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The Italians Who Built Toronto

Italian Workers and Contractors in the City’s Housebuilding Industry, 1950–1980

Series:

Stefano Agnoletto

After World War II, hundreds of thousands of Italians emigrated to Toronto. This book describes their labour, business, social and cultural history as they settled in their new home. It addresses fundamental issues that impacted both them and the city, including ethnic economic niching, unionization, urban proletarianization and migrants’ entrepreneurship.
In addressing these issues the book focuses on the role played by a specific economic sector in enabling immigrants to find their place in their new host society. More specifically, this study looks at the residential sector of the construction industry that, between the 1950s and the 1970s, represented a typical economic ethnic niche for newly arrived Italians. In fact, tens of thousands of Italian men found work in this sector as labourers, bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers and cement finishers, while hundreds of others became contractors, subcontractors or small employers in the same industry. This book is about these real people. It gives voice to a community formed both by entrepreneurial subcontractors who created companies out of nothing and a large group of exploited workers who fought successfully for their rights. In this book you will find stories of inventiveness and hope as well as of oppression and despair. The purpose is to offer an original approach to issues arising from the economic and social history of twentieth-century mass migrations.
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Preface

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It was a sunny afternoon of November 2010 at the Cafe Diplomatico on College Street, in the Little Italy of Toronto. I was speaking to my wife in Italian. A man came up to us and asked: ‘Are you Italians from Italy?’ And then he added: ‘Here it is full of Italians. You know, Italians build houses’. The protagonists of this book are the Italian immigrants who built houses in Toronto from the 1950s to the 1970s, and their families.

This book is about the history of a community formed by both exploited workers who fought for their rights and entrepreneurial subcontractors who created companies out of nothing. You will find stories of inventiveness and hope, as well as of oppression and despair. My first hope is that the pages that follow do justice to this community and its history. I also intend my book to help readers to understand what happened and why.

I am sure that some readers will wish I had left some things out, while others will be disappointed about the stories that do not appear in my book. However, I hope you will all appreciate my honest effort to describe a history that I am convinced deserves to be recalled.

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