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Edmonton's Little Italy


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In Calgary, Antonella Fanella notes that, until 1965, the community did not have its own church and services were held in Italian at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Mary's and St. Joseph's Parish when Italian priests were available. In 1963, the community was assigned its first permanent Italian priest, Monsignor Angelo Sacchi, who was a member of the Scalabrini order. In 1965, an old Presbyterian church in Inglewood, was restored and become La Parrocchia di Sant'Andrea (St. Andrews Parish). While many attended Mass there, others preferred to stay with their original churches.

With respect to other societies, we now see a marked difference in the development of Edmonton and Calgary. In Calgary, the Italian Club was formed when the Associazione Italo-Canadese merged with the Giovanni Caboto Lodge in 1955. This Society has dominated Calgary's Italian community ever since. Antonella Fanella's book With Heart and Soul: Calgary's Italian Community created some hard feelings in the community. Her book is a part of the community studies approach that focused on sociological phenomena and, therefore, was judgmental. This contrasts with the community history approach that focuses on the essential humanity and struggle of individuals and groups to gain a foothold in a new land. She writes:

As the Italian community has grown, it has become more diverse and less cohesive. Economic competition has fuelled class antagonisms. But the greatest obstacle to the organizational unity of Italians in Calgary has been regionalism. Immigration did not serve as a basis for long-term community cohesion. Pride, arrogance, traditional enmities and jealousy cause immigrants to regard those from outside their own region as distinct, inferior types. This division is most prevalent between northern and southern Italian immigrants. Northerners refer to southern Italians as ignorant cafoni (boors), while southerners call northern Italians by the derogatory term polentoni (polenta eaters). Regional hostility is so strong that any project requiring cooperation from the Italian community is certain to create controversy and has a high probability of failure. 

This approach is problematical not only for the communities studies, through oral and family histories, but also for the community historian. It implies that there are perfect immigrant groups where everyone gets along all the time and that everything contributes to community building. As has been noted, regional differences in Italy are entrenched and are based on centuries-old loyalties to what were essentially fiefdoms. These differences are "bred in the bone." Italian groups, I suspect, are no more combatitive than any other ethnocultural groups. At least, the regional differences brought from the homeland have not resulted in violence as in other immigrants communities.  The right cause will unite Italians, no matter their region of origin, but, for the rest of the time, each society serves its own needs and narrow mandates. To expect otherwise is unrealistic. The Calgary Italian Club, critized by Fanella for being irrelevant to many members of Calgary's Italian community, has taken on many pioneering activities including the preservation of the Italian language and retention of some cultural traditions. 

She also mentions a decline in the membership of the Calgary Italian Club and, rightly, attributes it to acculturation:

In the 1950s and 1960s, the role of the Italian Club was to help settle the new immigrants. As Italians became established in the Canadian mainstream, they no longer needed the services of the club. Once the club had fulfilled its aim, its decline was inevitable. In its present state, the Italian Club seems to serve no purpose within the community. 

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