It is a cold September afternoon in Regina, cloudy, but G.I. Inside the Marconi Italian Club, there is a lot of color and delightful banquets.
The members are preparing for the Festa Italiana, a packed celebration for the club’s 50th anniversary. The club originally opened in March 1972, but members were unable to celebrate the milestone earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re celebrating this by recognizing our founders. It’s amazing that they built the Italian club at the time. Fifty-two years ago they put in $100 each. If you can imagine, that was a lot of money, Pat Fiaco, president of Festa Italiana and a first-generation Canadian.
The founding members invested in much more than just money. They also contributed countless hours of labor, volunteering, and fundraising, so that they had a place to hang out and bond with fellow Italians during the early days of their time in Canada.
“Club [gave] We feel like home. A place where we can go and see a lot of friends. A place where we can celebrate things,” said co-founding member Rosina Fiorante. “It was just that unity, that happiness.”
crossing the atlantic
Fiorante came to Canada by boat alone in 1956 at the age of 18. She came from Civitanova del Sannio in the Molise region of Italy.
“There weren’t many jobs for us in our city. So my father had already moved to Canada. And then he called my brother after a year or two. Four years later, I came to Canada,” Fiorante said.
“My journey was very difficult. I was a young girl traveling alone without any siblings.”
Once in Alberta, Fiorante worked as a farmer, but he struggled to learn English.
“I didn’t understand a word. So at night they sent me to this little room and I sat there and I said, ‘Why did I come here?'”
Fiorante said that her fellow farmers eventually made her feel comfortable, and that her brother and sister helped her learn English.
Fiorante later met her future husband, fellow Italian immigrant Domenico Fiorante. The couple moved to Regina in search of work. There they took root and had children.
Lucia Ricci immigrated to Regina in 1961 from Cagnavano Barrano in Puglia, Italy. She also came by sea on a ship called Vulcania.
Rikki still has a photo from the day he, his siblings and his mother boarded the ship in Naples.
“We didn’t know someone had taken a picture. So after you turned around and you said, ‘Give me 1000 lira, you’ll have the picture.’ It was hidden in my parents’ house. And then one day I said to my mom, Where’s this picture? Because I saw the Titanic show and it reminded me of being on the ship,” Rikki said.
“The picture is very, very precious to me.”
In the photo, Rikki is an 18-year-old young woman who is about to hit a new frontier. Her family was moving to Saskatchewan to be with her father, who had been working there since 1957.
Ricci was completely unprepared for what she experienced in the Prairie Province.
“The weather was very cold. We came in May and in September, the snow was up to our knees and it was very different from the climate of our house. My dad took us all [the] Army and Navy stores and they bought all of our winter jackets and boots,” Ricci said. “It was very, very different.”
Later that decade, Ricci met her future husband, Sesto Ricci, a young man from Teramo in the area of Abruzzo, who immigrated to Canada in 1965.
Club co-founder Joe Parisone immigrated from Civitanova del Sannio in 1955 at the age of nine. He felt that Canadians welcomed him, but as he grew older, he became more attached to his heritage.
“I helped a lot of Italian people in a way, because I was a translator. I went to school.”
Parison would help newcomers with their driver’s license test and other things that required interpretation.
“Italian people here, I still love them and I love being around them. They just belonged to that class of their own.”
As Ricis and Fiorentes reminisce about their first decades in Saskatchewan, they laugh at the club’s house red wine and platters of prosciutto, salami, mixed olives and cheeses – a common sight among any proud Italian family.
Food is an extremely important part of their culture and they live in G.I. What do Marconi Club offer to visitors. Celebrations of the 50th anniversary will take place in the evenings on Friday and Saturday and those who attend will have access to traditional Italian foods.
“You come to the Italian club and you’re going to, really, experience Italian culture. Italian dances from our little Bambinis to our nonces. Some winemaking demonstrations so people can see how we make wines from the grapes to the bottle, Fiaco said.
“And of course, the food. Italians are known for food. So you have lasagna, spaghetti, Italian sausage pizza, Italian pastries like you’ve never tasted before.”
Sesto Ricci says he looks forward to the celebration, which he sees as an opportunity to appreciate all the hard work he and the other founders have put in over the years.
He admits that back in 1972, he didn’t think the club would last long.
“We were in bad shape. There was no money. We” [had] nothing. There were ups and downs. And then in the ’80s, we find a way to do it and things go well,” he said.
Yes. Marconi’s future
Now, Sesto Ricci says he hopes a younger generation will join the club and carry on the founders’ legacy of Italian pride, heritage preservation and hard work.
Fiorante says she often thinks about his legacy.
“We hope they remember us forever. Even my own father was working here and you know, it’s a place where we always got together and admired each other We always said, ‘What a wonderful job you are doing, what a wonderful job you have done.’ A lot of people work really hard,” Fiorante said.
Yes. The COVID-19 pandemic was a very difficult time for the remaining founders of Marconi.
“Recently, these almost three years, it was sad. Because people couldn’t join the club, we couldn’t get along with our friends. Over the years I lost some confidence,” Fiorante said. “I found it difficult these three years without communication, the people who have these friends can really check on us.”
In addition, the Mosaic Culture Festival has been canceled for the past two years. It was always a special time for the club, with dance and food performances. So Festa Italiana can be seen as a homecoming.
“We’ve built on immigration and we’re at the stage now where our parents, they’re all growing up,” Fiaco said. “This weekend is a celebration of Italian culture and heritage. A celebration, clearly, of our parents.”
As Fiorante talked about the founders’ legacy, there was emotion in his voice
“We want all our Canadians, our friends, anyone to be welcome to enjoy this place. I hope they enjoy it as much as we did.”
In fact he has enjoyed the club through and through. The wedding of the children of Fiorantes took place in the club.
“I always tell my kids, go and enjoy it because we work hard for all of you. For all of you,” she said.