The past and present of the Molisan community in the GTA

Italianop. 2

2015/05/05 - Written by Emanuela Orsini
Sagra dei Misteri, Campobasso, Molise
Sagra dei Misteri, Campobasso, Molise
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Today the province of Molise has a population of over 300,000 people, with over 600,000 living as expats outside of the area. The Molisan are travellers, as they started immigrating abroad in the late 1800s, and many left after the Second World War, settling on Canada as a major destination during the 1950s and 1960s.

“My grandfather came to Canada towards the end of the 19th century with his two younger brothers,” says Paolo Farrace, president of FCAM (Federazione Canadese Associazioni Molisane). “Then my grandfather went back to Italy, built a house and bought a large piece of land. And he never came back to Canada. This was the first wave of Molisan in the world to come to Canada, but it’s impossible to say how many there are here now.” Farrace, 70, is from the small town of San Massimo, in the province of Campobasso, and moved to Toronto to join his parents and siblings in 1965,after receiving his engineering degree. He created many social clubs for the Molisan community in Toronto over the years, as they were a very-tight knit community. “Because all the Molisan community was new to Canada, they wanted to be together,” says Farrace.

Renato Discenza, a successful Toronto businessman and the current VP of Enterprise and Innovation at Hamilton Health Sciences, agrees. The community shared the same culture and traditions as most came from neighbouring towns in the small region. Discenza, who moved to Toronto at the young age of three from Baranello, in the province of Campobasso, has fond memories of socializing with other paesani on weekends. “Life was simpler,” he says. “Everybody knew who they came over to Canada with.” He recalls his childhood summers playing bocce and cards with others within the community.

Most of the Molisan that moved during and after the Second World War to Toronto lived around the College Street and Dufferin Street area, with some dispersed along the Danforth. Gradually, the community started moving north to St. Clair and then further into the suburbs, towards Vaughan and Mississauga.

The Molisan community that arrived to Toronto worked hard and wanted the best for their families and children. Many of them, like other Italian communities in Canada, worked in the construction industry as well as labour intensive jobs.

Nowadays, Farrace says the community is getting smaller and smaller and that most of the Molisan clubs have now closed. Farrace created FCAM in 2004as a way to promote and preserve the traditions of the Molisan culture for the newer generations born in Canada. “Because of my history and my experience, I wanted to pass on some of my knowledge to the young generation.”

He isn’t the only Molisano trying to preserve the culture and traditions for young Italian-Canadians. Mirella Colalillo is a young Molisana that was born in Canada but returned to live in Molise at the young age of 10. After having lived in the town of Bojano, near Campobasso, with her family throughout high school, she studied engineering in Tuscany. In 2009, she decided to return to Toronto on her own. She found the Canada she came back to was a different one than she remembered and that her parents had talked about. “When my parents came, it was for reasons of extreme poverty,” she says. “In my case, I could speak the language, I was educated, whereas my parents didn’t have all of this.”

Upon her return to Canada, Colalillo noticed how many Italian-Canadians are very proud of their roots; however, many of them have disconnected from the Italian customs of today, as most are fully integrated into the mainstream Canadian culture.

This sparked an idea for Colalillo to create her own website, “Parlatè,” where she gives Italian language classes online as well as lessons about culture and lifestyle. “I’d like to share how Italy has evolved,” she says. “I want to encourage people to learn about their roots and to come to Italy and to keep traditions going forward.”

With globalization and the facility to travel nowadays, many Italian-Canadians are curious about their heritage and have decided to go back to see where their families come from.

For Discenza, this is the ultimate accomplishment, and he feels the community will continue to grow and prosper. “It’s all paying off,” he says of globalization and the renewal of links between Canada and Italy. “My parents’ dream was to see their kids in the mainstream, now we have a whole generation that can do whatever they want. There’s no barrier.”

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