Little Italy in Canada

Montreal

Along St. Lawrence Boulevard, a short drive north of downtown is Petite Italie, the Italian Canadian neighborhood in Montreal. Petite Italie dates to the late 19th century with another large influx of Italian immigrants arriving after World War II. It is still home to the largest ethnic group in predominantly French speaking Montreal. One of the main attractions of the neighborhood is the La Difesa Church with its beautiful frescoes and brick facades. Other highlights include the numerous Italian shops and restaurants along St. Lawrence Boulevard with some of the best coffee shops in the city. The Jean Talon outdoor market offers imported Italian products, fresh produce, cheeses and local Quebec specialties.

Toronto

Toronto’s Little Italy is along the west end of College Street and is known as a popular shopping district. The large Italian population arrived in the early 20th Century with another wave arriving after World War II. The Italian presence lives on in the cafes, restaurants, social clubs and a vibrant nightlife. Another Italian neighborhood is the Corso Italia, with its high-end shops and cafes. Every July this neighborhood hosts the Corso Italia Toronto Fiesta.

Vancouver

After World war II many Italian immigrants settled in eastern Vancouver where a Little Italy was found along Commercial Drive.  An Italian Cultural Centre opened nearby on the Grandview Highway in the 1970s. Italian Canadians still have a distinct presence in the neighborhood, as they do near East Hastings Street, between Boundary and Duthie. There are multiple Italian cafés and delis along the street. Every year during June, Vancouver’s “Little Italy”  celebrates Italian Day on The Drive where everything that is Italian is embraced: food, music, fashion, dance, art, sport, history and community interaction.  

Immigration to Canada

The first explorer to North America and to Canada was the Venetian, Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot). His voyage to Canada and other parts of the Americas was followed by his son, Sebastiano Caboto and Giovanni da Verrazzano. During the New France era, France also occupied parts of Northern Italy and there was a significant Italian presence in the French military forces in the colonies. Notable were Alphonse de Tonty, who helped establish Detroit and Henri de Tonti, who journeyed with La Salle in his exploration of the Mississippi River. Italians made up a small portion of the population and quickly lost their ethnic identities. In 1881, only 1,849 Canadians claimed to be Italian.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Giovanni Caboto 

Around 1880 Canadian immigration policy became less restrictive when construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway increased the demand for unskilled labor. As a result, Italians began to emigrate in large numbers, increasing from an average of 360 per year to more than 1,000 per year, with a peak of 27,704 in 1913.

Another substantial influx took place in the early twentieth century when over a hundred thousand Italians moved to Canada. These were largely peasant farmers from rural southern Italy and the agrarian parts of the north-east (Veneto, Friuli). They mainly immigrated to Toronto and Montreal, both of which soon had large Italian communities. Smaller communities also arose in Hamilton, Vancouver, Windsor, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Sudbury and the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area. Many also settled in mining communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Cape Breton Island and Northern Ontario. The Northern Ontario cities of Sault Ste. Marie and Fort William were quite heavily populated by Italian immigrants. This migration was largely halted by World War I and new immigration laws in the 1920s limited Italian immigration.

The Amatuzio family, Clark Street, Montreal, 1914

A second wave occurred after the Second World War, when Italians, especially from the Lazio, Abruzzo, Friuli, Veneto and Calabria regions, left the war-impoverished country for opportunities in a young and growing country. Many Italians from Istria and Dalmatia also immigrated to Canada during this period as displaced persons.

It was not until the Canadian mines began to close in the 1940s that the numbers of Italians in the Canadian urban areas, particularly Edmonton and Winnipeg, began to accumulate in appreciable numbers. Between 1945 and 1960, in both Canada and Italy, immigration policies encouraged a new wave of immigration to Canada, consisting mainly of skilled laborers. Although as many as two-thirds of these new immigrants stayed in the larger eastern cities, urban centers on the Plains, such as Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg experienced substantial population growth. 

As of 2006, 1,445,330 Canadian residents stated they had Italian ancestry, in which 741,045 had sole Italian origins, while the other 704,285 were of partial Italian origin. Canadians of Italian ancestry make up 4.6% of the population of Canada, a rise from 4.3% in 2001. The majority live in Ontario (867,980) where they constitute more than seven per cent of the population, while another 300,000 live in Quebec.

