Families, Lovers, and their Letters

Italian Postwar Migration to Canada

Sonia Cancian (Author)


Families, Lovers, and their Letters takes us into the passionate hearts and minds of ordinary people caught in the heartbreak of transatlantic migration. It examines the experiences of Italian migrants to Canada and their loved ones left behind in Italy following the Second World War, when the largest migration of Italians to Canada took place. In a micro-analysis of 400 private letters, including three collections that incorporate letters from both sides of the Atlantic, Sonia Cancian provides new evidence on the bidirectional flow of communication during migration. She analyzes how kinship networks functioned as a means of support and control through the flow of news, objects, and persons; how gender roles in productive and reproductive spheres were reinforced as a means of coping with separation; and how the emotional impact of both temporary and permanent separation was expressed during the migration process. Cancian also examines the love letter as a specific form of epistolary exchange, a first in Italian immigrant historiography, revealing the powerful effect that romantic love had on the migration experience.


“The extensive use of private sources distinguishes Cancian’s monograph on migrant letters from earlier efforts. Remarkably, she obtained written correspondence from both sides of the Atlantic, thus making for a compelling transnational conversation.”

Stephen Fielding, H-Net

Families, Lovers, and their Letters makes for engaging reading. It will obviously be relevant to scholars interested in Canadian history or Italian history, and to those studying family, migration, gender, emotions, and letters. In addition, since there are strong parallels between the rupture of migration and the rupture of war, the book will inform those whose focus is the social history of war. Students will find the book very accessible, have much to learn from its methodology, and have much to say from their own knowledge about its central themes – the operation of kinship networks, appropriate gender roles, and the power of emotions. Most importantly, this text is essential reading for scholars who see the motivations and decisions of ordinary individuals and their families as an essential element in explaining the past.”

Helen Brown, Vancouver Island University, Altreitalie: International Journal of Studies on Italian Migrations in the World

About the Author

Sonia Cancian is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow affiliated with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. She lives in Montreal.

Table of Contents

Introduction: “It was like seeing you here…” - 1: “Excuse the errors, I’m writing at night by oil lamp…” The Historical Context and the Letter Writers - 2: “Even though distance has now kept us apart…” Kinship across Networks - 3: “My dear, you will have nothing else to do but…” Gender Relations and Dynamics - 4: “My dearest love…” Emotions at a Distance - Conclusion

University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.