Guest Post: Rediscovering Italian family and history in Toronto

 My grandmother with her father and bridesmaids outside of St Francis
My grandmother with her father and bridesmaids outside of St Francis

In honour of Italian Heritage Month, we welcome guest writer Marianne Iannaci, a Ryerson University journalism student who comes from an Italian background and loves everything about her heritage. Having just moved to Toronto a few months ago, she’s rediscovered where her family settled and grew up when they first arrived in Canada and shares her experience with us.

I may not be the most Italian girl out there. I wasn’t born on Sicilian ground- heck, I’m not even Sicilian. My parents didn’t come to Canada as kids and my grandfather didn’t grow up under Mussolini’s rule. I swear in Italian and I call a drying a cloth a mopine, but I couldn’t say more than buongiorno to an Italian who wants to hold a conversation. As a kid, I would sit alongside the men in my family who would discuss the premise of The Godfather or The Sopranos over Sunday dinner and was always told that “when you are old enough, you can watch them.” My Italian heritage was prominent growing up, to the point that I understood the danger of a wooden spoon, but getting older I’ve gotten to know what it really means to be an Italian- Canadian in my family.

My grandmother, Sandra Iannaci, walking up to St. Francis church on her wedding day.

My grandmother, Sandra Iannaci, walking up to St. Francis church on her wedding day.

As a kid who’s only ever lived in the suburbs, I viewed the city of Toronto as an actual “Little (version of) Italy.” My grandparents, aunts and uncles all grew up in the city within two blocks of each other. My grandmother lived on Bellwoods Ave. and my papa, her boyfriend at the time, lived around the corner on Henderson. They would tell stories of how they used to buy roasted red peppers at San Francesco Foods just down the street, and by the age of eight I experienced for myself, the best tasting pizza from Bitondo’s, right across the road. I would hear about mornings at Café Diplomatico on College St. in the 1970’s and by the time the Azzurri won the World Cup in 2006, it was a known fact that it was the only place to watch the game. My papa’s small house on Henderson lived to see me bust through those doors every Easter Sunday more than 15 years ago. It used to hold my entire family and a dining room table full of antipasto. And it wasn’t until my great grandmother passed away that I got to experience the beauty of St. Francis Church; the same church that held my grandparents wedding more than 45 years prior.

Through my journey to become “old enough” I understood why you should “leave the gun and take the cannoli.” I grew up learning how to make grandma’s cannelloni and memorized the Italian national anthem so I could shout it before the Azzurri took the field. I began to love Louis Prima every time my dad would play his CD throughout the house on a Sunday, and just like all of my aunts and cousins, I ALWAYS WORE BLACK. There was never a time when the front closet wasn’t full of black coats when the family came over.

Just eight months ago, I moved to the city of Toronto. I am now 19 years old and living blocks away from where my family first grew up. The most unforgettable memory of my own in this area, came from the first day in my new place. I went to lunch with my father and his sister at Café Diplomatico now, for me, just down the street. Halfway through our meal an older man rose from his table with his companions and came to ours. Before he could say a word, my aunt’s face brightened. The man was a neighbour of my grandmothers’ and happened to know my dad and my aunt as kids. For more than an hour we all talked about the things that happened on that street. And from then on, I knew the bond and compassion that Italian families hold is unlike any other. I left that lunch after giving the man two kisses on the cheek- and I can safely say, I’ve never felt so close to home.

Christmas 1957 in Toronto, with my grandmother, great aunt and great uncle

Christmas 1957 in Toronto, with my grandmother, great aunt and great uncle

By |16/06/2015|Culture, Images|1 Comment

A new addition and a contest!

xmas_2

Hello there readers!

You may have been wondering – where did the updates for this blog go? Despite my efforts to keep it going over the last couple of months, a new arrival has taken up so much of my time. My son, born in October, is the new addition to the Italian-Canadian Life family!

