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    Edmonton:  Cultural Life

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Early Years

 World War I and
Interwar Period

World War II
and After

  Cultural Life


 Population Statistics


by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D. 

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The first Italian language school in Edmonton was sponsored by the Dante Alighieri Society in 1961-1962.  Pictured are the first Director, Myra Butti and the first teacher, Tony Falcone.  Photo courtesy of the Italians Settle in Edmonton Oral History Project and booklet of the same name.The Dante Alighieri Society has been a significant force in the promotion of the Italian language and culture.  Founded in 1961 by Sab Roncucci, it initiated the first Italian language classes in the original Santa Maria Goretti Hall.  Tony Falcone was the first teacher.  Mr. Falcone noted that he met Sab Roncucci in 1960-61and became member of the Society.  In 1962, it was decided to establish the Italian school.  Classes were taught in the old Santa Maria Goretti Parish Hall and a sheet of plywood painted black was the blackboard.  In the second year they moved to Sacred Heart School, which provided free space and had two classes.  The teachers, Tony Caria and Tony Falcone, were paid an honorarium of $2.50 per lesson; teachers were himself and Tony Caria. Aristide Melchionna, current principal of the Dante Alighieri School.  Photo courtesy of the Heritage Community Foundation. They were later joined by Liana Meller and Tony Petrone.  Principals have included Antonella Ciancibello, Reny Clericuzzio and Aristide Melchionna.  The School has grown to become a significant force in the community offering language instruction to both teachers and adults.  Mr. Roncucci has also been a founder of the Northern Alberta Heritage Languages Association and shared curriculum development expertise with other groups. 

It is through these seeds that, ultimately, Italian became a part of the program of studies for the Alberta curriculum.  Parents, such as Lina Urso, lobbyed for an Italian language program.  In 1971, Tony Falcone and Tony Caria got materials from the Government of Ontario and Tony Caria introduced Italian at the grade 7 level at Sacred Heart School and also used some of the Dante materials.  In 1973, Tony Caria introduced it at Archbishop O'Leary; in 1974, Tony Petrone introduced it at St. Joseph's High School; in 1975 Carmelo Rago was to succeed him at Sacred heart; in 1976, Manuel DaCosta, who was working for the Secretary of State got them a $7,500 grant to create a workbook (Tony Caria as the administrator and Tony Falcone as the language teacher).  In 1982, a proposal was sent to the Edmonton Catholic School Board to move the program from "a system-based option to a provincially recognized core language option."  Tony Falcone and Tony Caria were then given 15 days off work by Ed Levasseur to work on the curriculum, which was piloted in 1983.  Edmonton Catholic then sold it to Calgary Catholic.  A province-wide committee was then created by Alberta Education and a provincially-accepted program was created based on the original curriculum developed in 1994.  In 1997, the Department of Education assigned the revision to Calgary teachers.

Tony Falcone has profiled the students of Italian language:  in 1973, the students were of Italian background, young immigrants.  They did wonderful activities with them, for example, they staged Macchiavelli's Mandragora, read Levi's Cristo Stopped at Eboli.  By the time he took over at Archbishop O'Leary, students who were the children of first-generation immigrants didn't know the language and few pursued Italian at the university level.  The language instruction was created for the second generation but, subsequently, it becomes accessible and of interest to all.  By the 1990s, his classes were: 30% non-Italian; 30% children of mixed Italian/other marriages; 30% of Italian background on both sides.

Having Italian studies at the University of Alberta was an important milestone.  Dr. Enrico Musacchio came from Italy in 1962 to teach the first Italian courses at the University.  The majority of his first students were drawn from the community.  The program grew beyond language courses to include Italian literature and culture.  On Dr. Musacchio's retirement, Dr. Massimo Verdicchio heads the program and Dr. William Anselmi teaches there.  The program also has linkages to Italy through the program at Cortona that is an outreach program of the University of Alberta.  Established by Dr. Helenà Fracchia of the History Department (formerly Classics), it has been gaining visibility and appeal.  She and her husband Dr. Maurizio Gualtieri were also responsible for popular archaeological digs, begun in the early 1980s at Rocca Gloriosa and other sites.  It was also their dream to bring a major archaeological exhibit to the Provincial Museum of Alberta.  This came to fruition (without their involvement) in October, 2002 when Ancient Rome opened, as a result of efforts by Director Dr. Bruce McGillivray and curated by Joel Christianson. 

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

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