Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Little-known facts about our Italian community

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  • Four enterprising immigrants from Sicily left their mark on Winnipeg by building the 1914 Olympia Hotel, now known as the Ramada Marlborough. The duo of Leonardo Emma and Giuseppe Panaro and the Badali brothers, Agostino and Giuseppe, started out operating fruit and confectionery stores. They joined forces to erect the opulent Gothic-style hotel on Smith Street, just north of Portage Avenue.
  • Many accounts of Italians arriving in Winnipeg from the 1920s to the 1950s mention a welcoming café (described early on as a grocery and deli) across Higgins Avenue from the CPR station. It was operated by the Fabbri family, who greeted disoriented newcomers in their own language and helped them locate relatives or get taxis. "For many, this was the first address we gave to receive mail from Italy," one immigrant recalled.
  • In the 1920s and '30s, there was an Italian-owned store on Regent Avenue in Transcona called Tivoli Confectionery. It was renowned for its banana splits and sundaes. The owners sponsored a senior girls' softball team called the Tivolis. After the games, the players would gather in the ice-cream parlour with their boyfriends.
  • In the 1930s,Winnipeg's Frankie Battaglia was a world-class prize fighter. Born in the West End in 1910 to Sicilian immigrants, the "Winnipeg Walloper" boxed his way to a 1933 bout at New York's Madison Square Garden for the world middleweight title. He lost, but had 100 amateur and professional bouts in his career and is remembered as one of the city's greatest fighters.
  • Italian Winnipeggers made wine at home in the 1930s and '40s, an era when Anglo-Saxons were suspicious of the activity. One family recalled bringing grapes into the house at night, so the neighbours who called them "wops" or "dagos" wouldn't see what they were up to. They even burned the grape crates in the furnace to destroy the evidence.
  • Another Italian custom that was viewed with suspicion was girls having pierced ears from infancy. A woman who immigrated in 1930 at age nine remembered her father, who had come to Winnipeg ahead of the family, telling his daughters to take their earrings off because he wanted them to fit in with Canadian kids.
  • The Second World War was a traumatic time for Italians in Winnipeg. One woman who immigrated with her family at age seven had to go, at age 13, to be fingerprinted by the RCMP in 1939. Her parents were not forced to report. "I spoke English beautifully. My mother and father spoke very little English, and yet I was considered the 'traitor,'" she recalled.
  • One of Winnipeg's most legendary nightclubs, the Rancho Don Carlos, was owned by Carlo (Charlie) Mazzone. In the 1940s and '50s, the swingin' hot spot on the east side of Pembina Highway near Grant Avenue brought in major acts including Bob Hope, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.
  • Italian newcomers, accustomed to strong, dark espresso served in demitasse cups, got a rude surprise when they ordered coffee here. One man who arrived in 1967 ordered "un caffé" in the lounge of the Empire Hotel on Main Street on his first night in Winnipeg. The waiter brought what he thought was a small bowl of soup. When someone finally explained that it was coffee, the newcomer was stunned and couldn't bring himself to drink it.

-- Source: Italians in Winnipeg: An Illustrated History, Stanislao Carbone

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 j3

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