The Italian community is celebrating 100 years of cultural life in Montreal from 1919-2019 and a host of activities are planned through to 2020. The Italian Centennial Exhibition in Montreal Centennial celebrations kick off with the Italian Archives Exhibition sponsored by the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy of Canada (O.F.I.). “We are working to define our cultural life here,” says O.F.I. President Joseph Fratino. “What we brought to Canada is different. At my age, I am passionate about seeing my culture come alive,” the affable sexagenarian says.
The Montreal Italian community
The O.F.I. is the oldest Italian organization in Montreal. It was originally known as the Order of the Sons of Italy or Ordine Figli d’Italia in Italian, but this year was rebranded as the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy to reflect gender equality. The exhibition was conceived in part to commemorate its own centenary as a pivotal institution in the life of the Italian community in Montreal. The exhibition will include photos, memorabilia, minutes of meetings, and folkloric costumes – you name it. “It contains the most archives of any Italian organization, private or governmental since the 1920s,” Fratino says.
The documentary film Terra Mia by Agata de Santis of Redhead Productions will also be part of the exhibition. The daughter of Italian immigrants to Montreal de Santis turns the camera on her family and community as she seeks to articulate the effects a half-century of adaptation and integration has had on the immigrant experience.
The Italian Archives Exhibition dates
The exhibition opens with a vernissage and private reception on Aug. 9th and will be available for public viewing free of charge from Aug.10th – Aug. 23rd at the Casa d’Italia Rotunda. Located in a landmark 20th century Art Deco building across the street from Marché Jean-Talon, the Casa d’Italia cultural center bridges the past and present in “Little Italy” as the historic Italian neighbourhood is known in travel brochures. These days the bustling commercial hub in the Villeray district is home for families and individuals from many different ethnic communities as well as those of Italian descent.
The Italian Canadian experience in Montreal
O.F.I. is also presenting a commemorative book published by iconic Canadian publisher Guernica Editions to mark the Italian Centenary. The pictorial history tells the story of successive waves of Italian immigrants who came to Canada beginning in 1870 to make a better life for themselves and their families. It includes major highlights of the Italian Canadian experience in Montreal tracing an arc from arrival to survival through the difficult years of the Great Depression followed by the Italian Canadian Internment to the eventual flourishing of a new generation that embraces a dual identity as Italian-Canadian.
Fratino who says he still “feels Italian” hopes that the Italian Archives Exhibition will be a window on the past for the next generation “to know where they came from” even as the Italian Centennial is an opportunity for everyone to recognize and celebrate the active presence of the Italian community in Montreal and the value of it has added to the Canadian cultural mosaic.