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Maltese in Canada

The Republic of Malta is an archipelago comprised of 7 islands located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily. Malta was a British colony from 1814 until 21 September 1964, when it gained its independence; 10 years later it became a republic.

The 2006 census recorded 37 120 people of Maltese origin in Canada, most of whom emigrated after World War II from the islands of Malta and Gozo. Maltese trace their ethnic and linguistic origins to the Phoenicians. The census showed 7130 who described their mother tongue (first language learned) as Maltese. The Maltese, who speak a Semitic tongue, celebrate their independence day on 21 September.

In Canada the Maltese settled first in Ontario; although significant immigration occurred in 1840, around 1907, and between 1918 and 1920, there were few Maltese in Canada until after World War II. Between 1946 and 1981 more than 18 000 came to Canada, but immigration has slowed significantly and in 2006 only 145 people emigrated from Malta. More than 50% of the Maltese in Canada live in Toronto (18 680) with a heavy concentration around Dundas St. West, where the Maltese Franciscan fathers built a church. Maltese clubs and societies are also located in this area. Other Maltese communities are found in Ontario and in Montréal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

A Brief History of Early Maltese in Toronto and Canadian Society of Toronto, Inc
Author: Richard S. Cumbo and John P. Portelli

Until the beginning of this century, Maltese emigration was almost exclusively restricted to neighbouring countries especially in North Africa. The lack of success or even interest of Maltese emigration to distant countries until the turn of the century has been attributed to language and cultural "barriers'. However, in the 19th century there were a few Maltese who ventured to experience life in Canada which at that time was at its inception as a country. The most known among these is Louis Shickluna (1808 - 1880) who in 1838 settled in St. Catharines, Ontario where he leased a shipyard on the Welland Canal and constructed well over 100 ships which were used on the Great Lakes. Other Maltese who settled in Canada in this century include Alphonse Vassallo (1863-1921) and Vincenzo Mifsud (b. 1881). While in 1900 Mifsud settled in British Columbia where he worked with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Alphonse Vassallo settled in Nova Scotia where in 1888 he owned and managed a hotel in Sydney. In the 1890s a group of Maltese farmers, primarily from Zebbug, Rabat and Gozo, settled in Windsor, Ontario.

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 Baidachino 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 and 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 "Junction" at Dundas Street West and Runnymede Road.

The closest Roman Catholic Church, which these early Maltese families frequented, was St. Cecilia's on Annette Street. This same area was also home to an active Jewish community. The old synagogue Knesseth Israel still exists on Maria Street. The following are some of the names of the early Maltese families in Toronto: Abela, Attard, Baidachino, Bonello, Borg, Bonnici, Bugeja, Buhagiar, Cachia, Caruana, Cini, Coleiro, Debattista, Debono, Ebejer, Farrugia, Fenech, Formosa, Galea, Gauci Micallef, Mifsud, Pace Asciak, Saliba, Sammut, Sant, Sapiano, Schembri, Sciberras, Scicluna, Vassallo, Vella, and Zammit.

The earliest record of a Maltese priest to have shown an interest in helping Maltese immigrants in Toronto is that of Fr. Aurelius Catania, who in 1913 while serving the Italian community at the Church of the Assumption in Daphne, Alabama, wrote to Rev. J.T. Kidd of the Chancery Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto offering to serve among the Maltese in Toronto. Fr. Catania, who had been in the United States since 1909, eventually served the Maltese in Brantford, Ontario where he was assistant to the Pastor at St. Basil's Church between 1917 and 1920. The earliest record of a Maltese priest actually assisting the Maltese in Toronto is that of Fr. A. Tabone S.J., who was then living in Guelph, Ontario and who in June 1914 conducted a retreat for the Maltese in Toronto at St. Mary's Church at Bathurst and Adelaide Streets. But Fr. Tabone must have visited Toronto earlier for a letter dated 8 February, 1914 addressed to the Archbishop of Toronto refers to a Maltese Jesuit who visited Toronto for the first time. There is no doubt that the author of this letter, who signs 'C.M.', is writing on behalf of other Maltese in Toronto. The Maltese, who are starting to compare themselves to other ethnic groups, feel the need to form a Society to help them with their religious and other needs as well as obtain recognition as a group. The author of this letter feels that this can't be accomplished without the assistance of a Maltese priest.

Until 1916 the only recorded effort of the Maltese in Toronto to organize themselves as a group is to the Holy Name Society Maltese Branch. The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Archdiocesan Holy Name Union, dated 14 February 1916, refers to the Maltese Branch and describes it as "practically non-existent, majority of men returned to their Island home." It is fair to note that the report on the other non-English speaking branches was equally non-promising.

