Spotlight on Montreal’s East End Italians

Dossier Montreal Italians

2013/07/25 - Written by Sabrina Marandola
Spotlight on Montreal’s East End Italians
Spotlight on Montreal’s East End Italians
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Cultivating the roots of our culture…and tomatoes! 

You know you’re an Italian living in the East End when ... you are rudely awoken in the summertime to the sound of a lawnmower or trimmer whacking away at the weeds below your bedroom window; you think a canottiera is a wardrobe staple; you have a celebratory lunch every fall after putting up the “tempo” in your driveway.

In fact, the portable carport (more commonly known to East End Italians as the “tempo”) has always been of particular interest to me...even more so once I realized its installation was mostly unique to the East End of Montreal.                             

While many West End boroughs or municipalities have bylaws prohibiting its residents from putting up carports (it has to do with something about them being an eyesore), we East Enders couldn’t care less about aesthetics. No Italian home is too posh for plastic!                  

I’ve lived in the East End my whole life, but it was only a few years ago when I first realized that the seasonal appearance of a tempo is a given in the East End… namely because I don’t have one!                              

I had some friends visiting one winter. When I invited them in, their first words were, “You don’t have a tempo?!?!” They were stupefied.                            

Who would have thought the lack of a plastic tent draping my East End driveway was enough to make me feel like I was from Mars? 

                  

When East End Italians, most of them homeowners, are not busy doing work in the front of their homes, they are in their backyards, working on il giardino. The tomato plants are tied and all eyes are on the zucchini. And many giardinieri spent this past summer wondering just how bad pesticides could be; was it really necessary to make them illegal, because the weeds are really taking a toll on the lawn!

Many Italians became East End homeowners in the last half of the 20th century, when a housing boom hit that part of the island. The now-boroughs of R.D.P., St. Leonard, Anjou and Montreal North were completing their urban plans and finishing development.                    

Recent statistics show that today, almost 33 per cent of people in St. Leonard and 30 per cent of residents living in R.D.P. report Italian as their mother tongue. Those figures are 12 per cent for Montreal North and five per cent in Anjou. With so many Italians concentrated on the eastern tip of the island, there was strong demand for Italian services. Lobby groups pressured the municipal and provincial government on important issues, such as healthcare, which led to the creation of Santa Cabrini Hospital in the East End in 1960. But that still wasn’t enough.                    

Welcome to the Leonardo Da Vinci Centre. East End Italians wanted a place where they could feel at home: sipping on an espresso before playing a game of Bocce or watching an Italian film.                

Pat Buttino was one of the people who, in the 1980s, was fighting for an Italian community centre.“It made sense because a lot of Italians had come to St. Leonard and the concentration was quite dense,” Buttino says. “A vibrant, growing entity of Italians was in the East End.” Now, almost 30 years later, Buttino is the cultural director of the centre he once only dreamed about.                           

Its floors are a rich caramel marble, while the soaring ceilings and glass doors and windows make the lobby feel open and airy. Big eggshell-coloured letters engraved in stucco are just below a second-floor balcony, spelling out the names of Italian regions like Toscana, Piemonte and Umbria. To the left of the entrance, people of all ages sit in a piazza, sipping coffee and chatting with friends.

“The goal was to serve and meet the needs of the Italian community, but also, of all communities in the East End,” Buttino says.                    

The centre opened it doors in 2002. Today, it has thousands of members. More than 3,000 East Enders use the sporting facilities and 1,200 people play bocce in the bocciodrome. This is the LDV Centre’s professional bocce courts, where people can play competitively, participate in tournaments or simply learn the game.

Up to 500 members sign up for continuing education courses – such as English, French or Italian lessons – and the summer camp sees more than 1,800 kids go through its doors. Concerts, plays, film screenings in English, French and Italian are also held each year in the centre’s Mirella and Lino Saputo Theatre.

The theatre, which seats 533, is modelled after Milan’s famous La Scala opera house. “It’s a terrific jewel,” Buttino says, adding that it’s important to keep the centre growing, and to continue welcoming Montreal’s East End communities through its doors.“We want to embellish our culture, our roots, and our traditions.” LDV center really reflects how Italians are influencing Montreal’s socio-cultural landscape.

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