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Edmonton's Little Italy

Frank Spinelli in his Italian Centre Shop.  Photo courtesy of the Spinelli family.While immigrants from Italy contributed to the economy of various Canadian communities, over the years, Italian-Canadians subtly influenced Canadian culture and lifeways.  There is no concrete evidence for this but it can be judged through the popularity of Italian foodstuffs, restaurants and luxury items.  As well, the contributions of individuals of Italian descent can be seen through the businesses that they have established as well as contributions to the intellectual life of the country, for example, Italian language schools, university programs of study, and festivals.  

As well, where a significant Italian presence has remained in inner-city areas, Little Italies have become a draw for visitors and community members alike.  The buildings and streetscapes may resemble those of any older city of Canada but the stores and restaurants are a treasure trove of Italian products.  Italy can be tasted and seen.  Other community buildings such as churches and Italian cultural centres add to that sense of the "foreign" in our own land.  While in the past redevelopment would have erased these remnants of the past, it is now desirable to maintain the ethnocultural flavour of our inner-city communities, as they undergo revitilization through culture-based connections.  Little Italies can be found in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.  Take a virtual tour of Edmonton's Little Italy.

The third wave of Italian immigration, beginning in the 1950s, saw a proliferation of Italian products in Canada.  Initially, small shopkeepers began to import the goods that the recent immigrants could not do without.  Eventually, large wholesalers distributed these products regionally and nationally.  As well, home-grown Canadian companies owned by immigrants and their descendants began to produce the pasta, cheeses, salamis and prosciuttos (cured hams) so much in demand.  Thus, there are two product streams-those coming from Italy and promoted through the Italian Embassy in Ottawa and consular offices across the country and goods made in Canada but based on Italian traditions.

This is aCover of the children's book, The Sandwich, by Ian Wallace and Angela Wood.  Published by Kids Can Press. marked contrast to the early 1950s when Canadian schoolchildren turned up their noses at our smelly sandwiches.  Today, what grocery store doesn't have on sale Italian salami, provolone, etc.?"¹  Italian food, as all ethnic food, is now the rage evidenced by gourmet magazine recipes and the cooking channel on television.  It is not only Italian regional chefs who talk about regional Italian cuisine but also their Canadian counterparts in all regions of the country.

Maria Mauro demonstrates pasta making at Heritage Days, 2002.  Photo courtesy of  the Heritage Community Foundation, 2002.Various Italian societies also actively promote customs and traditions from the homeland but adapted over the past 50 years of immigration history.  Feast days and other celebrations at community centres showcase these traditions as well as Italian and multicultural festivals.  Though, as the remaining survivors of the 1960s-70s immigration die, that first-hand link to Italy will be gone.  The question for Italian communities across Canada is how to re-fashion community organizations including the church so that they remain relevant to new generations of Canadians with Italian ancestry. The Government of Italy's promotion of the re-acquisition of Italian citizenship and the growing power of the European Economic Community has made Italy not only a family tourism destination but also a place of work for those fluent in Italian.  As globalization continues, the Italian language and roots will make Italian ancestry more and more desirable and marketable.

Click on this image to read an article about Italian food and wine.
Click on the image of the 'Italy Food Map' to read an article about Italian thought on food and wine.

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