Another Maltese priest who seemed to have also greatly understood the need of the presence of a Maltese priest among the Maltese in Toronto was Fr. Fortunatus Mizzi (1 880 - 1 945) , a Capuchin priest f rom Valletta, son of Dr. Fortunatus Mizzi and brother of Dr. Enrico Mizzi former Prime Minister of Malta. Fr. Fortunatus came to Canada in 1906 and lived in Ottawa where he founded the Italian Church of St. Anthony of Padova. He was also in charge of the Franciscan Third Order, and taught mathematics at the Franciscan College. In the summer of 1916 Fr. Fortunatus visited Toronto and at the request of Archbishop McNeil submitted a detailed and passionate memorandum about the conditions of the Maltese in Toronto and the need for a Maltese priest in Toronto especially since most of them were unable to confess either in English or Italian. Fr. Mizzi visited Toronto again in August 1917 when he heard confessions at St. Patrick's Church and St. Cecilia's Church, and possibly also in 1919 when he may have given a Mission to the Maltese in Toronto. The only other recorded visit of his to Toronto is in April of 1922 when he was on his way to Detroit to assist at a Mission.

By 1919 it seems that the Maltese in the downtown area of Toronto mixed well with the Italians in the area. A Maltese, Paul De Battista, was employed as a cook with the Redemptorist Fathers at St. Patrick's. And Fr. Vigliante, a Redemptorist and Pastor of the Italian Parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, according to the Catholic Register, had learnt enough Maltese to be able to hear confessions. And from 1920 onwards it seemed that the Maltese had an annual Mission delivered by a visiting Maltese priest.

In April 1920, the Mission was conducted by Fr. Giacomo Baidachino, a Capuchin. And the Mission in May, 1922 and April 1923 were given by Fr. Fulgentio Grech, a Maltese Capuchin who came from Ottawa. The Redemptorist Fathers were extremely supportive of the needs of the Maltese in Toronto and they readily supported such Missions, in fact the visiting Maltese priests generally stayed with the Redemptorists.

It is within the above mentioned context and very probably inspired by one of these visiting priests that in September, 1922, a group of Maltese men met in a house or hall on Simcoe Street and founded the Maltese Society of Toronto (Canadian was added on at a later date). The co-founders of the Society were: Emmanuel Borg, Anthony Debatisse, Anthony Scicluna, Joseph Vassallo,Sr., and John Zammit. Two or three other gentlemen could be considered as co-founders, however, they were not present on that eventful day in 1 922. Among the earliest documented activities of the Society we find the farewell banquet on 9 August, 1926 to Rev Paolo Gauci, secretary to the Bishop of Malta and delegate to the Eucharistic Congress of Chicago in 1926 and who had payed a visit to the Maltese "colony" in Toronto. This event took place at the Circolo Colombo Club, St. Patrick's Street. At the head table were 3 Redemptorist priests, as well as J. Grittani, A. Sciciuna and J. Grauy. A purse of gold and other gifts were donated to Fr. Gauci. Another activity organized on 24 September, 1926 was a performance given by the Maltese Amateurs to the Maltese Catholics in St. Patrick's Hall. The aim of this performance and other of the kind was to raise funds to have a Maltese-speaking priest who will administer to their needs. Such a priest was eventually to be Fr. Alphonse Cauchi O.S.A.

Fr. Cauchi, D.D., J.C.L. (1 880 - 1943) after having been Regent of St. Mark's Augustinian College, Rabat, Malta (1917 - 1920), and taught Canon Law at St. Monica's College, Rome (1 920), in 1921 came to the United States where he worked with Maltese immigrants in New York and Detroit. He visited Toronto for the first time in 1925. During this visit he looked after the spiritual needs of the Maltese who seemed to have welcomed him very enthusiastically. In early January 1927, Fr. Cauchi gave a Mission to the Maltese. In the summer of 1928 Fr. Cauchi was invited by Archbishop McNeil to conduct a series of spiritual exercises for the Maltese in Toronto. It was on this occasion that the Archbishop invited him to come and work with the Maltese in Toronto.

Archbishop Neil McNeil, who understood the needs of the Maltese community in Toronto and supported the idea of having a Maltese priest in Toronto on a permanent basis, was instrumental in getting Fr. Cauchi to aid the Toronto Maltese. However, one has to also mention the very active role of the Maltese Canadian Society of Toronto in the success of obtaining a Maltese priest in Toronto. On 21 January, 1929, John Giordmaine of 55 Kane Avenue, Toronto, writes to Archbishop McNeil on behalf of the Maltese Club of Toronto in order to have a meeting with him with regard to Fr. Cauchi. On 14 March, 1929, Carmelo Baidachino, the President of the Society, which was then also known as the "Toronto Maltese Club" or just the "Maltese Society," wrote on behalf of the Maltese community to Archbishop McNeil, once again asking for a permanent Maltese priest.