That doesn’t mean that this blog is over. Just the opposite – I have even more reasons to write down all our family recipes and try a few new ones as well. As he learns to sleep a little longer, there’s been more time to get back to cooking and I have a few blog posts ready to go for you (the next posts will be all about Christmas recipes and panettone)! There’s some holiday cookies in the oven right now and today we have a contest just in time for Christmas.

Catching up with traditions for the Christmas season and teaching my baby boy all about them is something I’m looking forward to. I want you to be involved with Italian traditions as well and author Gianna Hartwright has offered readers of An Italian-Canadian Life  some goodies to do just that.

Here’s your chance to win a pair of books from Gianna Hartwright for the kids in your life, teaching them about La Befana, a unique part of Italian traditions. This old witch, called La Befana, appears on the night of January 5 (or Epiphany Eve) and delivers gifts to children throughout Italy. Gianna has taken the traditional old witch and made a modern tale of magic and drama that would appeal to older children, 9+.  The first book, The Befana Drama is a global adventure by broomstick that sees VIPB’s (Very Important Present Bringers) pitting their wits against each other. Befana Drama 2: Capriccia’s Conundrum continues the adventure.

To win these two books, leave a comment below (just click “read more” or “leave a reply” and enter a comment) telling us about your favourite Christmas tradition by December 22nd at midnight. A winner will be selected by random draw on December 23rd and will be notified by email. Good luck everyone! I’ll be back next week with a new recipe.

The-Befana-Drama_Ebook           Befana Drama Ebook

(more…)

By |15/12/2014|Culture|20 Comments

Enjoy Italian Heritage Month this June

italianheritage2

Happy Italian Heritage Month! Every June Ontario dedicates a month to celebrating all things Italian and the celebrations have begun to stretch across the country as well.

In Toronto, Italian Heritage Month started off with Castello Italia which transformed Casa Loma into an Italian Piazza complete with music, art, entertainment and food samples. There’s multiple events every day in Toronto and across Ontario. In Vancouver you can celebrate this Saturday by watching World Cup games at the Italian Cultural Centre!

You can visit italianheritagecanada.ca for a listing of events as a start but be sure to see what’s happening in your community. If you’re not in Canada, celebrate with us here at An Italian-Canadian Life. Try a recipe, share a photo, comment on a blog posting and discuss the many things there is to love about Italians and being Italian.

 

 

By |09/06/2014|Culture|0 Comments

Celebrate with me: Lucchetti dell’Amore per il giorno della festa degli innamorati

lochetti

L’amore domina senza regole.
Love rules without rules.

The thing about writing about Italian traditions is that they are so ingrained that sometimes, we don’t even know the original reason as to why they developed or why they’ve continued. Not that we love the traditions any less – usually they mean we get to spend time with family and friends and celebrate. Who needs an excuse for that? But Valentine’s Day, or in Italian Il giorno della festa degli innamorati, certainly must come from an Italian Saint right, San Valentino perhaps?

I started looking up why Valentine’s Day started and there’s a mix of stories about Italian saints in jail, saints marrying couples in secret, Italian spring festivals, the day when birds pair up for mating, and so on. None of them really hold up, since clearly this isn’t even remotely a religious festival anymore. In the end, despite its’ supposed saintly origins, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Italy just as much the same as it is celebrated here in North America – heart-shaped boxes of candy, gifts and treating the one you love to a really good meal.

One of the more recent traditions in Italy to declare your love does have a clear origin though. People have taken to locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts. These are called Lucchetti dell’Amore or “Locks of Love.” This tradition started eight years ago after the release of a best-selling book, and subsequent movie, “Ho voglio di te” (I want you). In the story the main couple, trying to symbolize that they will be together forever, tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio (a bridge) and inscribe their names on it, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River.

Spread throughout Italy, and now Europe and North America, scads of locks have appeared on bridges in many cities (in fact, the picture above is from a bridge I found in Helsinki, Finland). Though most cities will eventually remove the locks or ban them all together for ruining the aesthetic of the city, people continue to add locks to new and interesting places to declare their love, as permanently as they can. By 2007, that same lamppost from the inspiring movie reportedly collapsed due to the weight of the locks attached to it (see the picture below!).

