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Leading to June 19, 2004

Montreal’s Little Italy tour with Franco

Mamma Mia! Book launch

June 19th 2004

The Italian “community” is a people who explore, build and impact where they relocate. Upon landing in Canada the newcomer sets roots in familiar territory. This has been the case since the early 1900’s. The Italian’s affiliation to a region of Italy further defines the language and customs he or she brought. The “community” is diversified and, over the years, has created for itself a variety of private and socio-cultural structures to support its evolution that continues to face progression and at times regression in its realizations and accomplishments.

To see the tour map, click below

Highlights of the tour

La Casa d’Italia

In the early 1900’s, the large emigration of Italians to Canada encouraged the establishment of support services. These were promoted and financed mainly by Italians. Local Governments participated in singular initiatives. The General Counsel of Italy in Montreal, Giuseppe Brigidi, launched the project to build a “Casa” for Italians in Canada. A fund-raising campaign was organized in 1934. People responded well and donated money, materials and time to the initiative. The Mayor of the city of Montreal, Camilien Houde, responded by donating the land where the Casa presently stands. By 1936 the Casa was built and it was inaugurated on November 1st of that year. It had a short life. In 1940 the Federal Government confiscated the Casa due to the War and due to its ideological affiliation to Fascism. After the War, the Casa was returned to the Italian community in 1949. During the 1950’s and 60’s, theatrical plays, recitals, banquets, meetings and events were planned at the Casa. The 1970’s brought a new focus to the Casa – community services. Most initiatives involving community development were received at the Casa or initiated from there. There was social effervescence until the mid 1980’s. From the 1980’s on, the Casa has seen mutation, reorientation, conflicts and visions for a renewed Casa d’Italia of the future. Presently, a new project to expand the building is in its first phase of the development and funding assessment.

The Jean-Talon Market

Opened in 1933, on a field that was used by the Shamrock Lacrosse Club, the Market served its clientele in an open-air environment (all other markets in Montreal were indoor). It saw expansion in several phases and diversified its products sold beginning in 1945. The City built three open cement galleries that further gave the atmosphere of the open markets in Italy. Winter and summer the Market was open for business. In 1983, changes were made to close with retractable walls an area to provide comfort during the winter season. As the population grew around the Market, a Police / Fire Station was built, a new library opened and further improvements were made to the Market. In 1945, the small building west of the Market became a terminus for the Laval bus service until 1961. We must rationalize that when the Market opened, that area was the Northern-most part of the city. That is why it was called “Marché du Nord” and the roads in the Market still bare the name. Later in the mid 60’s the library was relocated from the Police/Fire Station to the terminus where it remained until 1982 when the library building was returned to the Market. After years of growth and major traffic problems it became necessary to improve parking facilities. A new multi-level building, currently under construction, will accommodate hundreds of cars. The market has catered to the neighborhood and offered products and services “European-style”.

La Difesa

The constitution of a new parish was adopted on October 21st 1910. Because the number of Italian families living in a specific geographic area had grown by 1,000% in 20 years and because there was a wish to celebrate religious services in Italian, the church leaders of Montreal accepted the creation of Notre-Dame de la Défense parish. A small church was first built, which also served as a school; however, by 1918 it could no longer accommodate the parishioners who assisted Mass and other Church functions. Father Vangelisti decided that a new and bigger Church must be built. On August 18th 1919, the Madonna della Difesa Church that we see today was inaugurated. Guido Nincheri, an artist who left Tuscany in 1912 to come to Canada was commissioned to design the church, paint frescos, produce stained glass art work and build a marble altar, a pulpit and the railings. We can see the beauty in its light and colors. Recently the church obtained from Heritage Canada the status of “National Monument” and thus the possibility of receiving financial help to restore the building. A fund-raising campaign was launched. Contributions came from the community and from the different levels of government.