Activities within the Ethnic Community
The presence of the Rev. Alphonse Can( amidst the Maltese ethnic community in Toronto inspired his flock with the idea of imitating what other Catholic immigrants had been doing all over the North American continent. They wanted build their own church and to start a Society which would encourage social and cultural activities. Father Cauchi was capable of bringing together a number of his parishioners to form a nucleus what was eventually to develop into a prominent ethnic body officially called the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto. It was to the grreat, merit of Father Cauchi and his faith parishioners that both the Maltese Parish of Paul and the Maltese-Canadian Society were to prove to be two very useful and permanent fixtures in the history of the Maltese presence Toronto.
Other Maltese societies had been formed in North Africa and elsewhere, wherever a Maltese community of a sizeable proportion was to found, but Cauchi and his helpers had build on solid foundations and their work endures to this day.
Father Cauchi not only led his parish but he encouraged every initiative which originated from his people. On the other hand his parishioners wanted to express their confidence in him to show how much they appreciated his leadership. In 1925, when Cauchi had come up from Philadelphia to visit Toronto, members of the Society had taken part in religious functions which had been organised for them in the church of St. Patrick. Eventually, the Society, which traced its roots to 1922, accepted a constitution in 1927. That constitution helped it to survive rough times and to retain the confidence of the Maltese community.
Parish and Society were born within the lap of the same community. They were different aspects of the same ethnic soul. The founding members of the Society were eager to see work begin on the Maltese church. They supported their pastor when he bought a plot of land in West Toronto within the area which Torontonians called the Junction.
In 1934 the city of Toronto celebrated the first one hundred years from its foundation. Many organisations presented their floats but the one presented by the Maltese-Canadian Society was judged the best and given the first prize. Although the Maltese community was really miniscule, it had shown that it was capable of encouraging talent.
In later years Parish and Society were to cooperate to alleviate some of the hardships which were being endured by the Maltese in their own island during the Second World War. Generous donations flowed from Toronto to Malta and this strengthened the links between Malta and Canada. When eventually the Allies came out victorious over their enemies, Canada praised the courage and endurance of the Maltese and finally dropped all the reservations which had been put against the entry of Maltese into Canada.
Toronto's Maltese population in 1939 barely reached the one thousand mark, but during the years immediately following the victory of the Allies, the Maltese in Toronto were to swell their ranks with thousands of new arrivals.
When recalling the names of some of the best known Maltese in Toronto, John N. Giordimaine is one of the first to spring to mind. John was born in Malta in 1898 and emigrated to Canada soon after the signing of the Armistice. He was to make a name for himself and for the Maltese in Toronto as a magician and entertainer. John settled in Toronto and was to make that city his home till the last. It was in 1930 whenjohn turned his attention to the art of magic. He delighted children and adults alike. Some Canadian newspapers referred to the man from Malta as "Canada's Prime Minister of Magic".
According to the "Toronto Star" of March 1, 1930, the magicians of that city, both professionals and amateurs, had banded themselves together to form a society. They also expressed their desire to have John Giordimaine as their first president.
In 1939 Giordimaine went down to New York for the World's Fair. His shows in that metropolis earned him the title of "Maltese Houdini" and local newspapers described him as one of Canada's most popular entertainers. Reporters said that Giordimaine was well equipped with a number of novel, clean, humorous and mystifying tricks. One of them even suggested that it was silly of New York's Fathers not to have consulted the magician from Malta on the ways of how to chase the Depression away from the shores of North America.
During the years of the Second World War the "Merry Magician" toured Canadian and American cities to help send food, clothing, medicine and money to his countrymen in far away Malta. Giordimaine also toured camps and military hospitals in Ontario with the Toronto Masquers to entertain soldiers.
John Giordimaine was a popular man who helped to make his countrymen in Canada known and respected. He died in Toronto on January 19, 1974.
Far from the busy streets of Toronto, in Edmonton, Alberta, two other Maltese immigrants had seen their names in print. Joseph and Salvatore Gauci had built a miniature Palestine as it was in the time of Our Lord. This was in 1925. Joseph had visited the Holy Land when he was in the Royal Navy and had served in the Mediterranean for more than two years.
Salvatore was the younger. During the First War he had worked as a carpenter in the Naval Dockyard in Malta. When the two brothers left Malta for Canada, they settled in Edmonton and during their spare time they created a monumental work which faithfully reproduced the Holy Land with episodes in the life of Jesus Christ.
Joseph and Salvatore had been interviewed by a correspondent of the "Montreal Daily Star" in July, 1925. According to the report published in that newspaper, the reproduction of Palestine by the Gauci brothers contained sixty million pieces some of which were so small that a microscope was required to place them in their appropriate position. The brothers told their interviewer that it had taken them years of meticulous work and research and infinite patience to finish their project.
The whole reproduction was forty feet by eighteen. It contained cities, lakes, rivers, roads and bridges. The country was peopled by 900 figures. There were also diminutive trees with fruit on them. The miracles of Christ were all shown. The Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Crucifixion on Calvary were shown in the minutest detail.
Salvatore was the. mechanical mind behind the enterprise. He made the figures move by installing fourty-four motors which not only provided movements for most of the 900 figures, but also provided light inside the tiny houses. According to the "Montreal Daily Star" it was all very artistic and realistic.
The brothers told their interviewer that people had come to their place in Edmonton from various provinces in Canada and also from the U.S.A. A New York syndicate had made the Gauci brothers an offer of a large sum of money which would have made them financially independent for life. The brothers refused to sell. They declared that their aim was to have their model of the Holy Land serve as an education medium for those who wanted to know more about Jesus and the land he lived in.