The first Italian newspaper in Canada was published in Montréal in the late 19th century. By 1914, several others had been founded across the country from Toronto to Vancouver. After 1950, dozens of Italian newspapers and magazines, many aimed at particular regional, religious or political markets, proliferated across Canada. By the mid-1960s, Italian-language publications had a readership of 120,000. The most influential of these: Il Corriere Italiano of Montréal and, prior to its demise in May 2013, Il Corriere Canadese of Toronto, which carried an English-language supplement to reach younger Italian Canadians. In 1978, the owner of Il Corriere Canadese launched a multilingual television station in Ontario, CFMT (renamed OMNI TV in 1986 after being sold), which transmits in Italian and other languages daily. A few years later, the Telelatino Network commenced operations as a national cable system for Italian and Spanish programming.

MARIO BERNARDI

Italian Canadians have altered their society’s tastes in food, fashion, architecture and recreation and they have also made important contributions to the arts. MARIO BERNARDI of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, for example, was appointed the first conductor of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1968 and helped guide it to international stature. The avant-garde paintings of GUIDO MOLINARI of Montréal now hang in leading galleries. The popular, BRUNO GERUSSI, a former Shakespearean actor, became a well-known radio and TV personality. Among the many writers of Italian background are J.R. COLOMBO, a best-selling author of reference works and literature and the Governor General’s Award-winning author, NINO RICCI. A few other famous Italian Canadians are Umberto Menghi, restaurateur and TV personality, Nat Bosa, real estate developer and Mike Colle, Ontario minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Windsor’s (Ontario) Community Museum is housed in the François Baby House, one of the oldest buildings in Windsor. The Museum has a wide array of collections that document the rich history of Windsor and Essex County including artifacts, paintings, drawings, prints, postcards, photographs, books, newspapers, maps and archives. The Museum offers exhibitions, public programs and educational programs for schools and community groups that wish to explore the many individuals, cultures and events that contributed to the development of Windsor. The Italian Community Exhibition at the Windsor’s Community Museum was developed by Madelyn Della Valle – Curator.

Suggested Reading:

Kenneth Bagnell, Canadese: A Portrait of the Italian-Canadians (1989); Roberto Perin and Franc Sturino,Arrangiarsi: The Italian Immigration Experience in Canada (1992, 2nd ed); Robert F. Harney, If One Were to Write a History: Selected Writings (991); Franc Sturino, Forging the Chain: A Case Study of Italian Migration to North America, 1880-1930 (1990); John E. Zucchi, Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935 (1988); Franca Iacovetta, Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto (1992).

In Italy, cooking is an art. The essence of the food is found in the perfect combination of the ingredients. Olive oil, sauces, spices, herbs and Parmesan cheese play an important role in Italian food, as does the use of pasta, rice, beans and vegetables. Fresh ingredients are the essential part of the meal. In a typical meal, pasta, rice or soup is served as “il primo piatto”.  Meat or fish will be the “il secondo piatto” accompanied by vegetables. An espresso coffee and dessert usually end the meal. Italian immigrants might have forgotten their native language, but they never forgot how to cook Italian food.

Canadian Italian Specialties

Calamari in Tomato White Wine Sauce

Here is a link to a video on how to clean the squid:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xM2R_evubhI

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (454 g) fresh calamari
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) hot pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) drained seeded chopped canned plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt

Directions:

Holding the calamari tube, pull off the head and tentacles; set aside. Rinse squid tubes under cold water, rubbing off any purplish skin. Pull out and discard the “pen” (long clear plastic-like skeleton) from the centre of the tubes.

On a cutting board, pull off and discard the fins from the tubes. Cut off and discard the eyes and head from the tentacles, keeping the tentacles attached to the ring on top. Squeeze the hard beak from the centre of the tentacles and discard.

Cut tubes crosswise into 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide rings; pat dry.

In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add wine and hot pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add squid rings; simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve with Italian bread.

Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine

Canadian Three-Cheese Spinach Pizza

What is Canadian Mozzarella?

