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Edmonton's Little Italy


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As an ethnocultural community that is not a visible minority becomes entrenched and part of the mainstream, those activities that brought its members together for mutual aid, protection and self-identification and affirmation are no longer necessary. New ways of operating need to be found. It is never advisable to write off an organization simply because, at one point in its history, it suffers from "mission fatigue." In May, 2002, the Club celebrated its 50th anniversary with various events and celebrations. A significant number of its presidents were there to take part. Calgary civic leaders, business representatives and others took part. It was a celebration of Calgary's Italian community and its achievements. Perhaps, the Calgary Italian Club just needed time to re-invent itself or change its skin periodically, as do snakes in order to grow.

On the other hand, in Edmonton, from the 1960s, there was a flowering of Italian organizations including a number based on regional lines. As well, several Italian newspapers developed and radio programs as well as TV programs. The Dante Alighieri Society has been a significant force in the promotion of the Italian language and culture. Founded in 1961 by Sab Roncucci and other community visionaries, it initiated the first Italian language classes in the original Santa Maria Goretti Hall. Myra Butti was the first Director and Tony Falcone, 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 first year, there were 11/12; next 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, Tony Caria. They were later joined by Liana Meller and Tony Petrone. Principals have included Antonella Ciancibello, Reny Clericuzzio and Aristide Melchiore. 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.  These schools all had a significant student population with Italian ancestry.  But for the program to survive and flourish, it needed to appeal to other students.  

In 1976, Manuel DaCosta, who was working for the Secretary of State's office in Edmonton got them a $7,500 grant to create a workbook.  The work was taken on by 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 developed in 1994. In 1997, the Department of Education assigned the revision to Calgary teachers.

Having Italian studies at the University of Alberta and later at the University of Calgary was an important milestone. Dr. Enrico Mussachio came from Italy in 1962 to teach the first Italian courses at the University of Alberta.  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. Mussachio's retirement, Dr. Massimo Verdicchio has headed the program assisted by Dr. William Anselmi. Dr. William Anselmi is Associate Professor. The program also has linkages to Italy through the program at Ortona that is an outreach program of the University of Alberta. Established by Dr. Elena Fracchia of the History Department (formerly Classics), it has been gaining visibility and appeal. She and her husband Dr. Massimo 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 will come to fruition (without their involvement) in October, 2002 when Ancient Rome opened, curated by Joel Christianson. 

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