Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
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[ISL] The Maltese-Canadians

Shawn Micallef, writing in the 30 June 2005 issue of eye, describes in his article "At home on Dundas" the stretch of Dundas Street that was once the nucleus of the Maltese-Canadian Community.

The Maltese flag flies above a small patch of land between Dundas Street West and St. Johns Road on the western edge of the Junction. This is Malta Park in Toronto's Malta Village, occupying just a few blocks along Dundas. This area was the vibrant heart of the Maltese diaspora in Canada. Though not many businesses or residents here these days are Maltese, the Dundas strip remains an important part of this small and dispersed community.

As the Malta Migration site notes, by the end of the 20th century the Royal Navy's concerns for the security of its Maltese naval base, the rapid growth of the Maltese population, and competition from other Mediterranean seaports threatened the viability of the Maltese economy. Emigration, once seasonal and directed to North Africa, quickly became permanent and concentrated in the British dominions, most notably Australia but also Canada. Richard S. Cumbo and John P. Portelli describe the genesis of the Maltese-Canadian community in their "A Brief History of Early Maltese in Toronto" .

At the turn of the century, European emigration to Canada increased quite rapidly. In 1912-13 we encounter the first Maltese official attempt to organize the emigration of Maltese men to Canada under the direction of Dr. Charles Mattei. It is estimated that between 1911 and 1920 over 2,000 Maltese emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg (where about 300 Maltese were settled by 1913). However, it was Toronto and its vicinity which attracted the largest number of Maltese immigrants. In this part of Canada the connection between the development of the Maltese community and the support from the Catholic Church seems to have been present from the early days. Several Maltese Catholic priests, who were living in Canada or in the United States, had shown a genuine interest, concern and care for the Maltese immigrants in Toronto and towns close to it. These priests include: Fr. A. Tabone S.J., Fr. Aurelius Catania, Fr. Fortunatus Mizzi O.F.M. Cap., Fr. Giacomo Baldachino O.F.M. Cap., Fr. Fulgentio Grech O.F.M. Cap., Fr. Eugenio Fiteni O.S.A., Fr. Alphonse Cauchi O.S.A., and Fr. P. Gauci. The visits of these priests had helped to sustain and foster both their Roman Catholic faith and their sense of community.

The early Maltese in Toronto, who numbered about 200 in 1916 and 400 by August of 1917, were settled primarily in two areas. One community could be found living in the vicinity of St. Patrick's Shrine Church and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at McCaul and Dundas Street West. In 1908 the latter church had become an Italian National Parish. The hall of St. Patrick's Church was used by immigrants for several social events. The facilities of these religious edifices were used by the Maltese for their social and religious functions. The other community was (and still is) in West Toronto "The Junction" at Dundas Street West and Runnymede Road.

Micallef reports that now, almost a century after the mass immigration began and a generation after it ended, Little Malta remains a vital community.

The name "Dundas Street" resonates with all Maltese Canadians; it certainly meant something to me, growing up in Windsor, where the only visible Maltese culture was in my relatives' suburban houses. Perhaps that explains why Maltese homes are full of wall maps showing the Maltese archipelago, souvenir "picture plates," Malta ashtrays, Malta clocks, Malta placemats and Malta fridge magnets: the smaller the country, the louder the artifact.

The mythic Toronto of my childhood imagination consisted of three things: the CN Tower, Mr. Dressup's house and Little Malta. We would take yearly trips to see Maltese friends in Milton, and make Sunday pilgrimages down to Dundas to eat at the Malta Bake Shop.

If you count people like me (half-bred and second-generation), the Maltese population in the GTA is about 20,000-25,000. Today, most of Toronto's Maltese live out in places like Milton. University of Toronto Professor John Portelli, who is researching Maltese-Canadians, has found there are concentrations of Maltese in west Etobicoke, Mississauga and further out in Brampton -- but nothing like the visible concentration on Dundas Street.

[. . .]

Though most of the residents are gone, the strip still survives. "If you come here after church on Sunday, there will be a lot of people," says George Mallia, editor and publisher of the local Maltese language newspaper, L-Ahbar ("The News"). "Some come once a month to hear a Maltese mass. Certainly they come on feast days." With such a decentralized community, Mallia's paper, like Dundas itself, is one of the things that give it a sense of unity, not just in Toronto, but across Canada.
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