It is worth noting that President Baidacchino (or Baidacchine) was writing from 517 Quebec Ave., in the "Junction,' but he mentions a Society meeting which had just taken place on Simcoe Street (downtown Toronto). On April 8, 1929, President Baldacchino wrote (this time writing from 3244 Dundas St. West) to the Archbishop asking for details of the arrival of the Maltese priest. It appears that on 30 March the Society had a communique that a priest was forth coming. Fr. Cauchi actually arrived in Toronto on 7 July, 1929 accompanied by Mr. E. Bonnici who had gone to welcome him in Montreal. Fr. Cauchi was welcomed at Union Station by a representation of the Maltese including President Baidacchino and several of the Committee members.

Soon the two communities became divided as to where a church should be built. Since land in the "Junction' was more reasonable a "Junction' site was chosen. Under the direction of Father Cauchi, the Society and the aid of the community a plot of land was selected in West Toronto. The first St. Paul the Apostle Maltese Church was literally built by members of the active communities. The strong determination and dedication involved with the erection of the building during the depression was an enterprising saga. However, in 1931 the basement Church of St. Paul the Apostle was fully completed. The histories of these two institutions were closely woven together, and for many years the Society was known as 'il-Kazin tal Knisja" (the club of the church). As Fr. Lawrence Attard aptly states in his book 'The Great Exodus-1918-39 "it was to the great merit of Father Cauchi and his faithful parishioners that both the Maltese Parish of St. Paul and the Maltese-Canadian Society were to prove to be two very useful and permanent fixtures in the history of the Maltese presence in Toronto".

In 1934, when Toronto was celebrating its centenary, the float organized by the MCST's "Knights of Malta" committee, won first prize. The trophy may be viewed in St. Paul the Apostle Convent, at 3224 Dundas Street West, Toronto. In 1984 Melita Soccer Club won first prize for their float in Toronto's Sesquicentennial.

It was not until the mid-forties that the majority of Maltese moved to the Junction area. Newer immigrants preferred settling in the 'Junction' to be close to their church and Maltese businesses. Up until the 1940's, the 'downtown" Maltese were still using the facilities of St. Patrick's Church for some events.

However, the main community was well established around St. Paul's Church. in 1943, Father Alphonse Cauchi at the age of 63 died after a lengthy illness. He will always be remembered for his tireless efforts, his generosity and the love of his community. Father Alphonse Cauchi, O.S.A., is buried at St. Augustine's Seminary in Scarborough, Ontario.

Through the efforts of the MCST, money and supplies were collected for beleaguered Malta during the 2nd World War. During the Presidency of Mr. Angelo Cutajar, the MCST was in charge of the "Malta Relief Fund", in Canada. Father Cauchi had been made Honary Chairman of this fund in 1942.

Because of the large influx of immigrants after the second World War, a larger church was needed. The Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto through its members and the community played an integral -role in the erection of the new church. The cornerstone was laid in 1955, and the church completed in 1956, during this time St. Paul's was designated a parish.

Due to its deep involvement with the church, the name "Maltese Society of Toronto" was engraved along with other benefactors on a large stone slab at the entrance of the new St. Paul's. The Society was also instrumental with the erection of the halls and convent, the former which were completed in 1960. At times individuals question as to why the Society does not have its own premises? The main reason is that all of the money collected during the early years (right up until the mid sixties) was directed towards supporting St. Paul the Apostle Church. Father Lawrence Bonavia, will long be remembered as being the driving force behind new St. Paul's building project, this good Father is a life-member of the Society. Society members and some of the Founders were members of the fund raising committee.

Through the fifties and sixties the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto prospered. At the same time the community had grown immensely, and many other clubs had been formed since the 1960's.

The Society continued to prosper and served the Maltese-Canadian community endlessly. In 1969 the membership was able to acquire the rental of a spacious club. Prior to this, Committee members used to meet in their own homes. St. Paul's Hall was used for their events. Some of the main events were: Miss Malta Pageant, Fiera Maltija (Fair), Carnival Dance, outings to Shrines, Picnics, Children's Christmas Party, theatrical plays and other social events as well as displays promoting Malta.

In the late 1960's the MCST organized a marching band under Mro. Paul Gauci. For three years this band performed for the community and at various MCST events. In 1971 the band members decided to branch out on their own and formed the now popular and successful Malta Band Club, Inc.