In a way, the locks don’t surprise me. One Italian “tradition” is to always be open, honest and loud about your love. Love for family, your partner, food, life, you name it. So this Valentine’s Day join me in just being full of Italian love, no matter who (or what!) you declare it to. You may want to put a padlock on your favourite park bench or bridge or you may just want to yell it from the rooftops. Here’s a few key Italian phrases to use this love-filled weekend:

Pizzica e basa non fannu pertusa.
Little pinches and kisses don’t make holes (or do any harm).

Il primo amore non si scorda mia.
You never forget your first love.

Quella destinata per te, nessuno la prendera. (Dialect)
No one will take the one who is destined for you. (Meaning: True love waits)

Chi te vole bene te fa chiagne, chi te vole male te fa ride. (Dialect)
The one who loves you makes you cry, the one who wishes you ill makes you laugh.

By |13/02/2014|Culture|2 Comments

Guest post: Sharing migration stories from the Campania region

Family birthday party for the author's grandfather. Buenos Aires, 1941. Author's private collection.

Today we welcome a guest post from Abril Liberatori, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at York University. Her dissertation explores immigrants from the Campania region in Italy who migrated to Canada in the post-World War II period. She aims to compare Campani immigrants’ experiences in Ontario and Buenos Aires. (Photo above: Family birthday party for the author’s grandfather. Buenos Aires, 1941. Author’s private collection.)

People in Buenos Aires refer to themselves as ‘descended from the ships,’ a poetic way of saying that the city is founded on the backs of immigrants. My own ancestors were newcomers there once, when they crossed the Atlantic from the small villages of Campania into the then-bustling and promising South American country. Many of my ancestors’ friends and families ended up in Canada and the United States, and so these waves of migration developed networks of families scattered across the globe. Those networks were resilient and strong. Families across the Americas kept in touch with their relatives in their hometowns and abroad. They wrote letters, sent photographs and mailed remittances. These networks were so strong that they lasted years, sometimes even decades. So, as a fifth-generation ‘Italian’ (can I even call myself that?), I grew up feeling that migration was an important aspect of my identity.

When I was six years old, my parents moved our family from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Toronto. The experience was one of the defining moments of my life. But migration was not a new concept for me, in fact it has long been a part of who I am.

Three generations of the Luppi family. Buenos Aires, c.1938. Author's private collection.

Photo above: Three generations of the Luppi family. Buenos Aires, c.1938. Author’s private collection.

As far back as my memory permits, I remember my grandfather mapping our family tree. Over dinner tables I would trace my fingers over browned photographs, sleuthing to find the same features I saw in the mirror. I would pore over charts and tables of endless ancestors, seeing the same names over and over again. I would hear stories of heroes, and pioneers, sinners and workers. I was young, but I knew my family’s stories well. Later, as an immigrant to Canada myself, I reveled in the distant adventures of those who looked so much like me and lived such similar experiences. To this day, those family stories continue to be etched in me. Migration, it seems, defines me.

In a way, I believe migration defines many of us. In a country that allows us to celebrate the multiple aspects of our identity, many of us connect with our ancestors’ migration histories (or even our own) as vital aspects of who we are. Many of us have family in different parts of the world.  My project is an attempt to trace the migration stories of these Campani families that are spread throughout different countries, but who have their hometowns, and their experiences of migration, in common. From my own family’s roots, I have developed a passionate interest in the migration stories of migrants from Campania. I find it fascinating that these family ties continue to survive across decades and continents. I would like to create a space where those stories can come together.

From my dinner table to yours! If you or your ancestors are from the Campania region and you would like to share your migration story with me, I would love to hear from you. Please contact me directly at abrilml@yorku.ca.

I look forward to hearing your story!

Abril Liberatori

Photo above: Abril Liberatori

By |07/01/2014|Culture|1 Comment

The Italian memories of Christmases past

together-11

My grandparents were storytellers. The stories they told all centred around the emotions related to family, to struggle, to laughter and to traditions. There is no better time for storytelling than Christmas.

