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Peoples history documents story of Italians in BC

Local research leads to snapshots of early residents

A new book about the contribution Italian immigrants made to British Columbia includes some Powell River stories.

Whoever Gives Us Bread is written by Lynne Bowen, an award-winning historian. Bowen has crafted a loosely chronological narrative of the Italian settlement of BC by recounting the stories of individual immigrants.

The stories include snapshots of early Powell River residents, including Augusto Bosa, who built a grocery empire out of a small store behind the billiard hall in Cranberry. After World War II, he became partners with Pietro Micheluzzi’s sons, Marino (Babe) and Albert, who had anglicized

their surname to Mitchell.

Another story is about Reno Bressanutti, who started working in the Powell River Company store when he was 14, and Anna Piccoli, who “wasn’t the first Italian woman in Powell River, but when she died in the prime of her life, her funeral was the biggest one the town had ever seen,” according to Bowen’s book.

While telling individual stories, Bowen includes some of the history of the pulp and paper mill in Powell River and the jobs held by Italian men. The population was transient, according to Bowen. Of the 84 Italians on the payroll in 1912, only 16 were still there a year later. The rest of the 1913 Italian workforce—54 out of a total of 600—were newcomers. Micheluzzi was one of the exceptions. He came for the construction phase, but stayed to work in the mill and raise his family in Powell River.

“Every Italian’s first job in Powell River was with the company and some of them stayed there for their entire working lives,” Bowen writes. “But some saw opportunities for businesses of their own—groceries, bakeries, barber and butcher shops—beyond the mill gates, and others, such as Anna Piccoli and Giuseppe Errico, a.k.a. Calabrese Joe, started market gardens.”

Today, the BC Italian community is Canada’s oldest by 50 years. Bowen spent 10 years conducting interviews and combing through newspapers, government records and letters to write this definitive history.

Whoever Gives Us Bread is published by D&M Publishers Inc.