Up until the early 1980's an immigrant aid centre in the club served the community. It also provided information about facilities available in Toronto. In the past, during the high Maltese migration period, the Maltese Government use to send the Society a list of incoming migrants so that they can be met and assisted.

The Society was originally responsible for organizing Maltese National Day Celebrations in Toronto. These celebrations had been conducted since the 1940's. In 1966, President Frank Savona obtained a proclamation from Toronto City Hall and for the first time in Toronto the Maltese Flag was proudly raised at Toronto's New City Hall. However, due to the many other Maltese clubs in the community, a Malta National Day Committee (presently the Maltese Canadian Federation) was formed in 1974, so that all clubs could participate with the MCSTin preparing for national types of celebrations.

The Society is governed by an Executive Committee elected by its membership. These are all volunteer workers. It also has a Life-Membership Award. An honour bestowed upon MCST members who have devoted their time and energy to the preservation of the organization over a period of many years.

The MCST is totally dependent on the proceeds from its main events, and donations for its capital. In the past it did receive one-time grants from the Federal and Provincial Governments.

At present the Society is mainly geared towards providing a meeting place for it's members, preserving it's illustrious history, organizing events, displays and the popular Miss Malta Pageant. The works of this benevolent organization were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1969, during the Presidency of Chev. John R. Cordina.

A momentous day for all Maltese in Canada, was the joyous celebration of the Society's 50th Anniversary. Thousands of Maltese-Canadians converged on West Toronto to view a spectacular and colourful parade. The majority of Maltese clubs in Ontario participated in this historic event. A government grant was presented to President Chev. Alfred Goggi, O.S.J. to help defray some of the expenses.

In 1973 Society secretary Richard Cumbo spent a year chronologically organizing all the old files and documents of the Society. In 1974 with an agreement signed by President Alfred Goggi and the Public Archives of Canada, these records were flown to Ottawa. Information on the MCST and Maltese groups may be found in the Public Archives of Canada, the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Archives of Toronto, the Archives of Ontario, the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, City of Toronto Archives and other institutions. Since the early 1970's the Society has encouraged other Maltese organizations to submit records and files to various archival institutions.

During the mid-1970's the Society suffered a bleak period. However, in April, 1977 a new Committee was elected, and re-establishing the Society to its former self was commenced immediately. It is hoped that one day the MCST will acquire its own premises . In May, 1982 the Society was incorporated through the assistance of lawyer Paul Zammit of the firm Zammit, Dash and Semple. Father D.J. O'Neil (parish priest of St. Paul's) instituted the incorporation procedures in 1950, however it appears that this had not been finalized.

For it's 60th anniversary in 1982, the Society received a Government of Ontario grant. Richard Cumbo produced the first written publication of the Society's historical past. The publication contained many old photographs.

Along with the other Maltese organizations, the Society (which is the oldest Maltese Association in North America) is contributing to the aspirations and goals of all Canadians.

In 1997, the Society joyfully celebrated it's 75th Anniversary with a Mass of thanksgiving at the church it helped to erect - St Paul the Apostle Maltese National church, band music by the Malta Band Club, Inc., reception and other activities.

Note: The research for the information about the early Maltese in Toronto (up to 1930) was completed as part of a research project supported by research grant awarded to Professor John P. Portelli, by Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Professor Portelli and Mr. R. Cumbo are currently pursuing further research with the aim of publishing a book about the Maltese experience in Canada.

Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto
The Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto (MCST), the oldest Maltese organization in North America, was founded, September 1922. At that time, it was simply called the Maltese-Canadian Society; "of Toronto" was later added in 1927, when its first constitution was printed.

The MCST was founded by a group of men who wished to keep the Maltese unified and to stimulate the small, growing community in downtown Toronto. They were John Zammit, Joseph Vassallo, Anthony Scicluna, Emmanuel Borg and Anthony DeBatisse. Its first chairman was Father A. Cauchi, a Maltese Augustinian priest, who first inspired these men to form a group with the goal of erecting a Maltese National Church. Its main objective is to assist new immigrants in making a smooth transition to their new life in Canada, while helping them preserve their cultural identity.

Some of its major activities throughout the year include a Miss Malta of Toronto beauty contest, the annual picnic and children's Christmas party, a carnival dance and an Easter display at City Hall. The MCST is governed by an Executive Committee elected by its members, who are all volunteers. It also has a life-membership award, an honour bestowed upon members devoted to the society. This non-profit organization is totally dependent on the proceeds from its main events and donations, with additional support provided by government grants.

Maltese Canadian Imnarja

The Maltese Canadian Falcons Social Club of Oshawa

WWII The Siege of Malta

Year-by-year history of MCST
A Brief History of the Maltese Canadian Community of Toronto
By: Richard S. Cumbo

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