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

Al Kowalko drives Sooke School District’s first electric bus that began operation in May. The board decided on June 15 that all future buses will be electric, asking the province for more funding to support the program. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Sooke school board agrees to make all future buses electric

Board to ask province to increase funding to cover the extra up front cost

Brian Korzenowski rides with Athena, left, and Venus who are safely strapped in and goggled up with the wind in their fur. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to Sooke Road commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Camper the dog was found Wednesday night by someone walking their own dog along Hollywood Crescent. She had gone missing after a violent attack on June 11. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Camper the dog found safe after fleeing violent van attack in Victoria

Camper was found on Hollywood Crescent Wednesday night

North Saanich is in the process of revising its tree protection bylaw. The proposed changes have drawn much public interest and criticism, as council heard this week during their special meeting on the matter. (Courtesy District of North Saanich)
Revisions to tree protection bylaw in North Saanich face cutting criticism

Councillors to take up issue again in August after staff summarize massive public feedback

(Black Press Media file photo)
School parking problems plague Oak Bay residents

Need exceeds official requirements for parking at St. Michaels school

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming

A float plane crashed into the waters near Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Thursday morning. Photo by Alistair Taylor / Campbell River Mirror
Float plane crashes into water near Campbell River

Pilot uninjured, plane hit sandbar while landing

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Dr. Réka Gustafson, who is British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer, speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on April 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. public health officials prepare to manage COVID-19 differently in the future

Flu-like? Health officials anticipate shift from pandemic to communicable disease control strategies

Most Read