It’s a chilly, overcast September afternoon in Regina, but inside the G. Marconi Italian Club, there’s plenty of color and joyful banter.
Members are preparing for Festa Italiana, a jam-packed celebration for the club’s 50th anniversary. The club originally opened in March of 1972, but members were unable to celebrate the milestone earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re celebrating it by recognizing our founders. It’s amazing the sacrifices they made building the Italian club back then. Fifty-two years ago they each put in $100. If you can imagine, back then that was a lot of money,” said Pat Fiacco, chairman of the Festa Italiana and a first-generation Canadian.
The founding members put in much more than just money. They also contributed countless hours of labour, volunteering and fundraising, all so they could have a place to visit and bond with fellow Italians in the early days of their time in Canada.
“The club [gave] us this feeling like home. A place we could go and see a lot of friends. A place we can celebrate things,” said co-founding member Rosina Fiorante. “There was just this togetherness, this joy.”
Crossing the Atlantic
Fiorante came to Canada by boat all by herself at the age of 18 in 1956. She came from Civitanova del Sannio, in the Italian region of Molise.
“In our town there weren’t many jobs for us. So my father had already emigrated to Canada. And then he called my brother after a year or two. After four years, I came to Canada,” Fiorante said.
“My journey was pretty hard. I was a young girl traveling all on my own with no siblings.”
Once in Alberta, Fiorante worked as a farmer, but she struggled to learn English.
“I didn’t understand one word. So at night time they sent me in this little room and I sat there and I said, ‘Why did I come here?'”
Fiorante said her fellow farmers eventually made her feel comfortable, and her brother and sister helped her learn English.
Fiorante later met her future husband, fellow Italian immigrant Domenico Fiorante. The pair moved to Regina to find work. There they set down roots and had children.
Lucia Ricci immigrated to Regina from Cagnavno Barano, Puglia, Italy in 1961. She too came by sea, on a ship called Vulcania.
Ricci still has a picture from the day she, her siblings and her mother boarded the ship in Naples.
“We didn’t know that someone took a picture. So after you went around and you said, ‘Give me 1000 lira, you’ll have the picture.’ This was hidden in my parents’ home. And then one day I said to my mom, where is this picture? Because I watched the Titanic show and it reminded me of us being on the ship,” Ricci said.
“For me the picture is very, very precious.”
In the photo, Ricci is an 18-year-old young woman, about to embark on a new frontier. Her family was going to Saskatchewan to join her father, who had been working there since 1957.
Ricci was not entirely prepared for what she experienced in the Prairie province.
“The weather was so cold. We came in May and come September, the snow was up to our knees and it was so different than our climate back home. My dad took all of us to [the] Army & Navy store and he bought us all 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 region of Abruzzo, who had come to Canada in 1965.
Club co-founder Joe Parisone immigrated from Civitanova del Sannio in 1955 at nine years old. He felt welcomed by the Canadians, but as he grew up, he became more connected to his heritage.
“A lot of Italian people I helped, in a way, because I was a translator. I went to school.”
Parisone would help the newly arrived with their driver’s license tests and other things they needed interpretation for.
“Italian people here, I still love them and I love being around them. They were just that class of their own.”
As the Riccis and the Fiorantes reminisce about their first decades in Saskatchewan, they laugh over the club’s homemade red wine and platters of prosciutto, salamis, mixed olives and cheeses — a common sight among any proud Italian family.
Food is an extremely important part of their culture and what they provide for visitors at the G. Marconi club. The 50th anniversary celebration will take place in the evening on Friday and Saturday, and those who join in will have access to traditional Italian foods.
“You come to the Italian club and you’re going to experience, really, the Italian culture. Italian dance from our little bambinis right up to our nonnas. Some winemaking demonstrations so people can see how we make wines, right from the grape to the bottle,” Fiacco said.
“And of course, the food. Italians are known for food. So you’re going to have lasagna, spaghetti, Italian sausage pizza, Italian pastries like you’ve never tasted before.”
Sesto Ricci says he is looking forward to the celebration, which he sees as an opportunity to appreciate all the hard work he and the other founders have done for so many years.
He admits that back in 1972, he didn’t think the club would last long.
“We were in bad shape. No money. We [had] nothing. There were ups and downs. And then in the 80s, we found a way to do it and the thing worked out,” he said.
The future of G. Marconi
Now, Sesto Ricci says he hopes younger generations will join the club and carry on the founders’ legacy of Italian pride, heritage preservation and hard work.
Fiorante says she thinks about their legacy often.
“We hope they will always remember us. Even my own father was working in here and, you know, it’s been a place where we always got together and praised each other. We always said, ‘What a wonderful job you’re doing, what a wonderful thing you have done.’ A lot of people work really hard,” Fiorante said.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a very difficult time for the remaining founders of G. Marconi.
“Lately, these just about three years, it was sad. Because the club couldn’t get people in, we couldn’t get together with our friends. I lost some confidence in these years,” said Fiorante. “I found that difficult these three years without communication, the people having these friends to really check up on us.”
Furthermore, the Mosaic Festival of Cultures has been canceled the last two years. That was always a special time for the club, which got to show off dancing and food. So Festa Italiana can be seen as a homecoming of sorts.
“We’re made on immigration and we’re at the stage now where our parents, they’re all getting older,” Fiacco said. “This weekend is a celebration of the Italian culture and heritage. A celebration, frankly, of our parents.”
As Fiorante spoke about the founders’ legacy, their was emotion in her voice
“We want all our Canadians, our friends, anyone is welcome to this place to enjoy it. I hope they will enjoy it as much as we did.”
Indeed they have enjoyed the club through and through. The Fiorantes’ children got married 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.