VIVA ITALIA! PIZZA, CONSTRUCTION & SOCCER
- Toronto has the largest population of Italians outside of Italy.
- During the 1920s, College Street's 'Little Italy' became recognized as the residential and commercial centre of Toronto's Italian community.
It was a celebration that Toronto had never seen before – greater than any in the entire country! On July 11, 1982, around 300,000 people flocked to Toronto's Italian neighbourhoods to celebrate the frst Italian FIFA World Cup of Soccer tournament victory in 44 years. Te huge, happy gatherings of Torontonians, regardless of ethnic background, solidifed a love affair that the city has had with its Italian Community for over a hundred years. Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation televised the World Cup live for the frst time ever in Canada.
And at one point, celebrators drove a dump truck covered in Italian flags up and down St. Clair Avenue West. Te truck symbolized the thriving construction industry in which so many Italians worked. It conveyed their immense pride over the notion that Italians had played a large part in developing the city of Toronto.
Te long history of Italians in Toronto began in the late 1800s. In fact, by 1915, there were about 12,000 Italians living in the city. Tey worked on building the city during one of its biggest growth periods, making streets, digging sewers, working on construction projects, and expanding transportation routes. Many brought with them skills in stone masonry and construction, much needed at the time. Others worked in the city's expanding industries i.e. electrical companies and metal manufacturers, distilleries and breweries.
At this time, most lived in Te Ward, with community life centred around St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on McCaul Street (renamed Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in 1908). As the community expanded, Italian neighbourhoods grew up along Bloor Street West at Bathurst, Dufferin, and Lansdowne, and expanding westward. Today, Woodbridge is home to a large Italian-Canadian population.
Torontonians today, however, are more likely to remember the third wave of Italian emigration to the city, from 1950 to 1960. With family sponsorship now part of Canadian immigration policy, by the 1980s, Toronto's Italian population had reached 300,000 and was making a signifcant impact on the city's cultural fabric.
Italian contributions to the city are too numerous to cover. From construction workers to building architects, construction managers and building owners, the Italian community became a key part of the city's construction industry, and played leading roles in workplace safety and labour relations.
For many, however, the introduction of fresh, tasty and healthy Mediterranean food comes frst to mind. Tis is not surprising. Italians frst came to Toronto at a time when most residents were of British descent. One Italian Canadian recalls that when her mother frst tried sliced white bread, she wanted to go back to Italy!
So along with the arrival of Italian families, the city soon saw the appearance of green grocers selling fresh fruits and produce ("new" vegetables like broccoli), and bakeries with crusty Italian bread. Tere were butchers shops with spicy sausages, meats, olive oils and balsamic vinegars, and new spices and cheese to try. At frst, these shops catered to Italian families, but soon everyone was seeking out their favourite Italian food shop or restaurant.
Te next time you order in pizza, just remember: Toronto didn't even know what pizza was in the 1950s (or at least, knew it as only "exotic" food). Te frst restaurant to serve pizza was Vesuvio's, in the Junction, after Dominic and his brother Ettore and their father Rocco Pugliese came to Toronto and opened their frst restaurant in 1957 and introduced pizza to the city!