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Edmonton's Little Italy


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Italian community influence has sometimes been startling, no more so than in the issue of being able to make home-made wine. Alberta legislation prohibited this but did not stop Italians from making wine. So long as the police did not know, it was all right. However, on occasion, old rivalries prompted anonymous calls to the police who then had to act on the information. Parallel occurrences happened in Calgary and Edmonton. Antonella Fanella notes:

Late one night in 1964, some 17 families in Bridgeland were raided by the RCMP, who smashed demijohns filled with wine, took away wine-making equipment, and fined each family $100. Other families, fearful of being arrested, drained their wine supply into the sewer.

Anger over the raids created a strong sense of community cohesion. Alberto Romano and Elia Martina, along with a few others, hired a lawyer. Through petitions and various appeals to the public, they successfully lobbied the provincial government to allow winemaking at home. In 1967, a new law was passed that permits families to produce 25 gallons of wine for every person over the legal drinking age. 

Parallel events happened in Edmonton, though not a raid as large as in Calgary. Even within the Italian community, the Calgary/Edmonton rivalry is a powerful force. However, with respect to winemaking, a truce was declared. In 1964, a committee was struck involving Tony Falcone, Frank Spinelli, and Lorenzo Bagnariol from Edmonton and Alberto Romano and Elia Martina from Calgary. They obtained signatures on a petition and asserted that the wine was not for sale but for their own use. They succeeded in changing the legislation and, by the mid-1980s, there was a boom in wine-making in both cities. More than 30-50,000 cases of grapes are sold annually by  Edmonton's Italian Centre Shop. Today, winemaking is a common pursuit and many specialty stores have sprung up to support it; however, the Italian Centre Shop still sells the majority of grapes and materials required.

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