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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Giuseppe Grande 'We'll not be working for the first time in a long time on Canada Day'

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For almost three decades, Giuseppe (Joe) Grande marked Canada Day in a familiar way -- with hard work and hearty food.

This year, though, is special: after almost half a century in Canada, the proprietor of Mona Lisa Ristorante Italiano is celebrating his first July 1 as a Canadian citizen.

To mark the occasion, Grande and his family are closing up shop for the day and holding a party at home. "We'll not be working for the first time in a long time on Canada Day," Grande said, speaking over the bustle and din of the restaurant's Corydon Avenue kitchen. "I've always loved going to the fireworks."

And yet, despite his deep roots in Winnipeg, Grande's earliest memories start almost half a world away.

In 1966, when Grande was only seven years old, his family bid farewell to their home in the southern Italian town of Calabria, packed up their belongings and boarded a ship bound for Canada.

One of Grande's first memories of his new country was the train that carried his family from Halifax to Winnipeg. The journey took days; it was the beginning of a life that would see him become a successful entrepreneur, serving up the tastes of his first homeland alongside his wife, Alfina, and their children.

Grande opened Mona Lisa in 1983, and it swiftly became one of the cornerstones of Winnipeg's Little Italy. He even brought a bit of the Mediterranean mood to the city by opening one of Winnipeg's first outdoor patios.

Still, the extensive paperwork involved in turning a permanent residency into a Canadian citizenship meant Grande never quite had the time to make it official. Not until this year, when the desire to vote in Canadian elections -- a right only extended to Canadian citizens -- sealed his desire to take the citizenship test and say the oath.

Not that the lack of a Canadian passport ever held him back -- by contrast, he said, with family around him and a healthy business to attend to, he has long felt woven into the tapestry of Canadian life.

"Canada became home when I was in school, when I learned to speak English, around Grade 3... When my grandparents came over from Italy, too. Then the family was complete again."

-- Melissa Martin and Kristy Hoffman

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 J4

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