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Italians in Downsview

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then Downsview's Italian families are doubly blessed. Almost every home has two kitchens!

Downsview's residential development coincided with the largest wave of Italian immigrants arriving in Canada. Some Italians had come to Toronto earlier, in a brief burst of migration that started in the 1920s, but the largest influx followed World War II. Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 Italians immigrated to Canada each year in the 1950s and ‘60s, eventually outpacing newcomers from Britain.

Italian immigrant families arriving in Toronto’s Union Station, 1952

The majority came from Italy's southern regions such as Abruzzi, Sicily, and Calabria. Most were small landowners or tenant farmers driven by crushing post-war poverty, encouragement from friends and family in the new world, and hope. Despite their agricultural roots, most settled in cities – particularly Toronto and Montreal – and found work in factories or the construction trades. In the 1960s, Italian-Canadians comprised one-third of all construction workers in Toronto.

What Downsview offered to new Italian-Canadians and those who moved up from downtown Toronto's teeming Little Italy neighbourhood was more space. Downsview homes – primarily semi-detached, split levels, and bungalows – were modest but large enough for a second kitchen and, of course, a backyard garden.