Over the past two years, I’ve contributed articles to Panoram Italia, an Italian-Canadian magazine, about Italian culture and community. Panoram does fantastic Christmas-themed issues that give me the chance to reflect on Christmases past. Last year I contributed the article “What we used to get for Christmas” which chronicled the gifts that Italians gave at Christmas back in Italy. Oranges, chestnuts, sugar dolls were all recalled with fondness and I am still in awe at the smiles those memories of Christmas gave to all the older Italians I interviewed.

This year, I wrote “Remembering our First Christmases in Canada“, an article that tried to recapture what Christmas in a new land with new traditions felt like for Italian immigrants. For some it was a hardship, spending Christmas without family, for others they were reunited with sisters and brothers. And, as usual, shared food was a key part of the memories.

Here’s an excerpt from the article where I got to share a story from my maternal grandfather:

For immigrants to Canada there are many new experiences and customs that colour the start of their lives in a new country. Christmas in Canada, away from the family, rituals and comfort of home back in Italy, was one of the first notable moments they experienced. Everything was new and unexpected, from the weather to traditions.

My grandfather often told us of his first Christmas in Canada in 1952, which was memorable indeed. While working for the Canadian National Railway, the company provided all the meals for the workers, deducting the cost of the meal from the worker’s pay. He looked forward to the dinner provided by CNR on Christmas Eve, expecting a festive feast that would help celebrate the special day. But on December 24, he was greeted with a plain meal of chicken soup. Disappointed and alone, he went to a grocery store to buy all he could afford: one chocolate bar and one pound of grapes to celebrate.

However, on December 25, he experienced what came as a surprise to most Italians: that Canadians hold their Christmas celebrations on Christmas Day. The railway offered a big celebration meal to all workers and my grandfather came to learn a new tradition.

(more…)

By |12/12/2013|Culture|4 Comments

Send a virtual panettone or cookie tray to your friends and family with these Italian ecards

Merry Christmas, Buon Natale! With one month to Christmas Day, it’s time for the gift giving to begin.

Last year for the Christmas season I featured two classic holiday recipes on the blog: colluri and turdilli. This year more recipes are on their way, but I wanted to offer you, my readers, a special gift.

So here’s my holiday “thank you” to all of you that visit, read and share An Italian-Canadian Life. I’ve created three unique Italian ecards that you can send to your nearest and dearest, giving them a “taste” of the best of Italian Christmas foods. Send an ecard now

panettone_ecard

All Italians receive at least one or two panettones at Christmas (it’s a sweet cake-like bread). So now, you can send one virtually too! Maybe you’ll send it to someone you won’t be able to see this year, or send it to someone who hates getting their fourth or fifth panettone – just for fun.

 

 

 

biscotti_ecardYou can also send my favourite holiday food gift of all: a virtual cookie tray. Complete with amaretti cookies, peach pastries and cornetti, everyone loves getting a traditional Italian cookie tray to munch on through the season.

 

 

 

 

wine_ecardIf sweets aren’t your thing, send a virtual bottle of homemade wine. A bottle of red always get cracked open during holiday visits and everyone enjoys a glass, cheering in the new year.

So Merry Christmas/Buon Natale readers! Share the Italian foodie love!

CLICK TO SEND AN ECARD NOW

Email addresses are not collected or stored, your privacy is protected.

 

By |25/11/2013|Culture|0 Comments

Guest Post: Italian memories from Northern Ontario

family picture

What does it mean to be Italian in North America? Today An Italian-Canadian Life welcomes a guest post by Amy Di Nardo, a university student studying nursing in Toronto,  who hopes to work in the gerontology field.  She loves garlic, kitchen-floor dances, and espresso. (I can’t say I blame her…)

The neighborhood I currently live in Toronto (Downsview) is very diverse. If I go for a walk on a Saturday afternoon, it excites me to hear different languages — whether it be Yiddish, Italian or Russian being spoken at different intersections. At a nearby park, I see young children playing on the swings, while a group of elderly ladies walk by, deep in conversation.

