brought the exhibit to the city last week, and is showing it until the end of March.
Hundreds of Italian Canadians, including seven men from Trail, were taken from their homes, separated from their families, and held in prison or remote camps during the Second World War.
The Canadian government claimed they were threats to national security, fearing many had ties to fascist Italian organizations. Some were released within a few months, and others remained in custody up to five years.
No interned Italian was ever charged or convicted of any war-related crime.
Trail is the only city in Western Canada to display the exhibit which is on loan from the Columbus Centre in Toronto.
Those listed from Trail are Ermando Cecconi; Eugenio Della Lana; Augusto Secco; Pompilio Di Vito; Silvio Romano; Ennio Vittorio Fabri; and Fioravante Tenisci, a Cominco worker sent to Kananaskis then Petawawa for three years.
“The exhibit reveals part of our nation’s and this community’s history, which is literally unknown,” said board chair Barbara Gibson, during the opening reception. “We are thrilled to be able to bring it to Trail because the culture in this community, in large part, is made up of the descents of those people who immigrated, put down their roots and stayed here.”
“Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times…” can be viewed on the Red Floor of the Trail Memorial Centre, just outside the library entrance, during regular arena hours and at no charge.
For decades, little was known about this dark period of Canadian history. The primary reason being the interned men and their families chose to erase this episode of their lives and not speak about it privately or publicly.
“My grandfather returned a broken man, sad, defeated, shamed and betrayed,” Demarco shared. “Many detainees retreated into a world of silence and fear, and my grandmother said he was never the same.”
Christine’s grandmother spoke freely of the effect on her family, but like so many, Carmine Demarco did not.
“This was a condition of his release, he was denied talking about his experience and as a result, we were denied our Italian heritage on so many levels,” she added. “We did not grow up speaking Italian, and we were not encouraged, or allowed to join any organization for fear of association.”
Ray Tenisci, son of Fioravante (Fred) Tenisci, lightened the Sunday event when he shared his father’s love story.
Fred had injured his back working at Cominco in 1940, which lead him to Vancouver for medical treatment.
Throughout his life in Trail, Fred was known for playingin the Trail Maple Leaf band. During his recovery days on the coast, Fred’s voice was his chosen instrument after asking a priest if he could join a Catholic choir.
It was there the 32-year old met Emilia Barazzuol, a lovely young lady from Abbotsford.
“My nonna (Emilia’s mother) said he was too old and my mother too young,” Ray told the crowd of the budding romance between Fred and his 18-year old love interest.
Soon after, he returned to Trail without Emilia.
Fred was promptly arrested at his home and sent to Petawawa for three years.
“When he was in the camp he sent my mother a love letter once a month,” Ray continued. “My nonna figured he was going to send them to the priest to give to her daughter, so she went to the priest and said if you get any letters from this Fred Tenisci guy, don’t give them to my daughter – so he didn’t.”
When the war ended and Fred was released, he went straight to Vancouver and asked Emilia why she hadn’t answered any of his letters.
“She said, ‘What letters?’” Ray laughed, mentioning the pair paid a visit to the priest, who quickly owned up to the misdeed. They started dating and my nonna accepted him now,” he added. “And they moved to Trail, got married, and had 10 kids after that.”
To view stories, photos and to listen to the voices of Italian Canadians recounting tales as enemy aliens, visit italiancanadianww2.ca.-