Charles Ellul Baldacchino emigrated to Canada with his young family in 1927. Charles knew Canada years before he had decided to emigrate because he used to travel to North America with his father who was then a tobacco merchant.
Charles and his family settled in Toronto. He became a member of the Maltese Canadian Society of Toronto and became a close friend of Father Cauchi and he worked hard to provide the priest with a decent rectory to live in. Charles was interested in drama and when the Melita Dramatic Company was formed he was producing and directing a number of plays most of which were in Maltese.
Away from the stage, another Charles left his mark on the Maltese Canadian community. Charles Formosa was born in Malta in 191 1. He emigrated to North Africa where he received a good education and became fluent in five languages. But Formosa felt that the boxing career had brighter prospects and before he was twentyone he was already a flyweight champion. Because of his small stature he became known as Charles "Kid" Formosa.
In 1933 Charles emigrated to Canada and settled in the province of Quebec. In Montreal he became a professional boxer and in that same year a local newspaper called "La Patrie" wrote about him saying that he had never suffered a defeat to date. Within three years Formosa had fought in Ottawa, where he defeated Bobby Leitham, and in New York.
Another well-known Maltese immigrant was Dr. Anthony Cefai. Originally, Dr. Cefai settled in Detroit where his brother was parish priest of the Maltese community. Dr. Cefai was not only popular in Detroit but became known in Windsor, Canada, where he worked among the Maltese living in that city.
The Maltese communities in Windsor and London, Ontario, were never very large, and they felt the strong pull exercised over them by the much larger community living across the water in Detroit. Many Maltese living in Windsor commuted daily to Detroit where they had their jobs, mostly in the car industry. Ties between Windsor and Detroit 'were many and it was natural for Dr. Cefai to visit the Maltese in Windsor regularly.
In 1937 Dr. Cefai was appointed as first assistant at operations in the Metropolitan General Hospital of Windsor. This made him move from Detroit to Windsor and the Maltese living in that city, numbering about two hundred, felt very happy that they had their own doctor living in their midst. They also felt proud that a Maltese immigrant had been offered such a responsible job.
Another appointment was offered by the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Cefai was asked to give his services to the Children's Hospital where he eventually dedicated himself to pediatrics. In later years, at the University of Illinois, he ventured into the field of child psychiatry. Dr. Cefai died at Wichita Falls Hospital in 1986.
John Farrugia was another Maltese Canadian whose name appeared in the newspapers just before the declaration of hostilities in 1939. John had been in Canada since 1913 when he was eighteen years old. He settled in Edmonton, Alberta, where he joined the Maltese community already settled in that city some years back. At that time John thought that there were about a hundred Maltese in Edmonton, but by the time his story appeared in the newspapers, John felt that he was the sole survivor.
John worked with the Swift Canadian Company. He stayed with that Company for all his working years, except for a brief spell when he was granted leave of absence during the First World War when he joined the Canadian Army and saw active service in France.
During the war years John found himself in England for some time and there he met Miss Lilian McLachlan who was to be his future wife. When the war was over John and Lilian went to Edmonton and in 1920 they got married. Three years later their son Donald, was born.
In November 1939,John found himself on active service again when he joined the Edmonton Regiment with the 49th battalion. On November 30, the "Edmonton journal" carried an interview with John. He said he was proud to be called again to serve his adopted country and that he was ready to go into action as a combatant. John told the reporter of the "Edmonton Journal" that when he decided to settle in Alberta in 1913, he did so because at that time so many young men from Malta thought that that was the thing to do. He said he remembered the time when many young unemployed men wished to find work in Canada. They preferred Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, though a few did stop in Toronto where they stayed for good. John thought that his marriage in Edmonton was the reason why he never thought of leaving the place.
Up to the outbreak of the Second World War, the Maltese in Canada were a tiny community largely ignored by the rest of the population. Henry Casolani, writing in 1930, could not say with any certainty what was the number of the Maltese living in Canada at that time. He did say that between 1920 and 1930 those who had actually emigrated from Malta to Canada numbered 1,317. Of these 328 had eventually returned back home. Casolani thought that by the time he was writing there may have been about two thousand Maltese living in Canada.
By 1923 emigration from Malta to Canada had dwindled almost to insignificant proportions because of various restrictions imposed on the Maltese by the Canadian authorities. These restrictions were so subtle that Casolani himself was bound to admit that it was very difficult for him to understand what were the actual rules governing the entry of Maltese in Canada. The Canadians refused to consider the Maltese as British subjects.
The Maltese were aliens, but while other aliens, like the Italians, were being allowed in, it seemed that the Maltese were being barred precisely because of their nationality.
Casolani felt that the Canadians misunderstood the Maltese. He urged the appointment of a Maltese representative in Ottawa who would be backed by the Imperial Authorities. Although such a representative was eventually sent to Australia, in Canada there was no one to speak up for the Maltese.
Between 1921 and 1931 the Maltese population in Canada was being augmented by some thirty new intakes a year. Later this figure tended to become smaller still. The doors of Canada remained shut to the Maltese until after the end of the Second World War. As happened with other nations within the Empire, the heroic stand taken by the Maltese during three years of savage bombardment, aroused the admiration of the Canadian nation and all prejudices were swept away. Although Canada never became the major receiving country for Maltese emigrants, thousands decided to start a new life in that country.
From 1946 onwards, a significant movement of Maltese migrants towards the shores of Canada took place. The Canadians never had any reason to regret their decision to open the doors of their country to the emigrants from Malta. The decision to allow unrestricted movement of Maltese to Canada probably profited Canada more than it did Malta.