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     Edmonton:  Cultural Life

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by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. 

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Internment camp in the Kananaskis area of Alberta.  Italian immigrant, Antonio Rebaudengo, is shown seated second from left.  Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Archives.The war-time experience of internment and police surveillance had a long-term impact on Edmonton's Italian community.  There was a real turning away from the Italian language and roots.  When new immigrants from Italy began to arrive in Edmonton in 1949, the Italian societies had disappeared.  It's as if they had never existed and they were not talked about like a shameful episode in family history that is buried and forgotten.  Thus, this pioneer work of the establishment of organizations through which community life took place had to be begun again.  The Italians who had been assimilated were not particularly interested in participating in the re-invention of the Italian community.  Thus, there was a deep divide between the "founding families" and the new immigrants and an actual sense of "caste."  There was even some resentment of the newcomers and an entrenched old-timer actually stated that the children of the new immigrants should not go to university. 

Edmonton's Italian community, from the beginning, came from various regions of Italy-north, central and south.  These differences have marked the cultural life and traditions brought from the homeland and resulted in a rich growth of community organizations. Turning of the sod for the Santa Maria Goretti Church, 1958.  Pictured are Edmonton Mayor William Hawrelak as well as various Italian community representatives. Photo from the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project booklet. Foundational to this new generation of community organizations was the establishment of Santa Maria Goretti Parish in 1958.  Italians had worshipped in the basement of Sacred Heart Parish and also the chapel at the General Hospital (celebrated by a Father Luigi of the Salesian order) but, as their numbers increased, a need was expressed for a church as a community gathering place.  Priests who spoke the Italian language had sometimes been available to officiate, for example, Oblates of Mary Immaculate but, now, the community looked to an order that had been established in northern Italy in the 19th century to care for the needs of immigrants to North America.  The Scalibrini Fathers were approached as community members including Angelo Biasutto, Enrico Butti and Pat Giannone discussed the establishment of church in the mid-1950s. 

Interestingly enough, the original meeting had to do with the establishment of the Cristoforo Colombo Soccer Club and building a facility for them.A happy Father Bonelli is pictured at his 81st birthday celebration in June, 2002 at the Santa Maria Goretti Centre.  Photo courtesy of Rudy Cavaliere.  When it was discovered that up to $35,000 was required, it was decided that better use could be made of the funds and the piece of land that had been given to the Club in trust by the City to establish a church.  That explains why the Italian church was built next door to Clarke Stadium.  Sports and religion have always been close in the hearts of Italian men!  In December 1957, Father Giovanni Bonelli and  Father Rino Ziliotto, Missionaries of St. Charles (Scalabrini Fathers), arrived in Edmonton.  They stayed at the Archbishop's residence and with a committee of layman began planning Santa Maria Goretti Church.  Construction was begun on September 8th, 1958 and the Church dedicated on December 21. 

The Christoforo Colombo soccer team of Edmonton dominated the soccer scene in Alberta from 1956 to 1958.  Photo from the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and booklet of the same name.From the mid-1950s onwards Edmonton Italian societies proliferated.  The Ladies of the Holy Rosary was among the first societies as well as the Catholic Youth Group (the latter organized dances where young courting couples could meet without parental supervision).  The Cristoforo Colombo Soccer Club and the Edmonton Juventus Sports Club were other important societies and games at Clarke Stadium become almost as important as weddings as community gathering places.  The Edmonton-Calgary rivalry continued in the "soccer wars" with the Calgary Juventus Club begun by Alberto Romano.  Mr. Soccer in Edmonton is Mario Molinari who has been devoted to Edmonton soccer since the beginning.

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Copyright © 2002 Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. and The Heritage Community Foundation

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