The Canadian Dairy Commission created a new milk class for mozzarella cheese used on fresh pizzas, a move that is expected to drop the cost of pizza. The new classification, approved by the commission recently, went into effect on  June 1, the CBC News reported. The cost of mozzarella cheese in Canada is high when compared to the world market, however, this new classification is expected to lower the price of Canadian-made mozzarella.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (500 g) pizza dough
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) pepper
  • 1 bag baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • 1 cup (250 mL) shredded Canadian Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) grated Canadian Parmesan cheese
  • 4 oz (125 g) Canadian Blue cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 14-inch (35 cm) round; centre on a greased pizza pan. Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with garlic, pepper and the mozzarella, Parmesan and blue cheeses. Lay the spinach leaves on top.

Bake in in bottom third of the oven until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden and puffed, about 18-20 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces.

Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine

Roasted Stuffed Lobster

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 2 live lobsters, 1-1/4 to –1-1/2 lbs each (or you can buy steamed lobsters from your fish store)
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped
  • A pinch of hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup dry Marsala

Directions:

Parboil Lobster:

Fill a large pot with 1 inch of salted water and heat on high. Once the water boils, the lobster is ready to be cooked. Plunge the lobster head first into the pot and close the lid. As soon as the lobster begins to turn red (3-4 minutes), remove it to a large bowl filled with ice. Leave the lobster in the ice bath until it is cool to the touch. This stops the cooking process.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Prepare Stuffing:

Cook the breadcrumbs and garlic in 3 tablespoons of the oil until very lightly browned (stir continuously to precent burning). Add the anchovy and pepper flakes in the last 30 seconds, then take the pan off the heat and add two-thirds of the parsley and the Marsala to moisten the mixture.

Split the lobsters in half down the middle (head end first – all you need is a large, sharp knife). Place them cut-side up on a large baking sheet. Cover the lobsters (heads and tails) with breadcrumbs, spreading them evenly and pressing down lightly. Drizzle with the remaining oil.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the breadcrumbs have turned brown on the top. Serve the lobsters sprinkled with the remaining parsley and a lemon wedge.

Sausage with Broccoli Rabe

Adapted from Canadian chef, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita television show which is seen in more than 150 countries worldwide, including Food Network Canada, BBC Food, Discovery Travel and Leisure, Nat Geo Adventure Channel and Cooking Channel. The series has also produced a best-selling cookbook (Harper Collins Canada), which won a Canadian Gourmand award. David was also named one of Canada’s 20 Stylemakers by Canada’s national fashion magazine, Flare. David’s first television series, Avventura, an Italian travel and food program, is still seen in syndication in more than 40 countries.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of rapini or broccoli rabe, cleaned and cut in half
  • Salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Whole chilies to taste
  • 8 (3 ounces each) pork sausage links

Directions:

In a saucepan, cook the rapini in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain.

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the sausages. Cook the sausage for a few minutes, turning frequently, before piercing with a knife in order to release some of the fat. If the sausages are sticking to the pan, add a few tablespoons of water instead of adding more oil. Continue cooking until the sausages are golden brown and fully cooked. Remove to a plate and discard the fat in the pan.

Add 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to the same pan, heat and add the garlic and chili peppers. Cook until the garlic is golden brown. Add the rapini and saute for a few minutes. Season with salt to taste. Add the cooked sausages to the rapini and cook together for a few minutes. Transfer the mixture to a warm plate and serve hot with italian bread.

Italian Almond Cookies

Makes about 40 cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cups blanched almonds
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 extra-large egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

In a food processor, grind the almonds and granulated sugar to a very fine powder, about 3 minutes. Pour the almond/ sugar mixture into a medium bowl and stir in the honey and almond extract with a fork. In a measuring cup beat the egg whites lightly, just to blend, and stir 1/4 cup of the beaten egg whites into the almond mixture; if the dough is not soft enough add more egg whites by the teaspoon (do not add too much or the dough will be too wet).

Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of the confectioner’s sugar on the counter and turn the dough out onto the sugar. Roll the dough into a log over the confectioner’s sugar. Snip into walnut-sized pieces and roll each into a ball, coating the outside well with the confectioner’s sugar. The confectioner’s sugar should remain on the outside of the dough rather than be incorporated into it.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the cookies on the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes or until the surface cracks and blisters. The cookies will be pale and soft and flatten a bit; do not over bake or they will be dry. Cool the cookies to room temperature on a rack. Dust with the remaining 1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar before serving.

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