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Toronto charity to honour Italian immigrants to Canada through tribute wall

Aldo Cundari, a sculptor in residence, said he is building a sculpture as part of the project. The sculpture will depict an Italian family immigrating to Canada. He said the family will be optimistic and excited about leaving as opposed to being desolate and sad. (Laura Pedersen/CBC - image credit)
Aldo Cundari, a sculptor in residence, said he is building a sculpture as part of the project. The sculpture will depict an Italian family immigrating to Canada. He said the family will be optimistic and excited about leaving as opposed to being desolate and sad. (Laura Pedersen/CBC - image credit)

A Toronto charity is planning to build a tribute wall to honour the legacy of Italians immigrants who came to Canada to start new lives and whose hard work shaped the communities in which they lived.

Villa Charities Inc. has launched what it calls its Italian Canadian tribute project in which people can buy plaques for $1,000. Each one will feature up to two names of family members and the years that they arrived in Canada.

Rose Foti, a retired teacher, bought one of the first plaques, along with her siblings, to say thank you to her late mother and father. Her parents left Italy to come to Canada in the early 1950s, after the Second World War. Her mother came first, then her father a year and a half later.

"We were brought up on the Italian immigrant stories. I mean I know them off by heart. They are part of my DNA at this point. They are just very special stories," Foti told CBC Toronto recently.

Her mother, Carmela Lupinacci, worked in a factory on River Street when she first arrived, while her father, Pasquale Guido, worked as a landscaper. Later, he worked for years at Tip Top Tailor near the waterfront.

Foti said the tribute wall will tell the stories of Italian Canadians and their personal histories.

"It's very important to preserve the memory and the culture. I think this is what the plaque is all about," she said.

"Children, grandchildren, future generations can go and take a look at who these people were. We're talking about years to come. These plaques will be here forever," she added.

"You can write up a story. You can put all pictures, all kinds of photographs. It puts everything into a framework so that children and grandchildren can understand what that sacrifice was and all the contributions that were made and they were all so linked together. It's history, right there in front of your eyes. It's beautiful."

To her parents, she said, "Thank you, Mom and Dad. This is for you."

Maroc DeVuono, president and CEO of Villa Charities Inc., said the organization has sold more than 100 plaques so far. He said the organization wants to honour Italian Canadian families and their economic, social and cultural contributions to Canada.

"We initiated this project to honour Italian families who've sacrificed quite a lot to come to this country," he said.

"They came to this country. They had almost zero money. They couldn't speak the language. It was quite a shock for them. And yet, they worked hard. They made some valuable contributions to the community as well. It was a cultural shock and a culinary shock. It wasn't always easy. they had it quite hard," he added.

"They've paved the way for other immigrants who have come since that time."

Laura Pedersen/CBC
Laura Pedersen/CBC

Aldo Cundari, a sculptor in residence, said he is building a sculpture as part of the project. The sculpture, which will be on display in front of the plaques that make up the wall, will depict an Italian family immigrating to Canada. He said the family will be optimistic and excited about leaving as opposed to being desolate and sad.

"It is that optimism that translates into the world that we live in today and how Italian Canadians are part of it as well as helped to build it," he said.

Designed by Brown + Storey Architects Inc., the wall will be located on the Villa Charities site at Lawrence Avenue West and Dufferin Street.

According to Villa Charities, the funds raised from the tribute project will support senior care, youth services, education and scholarships, cultural programming, and capital needs.