The Italian diaspora consists of about 70 million people worldwide, more than the current population of Italy. There are 800,000 people of Italian origin in Canada, and 300,000 in Montreal.

Filmmaker and media correspondent Anita Aloisio argues that there is something unique about Montreal’s Italian-origin community. It is different from Italian communities elsewhere in Canada and Quebec. Much of the existing literature about Italians in Canada paints an incoherent portrait of the Montreal situation.

Many Italians initially chose French as their primary language of communication when arriving in Montreal. It was easier to learn than English, given its similarities to Italian, and most immigrants were Catholic like the Francophone majority of Quebec. Despite this, Aloisio explains, Italian children were often refused admission to French schools. Administrators were concerned with preserving the cultural homogeneity of the mother-tongue Francophones making up the majority of the student population. English-language schools had no such restrictions. A linguistic shift had occurred by the 1960s, with most Italians now being schooled in English.

By the late 1960s, declining birth rates among Francophones led to a greater desire to attract minorities to their schools for the sake of linguistic preservation. In 1967, an act was proposed to compel primary schools children to attend unilingual French schools in the largely Italian neighbourhood of Saint-Leonard. Italian parents were enraged, feeling that this was an assault on their fundamental rights to choose the language of instruction for their children, and riots even broke out on the streets. The Saint Leonard crisis led to a series of language laws in Quebec, culminating in Bill 101.

Anita Aloisio at Concordia University, November 30, 2017.


Anita Aloisio is a documentary filmmaker and media cultural correspondent. Anita’s films, media work and scholarly research examine issues of immigration, language and politics particular to Canadian society and recently delves into the creative process of Italian-Canadian artists. She is currently completing her third documentary: Calliari’s Québec, as well as taking aim at writing her first novel.

Further Reading

Aloisio, Anita. “The Transmemoric Process: The Journey of Italian-Québécois Artists.” M.A. project (non-thesis), Concordia University, 2016.

Boberg, Charles. “Ethnic Divergence in Montreal English.” Canadian Journal of Linguistics/Revue canadienne de linguistique Vol. 59, no. 1 (March 2014): 55–82.

Chikli, Christophe. “La Crise de Saint-Léonard Dans La Presse Montréalaise, 1968-1969.” Thesis, Université de Sherbrooke, 2006.

Ramirez, Bruno. “Immigrants italiens dans l’espace social et culturel montréalais : une synthèse historique.” In Histoires d’immigrations Au Québec, edited by Guy Berthiaume, Claude Corbo, and Sophie Montreuil, 43–59. Quebec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2014.

Ramirez, Bruno, and Michael Del Baso. The Italians of Montreal: From Sojourning to Settlement 1900-1921. Montreal: Les Éditions du Courant, 1980.

Ricci, Amanda. “From Acculturation to Integration: The Political Participation of Montreal’s Italian-Canadian Community in a Urban Context, 1945-1990.” M.A. Thesis, Université de Montréal, 2009. 

Sanchini, Laura Marie Andrea. “‘It’s Strange, We’re Not Italian but We’re Not Canadian Either’: The Performance of Ethnic Identity Among Young Montreal Italians.” M.A. Thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2009.

Salvatore, Filippo. Fascism and the Italians of Montreal: An Oral History, 1922-1945. Translated by George Tombs. Toronto: Guernica, 1998.

…or read more about Italians in Quebec in our bibliography.