Italian moved to Okanagan with hope; he ended up being sent to a WWII internment camp

Raymond Lenzi shares his grandfather’s story ahead of Canada’s planned formal apology to Italian-Canadians

Federico Lenzi moved to Kelowna from Italy in 1926 with the hope of starting a new life.

While seeing Canada as a land of opportunity, it would eventually be the country where he was torn from his family and placed in an internment camp during the Second World War.

As shared by his grandson Raymond Lenzi, Federico’s story is similar to those of many Italian-Canadians who lived through the war — tragedies that have prompted plans for a formal apology from the Canadian government later this month.

Accused of sympathizing with the enemy

Raymond said his grandfather’s first job in Canada was managing an orchard in Kelowna for a man in the Canadian Armed Forces named Major Hutton.

“Major Hutton took a liking to him,” explained Raymond. “He knew my grandfather had farming experience.”

Eventually, Federico had saved enough money to bring his pregnant wife and three children over from Italy and buy his own 15-acre fruit farm by Summerland Station.

In the late 1930s, political tensions began to escalate. After Italy allied with Germany in 1940, more than 600 Italian-Canadians suspected to be fascist sympathizers were sent to internment camps, according to the Canadian government. Around 31,000 more were registered as “enemy aliens.”

While tending to his farm, Federico also worked at an apple box-making factory part-time. During a conversation at work about the Second World War, someone accused Federico of being a Benito Mussolini supporter. Although Federico denied the accusation, in August 1940, he was sent to an internment camp in the Kananaskis area, about 80 kilometres west of Calgary, Alberta.

(Story continues below.)

Italian-Canadian prisoners at the Kananaskis prisoner of war camp in Alberta. (University of Calgary/Contributed)

Italian-Canadian prisoners at the Kananaskis prisoner of war camp in Alberta. (University of Calgary/Contributed)

Guards at the Kananaskis prisoner of war camp in Alberta. (Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club/Contributed)

Guards at the Kananaskis prisoner of war camp in Alberta. (Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club/Contributed)

The government seized Federico’s farm while he was interned, though his family continued to work the land under federal custody.

Federico spent his days of internment chopping wood under the supervision of a single guard. One day, that guard had a heart attack. Despite the opportunity to escape, Federico and the other men rushed their captor back to the compound.

“Someone asked him, ‘Why didn’t you run, Fred?’ and he said ‘I want to be a Canadian.’” Raymond said.

After a year, Federico was released from the camp after a ‘higher up’ in the army wrote a letter vouching for him. Raymond believes it was the same man who gave Federico his first job, Major Hutton.

Upon returning home, he received a bill from the government for holding custody of the property. Over the years, Federico didn’t tell his family much about his internment experiences.

“My grandfather told me a few things about it, but it’s part of the culture not to complain,” said Raymond. “He was a proud Canadian. He never spoke bad about our country, despite what happened.”

(Story continues below.)

Federico “Fred” Lenzi’s internment documents. (Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club/Contributed)

Federico “Fred” Lenzi’s internment documents. (Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club/Contributed)

‘They deserve closure’

This month, the Lenzi family and thousands of other Italian-Canadians will get an apology from the federal government for their treatment during the Second World War.

The government announced plans for the apology after Liberal MP Angelo Iacono raised the issue in the House of Commons on April 14.

“Parents were taken away from their homes, leaving children without their fathers in many cases and families without a paycheque to put food on their tables. Lives and careers, businesses and reputations were interrupted and ruined, and yet no one was held responsible,” said Iacono.

“Italian-Canadians have lived with these memories for many years and they deserve closure,” he added.

The National Congress of Italian-Canadians has been lobbying for an apology like this since the ‘90s. In 1990, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made an unofficial apology at a congress of Italian-Canadians. In 2018, the RCMP issued a Statement of Regret for its participation in the internment. But the community still felt that was not enough.

Gord Hotchkiss, co-chair of the heritage committee at the Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club (KCIC), has researched the internment of Italians in Canada during the Second World War.

“In this case, Federico Lenzi was lucky because he had children who took over the farm while he interned. Not every Italian was as fortunate; in many cases, families lost their businesses and the financial hardship was significant because there was no one to step in for the primary provider while he was being interned,” Hotchkiss explained.

(Story continues below.)

First annual Kelowna Italian club picnic on August 14, 1938. (Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club/Contributed)

First annual Kelowna Italian club picnic on August 14, 1938. (Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club/Contributed)

Through his research, Hotchkiss has found at least 55 of the interned Italian-Canadians were from British Columbia: 44 from Vancouver, seven from Trail, two from Youbou, one from Greenwood — one, Fredrico Lenzi, was from Summerland.

He said the Kelowna Canadian-Italian Club (KCIC) is grateful for the upcoming apology.

“Some of our members and their families were directly impacted by the internment of Italians and the declaration of many others as enemy aliens.”

“Unfortunately for the Italian community, this precipitated a legacy of shame that was in no way earned by either their actions or their loyalties. This apology acknowledges the injustice that led to a dark chapter in the history of Canada’s Italian citizens. We can now turn the page and move on as we always have, continuing to contribute our passion, our culture and our dedication to the community and nation that we have helped to build.”

On the other hand, Raymond feels the upcoming apology is too little, too late.

“They should have apologized to the people they threw in those camps. How many Italians were good, hardworking citizens that helped bring Canada to where it is today?”

In 1988, the federal government formally apologized to Japanese-Canadians and offered $300 million in compensation. Through the Second World War, 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were interned.

Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada have not yet scheduled a date for the apology.

READ MORE: Kelowna skateboarders hope to get Lower Mission park

READ MORE: Kelowna chef to compete on the Food Network’s Fire Masters


@amandalinasnews
amandalina.letterio@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

World War II

Just Posted

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Creston’s high school

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for the former Prince Charles Secondary School

A new doctor has been recruited for the Creston Valley. (Pixabay)
New doctor recruited for the Creston Valley

Dr. Luke Turanich is expected to begin practice in late summer/early fall

Work has begun on the $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp. File photo
Work begins on Slocan Valley fibre-optic line

The $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line runs from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp

A fawn found in Invermere. (BC Conservation Officer Service photo)
WildSafeBC advises on fawning season

Fawning season occurs from mid-May to June until the fawns become more independent of their mothers

Jade Osecki leading a Fridays for Future climate march in Nelson in 2020. Photo: Submitted
Nelson Grade 12 student Jade Osecki wins Suzy Hamilton Award

Carolyn Schramm was also honoured in this year’s environmental award for West Kootenay women

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Most Read