A selection of portraits taken in the early 1900s depicting the first wave of Italian’s immigrating to Montreal. The photographs come from my family’s archive, the Fiore family, consisting of relatives and friends in formal attire who arrived from Casacalenda, Italy. Although there are no actual scenes of Montreal from this period, the spirit of the city comes alive through the identification of the names and places of the portraitist located at the bottom of the Carte de Visite. The studios have since closed with little evidence of their existence with exception to the depicted photographs and perhaps countless other family’s who’s relatives, much like my own, immigrated to Montreal around the same period and had their likeness taken by the same photographer’s. Photographer’s, who I believe serviced the Italian and perhaps even Irish Catholic communities in and around Little Italy and Park-X.
The people are dressed in their Sunday best showing relatives living abroad that they are adapting and managing in a North American environment of new customs, social values, commerce, cuisine and climate.
It’s only in the 1930’s when the city begins to emerge though its alleyways and entrances used to serve as backdrops for the now more established sitter. Most of the exterior photographs consist of the siblings born in to an Italian demographic but now as first generation Canadians. The exterior photos were taken at a time when photography became more accessible and affordable even to families still living on a modest labourers income.
There is no set order to the presentation, they appear as found. I mentioned “archived” intended with a casual flare, they were a large number of photos grouped together in a shoe box. Apart from the people in the photos, what is fascinating are the props and decor used to support the portraits, the clothing marking the times, how religion plays a role and in certain cases, the hands and shoes of the sitter inadvertently describing their line of work.
Photos are meant to be seen, they like words present information. On some level I see these photos as a way to empathize with a new class of immigrants leaving behind an already established life for a new one. These photos show, apart from the First Nations people, that we all came from other places in pursuit, I imagine, for happiness and prosperity.