Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cultural centre united city's Italians

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In the early years, the Holy Rosary Church, which opened its doors in 1923, was undoubtedly the principal organizing force in the Winnipeg Italian community.

After the war, however, secular-based Italian organizations began to form, and by the late 1960s they were predominant.

But given the amalgam of working class and business owners and the various regional affiliations -- especially the division between those from Italy's north and south -- the community had become, bringing them together was no easy feat.

The Italian Canadian League of Manitoba took on the challenge in 1964.

"Before the league was formed, there were Italian clubs all over the place. They were associated with either their church or their sporting team, but they did not know one another," says Sam Loschiavo, who co-founded the league -- and later, Folklorama.

"It was formed to bring all these clubs together so the Italians in Winnipeg could speak with one voice. For the very first time, we had Italians sitting around the table from the north and the south. That was the beginning of togetherness."

In 1980, the league purchased and renovated an old building and opened the not-so-originally named Casa d'Italia on Notre Dame Avenue.

By the late '80s, the league was planning for a larger cultural centre. Centro Caboto Centre -- named for Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), the Italian explorer credited with discovering Newfoundland -- opened its 1,900-square-metre facility at 1055 Wilkes Ave. in 1998.

The $5-million centre, with an annual operating budget of nearly $1.6 million, recently launched a $2-million renewal campaign that includes expanding the kitchen and restaurant, developing the grounds to include a picnic area and traditional piazza, adding more cultural and recreational program space and creating a "memory lane" to house artifacts.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 j2

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