I have lived in Toronto for just about two years and it was a huge transition. I found that it took a great deal of time to adjust to the the rhythm of a large city. In my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, I grew up in an Italian bubble. The city contains a very large Italian population relative to its size and due to its isolation from other major cities (nine hour drive to Toronto), a unique culture was created that lives and thrives within the community.

The ways in which ethnic communities interact, both internally and externally to other groups, seems very different in small versus metropolitan centres.

It didn’t take me much time to find an Italian presence in Toronto. The first experience I had was going to College Street for the Tarantella Festival. The street was closed off for dancing, musicians, vendors and artists such as Mimmo Cavallaro and Rionne Junno. I wouldn’t expect this sort of large-scale event to come to Sault Ste. Marie.

After this event, I was introduced to the popular GTA magazine, PanoramItalia, and the newspaper Lo Specchio. There were profiles, articles, events, language classes — everything you can think of! I quickly realized how organized and vastly different the Toronto Italian community is from Sault Ste. Marie — however, I still cannot put my finger on the exact variances.

(more…)

By |12/11/2013|Culture|1 Comment

Guest Post: Life Lessons from Nonno’s Garden

2013-08-30 16.23.16

Jerry Buccilli joins us for his fourth guest post with An Italian-Canadian Life. We love his writing, memories and recipes and this is another great addition. Thanks Jerry!

My Dad will be celebrating his 80th birthday this May. He’s had a good, long and colorful life. Sometimes there were dark periods (as when mom passed away) but for the most part no regrets. Since his children began having children of their own we all began calling him “nonno”….even his own children. He’s proud of this reference and often says that his best accomplishment in life was to raise his family.

As with most Italian men of his generation he’s also incredibly proud of his garden. As far back as my memory takes me I remember my father working in the garden during the long summer months. He’d work there so much that we often had lunch outside so he could quickly return to his “work.”  There’d always be something to do: a tomato plant to tie so it wouldn’t fall over; zucchini to pick; herbs to cut, trim and hang up; watering, shoveling, cleaning, etc….There was always something.

Sometimes, when the garden was in full bloom and it was having a good year he would whistle or even sing. My mom would be sitting a few feet away near the patio and she’d ask him to sing to her. At first he would hesitate but then he’d begin to belt out some old tune and mom would smile.

Life was good. He was always the happiest in his garden with his wife by his side.

Often I would sit with him in the middle of the garden and we would talk. My father would tell me stories from his youth. Or his days in Venezuela when he and his father and brother travelled across the Atlantic to find work when WWII left Italy in economic upheaval and work were scarce.

(more…)

By |19/09/2013|Culture|4 Comments

Celebrating Italian-style with Cheese Rolling and the Grease Pole Climb

guelph_3

A few weeks ago, the sun was bright in the sky and the clouds were moving swiftly past. Walking through a festival, I saw fingers in the crowd pointing upward and I had to squint to see what the commotion was. There, at the top of a very tall pole, a prosciutto was swaying in the breeze. It’s one of the stranger things I’ve seen, but for Guelph, Ontario, it’s a yearly occurrence.

Naturally for Italians, food is often a central part of celebrations. The annual Italian Festival in Guelph takes on two age-old Italian festa traditions featuring food: the Grease Pole Climb and Cheese Rolling. (I would also suggest it has a third – eat as much good food as you can!) Guelph is a perfect place to take in these events. Many Italians settled in this city and it’s said that even the name is a form of the Italian word “Guelfo.” Guelph is also a “sister city” with Provincia di Treviso, Italy.

guelph_1

My mother remembers the grease pole competitions in Italy as a child, happening when there was festas around a Saint’s Day or religious holiday. As the name suggests, competitors attempt to reach the top of a greased pole to win a prize. In Italy, a pole was erected in the town piazza and prizes of various foods were hung from the top. My mom recalls that the pole was not as greasy as the one here in Guelph and the wheel at the top holding the prizes also turned. So, once a competitor got to the top, grabbing a hold of the hanging meat or cheese was difficult.

By |22/08/2013|Culture|0 Comments