History of the Institute of Italian Studies - Lakehead University

Celebrating Our Culture

The history of the Institue of Italian Studies, formerly Chair of Italian Studies, had  its origin in 1990 with Prime Minister Brian Mulrnoney’s apology to the Italian community for the internment of Italians in Canada in 1940. As a result of  the vote-conscious apology and a potential monetary redress, a number of Italian communities began a dialogue about the possible projects they might undertake with the funds that would accrue to them.

A number of Italian community leaders and italophiles in Thunder Bay were also moved into action by the redress issue. They formed a Redress Committee and soon decided that a Chair of Italian Studies to promote Italian culture could be established with government funding and with the contribution of the Italian societies and individuals. The founding of a Chair had support from Lakehead University as well. Bob Rosehart, then president of the University, speculated that the Chair could lead to an exchange program of teachers and students which “could result in academic excellence.” 

In the early stages of this ambitious undertaking, two associations were instrumental in promoting  the Chair and in raising funds: the local chapters of the National Congress of Italian Canadians and the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association. Together, they sponsored a successful gala fundraiser. The initial enthusiasm, however, began to wane and the drive to bring the project to fruition lost steam partly because the redress funds did not come. For nearly a decade the committee  lay dormant as meetings were called sporadically. Then, in 2002, a combination of new individuals and representatives of the original group revived the committee, re-worked its mandate, fine-tuned the constitution and sought closer ties with Lakehead University. Fund-raising initiatives were launched including the publication of a collection of stories (In Their Footsteps) written by the children and grandchildren of immigrants. In 2004 a Speaker Series exploring Italian themes was launched. The following year The Italians of Thunder Bay was published both as a fundraiser and to promote the history Italians in our city. 

Despite these successes board members began to feel anxious about the actual establishment of a Chair at the university based essentially on the Finnish model. Funds  to carry out the programs that a Chair would entail were still rather limited. As a result, the Board members decided to change its scope and mandate and created an Institute with close ties to Lakehead University and to other institutions of higher learning as well as Italian associations in the community. 

The Institute of Italian Studies remains a community-based organization  with links to other institutions outside Thunder Bay. The promotion of Italian culture in all its aspects continues to be the Institute’s main goal. It also  promotes other worth-while activities which involve Italians and non-Italians alike. Its cultural programs, to which Italian cinema has recently been added, remain vital as long as the financial resources continue to be on a sound footing. To this end, the Institute remains committed to creative fundraising initiatives such as the annual wine tasting (wines from the various regions of Italy ) and a golf tournament.