AN EVOLUTION OF ITALIAN CELEBRATION IN HAMILTON
It was in 1974 when Frank Raso was serving as President of the Sons of Italy Trieste Lodge in Hamilton, when he received a call from the then Manager of the Eaton’s store, Roy Walker. “Frank”, he said, “I was given your name by the Vice Consul of Italy, Dr. Barolo”. Frank listened, “My name is Roy Walker from Eaton’s. I have just returned from a business trip in Italy…I want to meet with you to see if we can collaborate with the Italian community to promote Italian culture”.
“After their trip to Italy”, Frank recalls, “Eaton’s fell in love with everything Italian”; the clothes, the merchandise, the music, everything. They probably had some help from Lady Eaton herself as Frank recalls meeting her at her home in Toronto; “she loved Italian culture”. Soon enough Frank Raso suggested a committee be formed with 10 individuals from the Sons of Italy and 10 from Eaton’s. The 10-day event was to occur in October 1975 and Eaton’s was paying for everything up to $30,000. Frank, along with his friends, Peter Cicchi and Nick Zaffiro, started to organize an event, the likes and scale of which had never been seen before. It was called, “The Italian Affair”. “We had a 40-mile bicycle race, fashion show, musicians direct from Italy, something was going on every day inside of Eaton’s and all-around Hamilton”.
Festitalia was born in 1976 following the great success of the Italian Affair, and its first chair was, of course, Mr. Frank Raso. Frank surrounded himself with leaders in the community, Italians and non-Italians who shared the same love for the culture. Among the earliest Board members were television and media personality, Emilio Mascia, Sam M. Cino and Frank Attardo along with former Mayor of Hamilton, Bob Morrow, Spectator Editor, Gord Bullock and Conductor, Boris Brott.
Festitalia has grown as a major annual event in Hamilton during the entire month of September. One of Mr. Raso’s best memories of Festitalia was when they recruited over 200 members from the Opera House in Rome, including stage hands, set workers, performers and orchestra, for a Hamilton performance of La Bohème.
1978 & 1979
Sam M. Cino
La Bohème, was such a hit that the then Mayor of Hamilton, Jack McDonald invited Sam M. Cino, during his term as Festitalia Chair in 1978/79, to chair a steering Committee that founded Opera Hamilton.
1980 & 1981
It was during Frank Attardo’s term as Chair in 1980/81 that the Miss Festitalia scholarship was started, as well as the publication of the first Festitalia magazine, the regional food day and open-air Mass at Gage Park celebrated by Cardinal Carpino from the Vatican. It was also during this time that an internationally recognized bicycle race was held in downtown Hamilton, as well as the Italian Piazza in Gore Park and a high-end fashion show complete with motorcycle police brigade and live Bengal tigers.
1982 & 1983
Angelo DiIanni was a leader and driving force in maintaining the Italian language and culture within our community.
1984 & 1985
Larry DiIanni initiated and maintained some very important relationships with our contacts in Italy including folk groups, artists and artisans.
1986 & 1987
Dominic Rappazzo is most proud of the ceremonial chairperson kick off at the Tiger Cat Labor Day Game and the Festitalia Regatta in Hamilton Harbor (with the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club). Also, during this time, the ever-popular Vino and Amore was born, occupying two nights at the Hamilton Armories on James Street North.
1988 & 1989
Vincenza Travale was known for her passion and support of the arts and dedication to bridging the gap with youth in our education system.
1990 & 1991
Frank DeNardis was an ambassador in the business community that ensured that Festitalia was financially viable to continue operating. Loved by presidents and their secretaries and especially the vendors in the Hamilton Farmer’s Market opening many doors for community partnerships.
1991 & 1993
Angela Rzazewski, a well-recognized educator in our community, brought her leadership and collaboration to ensure that everyone’s contribution was recognized.
1994 & 1995
During Ezio Settimi’s term as Chair, a special Mass was inaugurated at the Cathedral of Christ the King to honor grandparents who were 75 years of age or older. Today, the Festitalia Mass continues to be the heart and spirit of the Festival.
1996 & 1997
Margherita Lawlor was a recognized educational leader who brought her passion and openness in uniting the Italian culture in the Hamilton community. A real leader in establishing and maintaining the author’s nights.
1998 & 1999
Phil DiFrancesco was a devoted leader in our most memorable event “Vino e Amore”.
2000 & 2001
Vicki DeSantis was a professional and compassionate leader who ensured all the values of the Italian culture were recognized rather than default to stereotypes. Truly an inspirational leader in spearheading and organizing many of our community’s most memorable gala events.
2002 & 2003
The inclusivity of Festitalia was apparent in 2002 and 2003 when then Chair Ron Corsini introduced the motto, “Festitalia Welcomes the World” and invited other cultural organizations to share in the Italian culture. It was at this time that The Honorable Lincoln Alexander was invited to be Festitalia’s Honorary Chair.
2004 & 2005
During Mary Romeo’s term as Chair in 2004/2005, Festitalia partnered with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boris Brott Festival and Chamber Works in a series of concerts of Italian music known as Musica Italia. It was also during this time that Festitalia held a screening of the film “Perlasca, the Courage of a Just Man”, raising $98,000 to be shared by St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation and the Human Rights Museum.
2006 & 2007
Joe Baiardo’s most memorable experience during his term as Chair in 2007 was the introduction of Festitalia to the Good Shepherd Centre regular hot meal program guests. Joe recalls that “board members assisted in serving over 300 individuals in need of a meal, to great Italian food and music”. Joe also fondly recalled one patron saying, “I wish it was Festitalia EVERYDAY!”
2008 & 2009
Dennis Concordia, while well known for bringing financial stability to the organization while serving as Treasurer for over 20 years, also championed a strategic plan on Board Succession from the founding group to the next generation of Italian Canadian community leaders. He believed in the next generation and he says it’s gratifying to see that we are still vibrant and full of promise for the future. He has also revived Festitalia’s Author Night featuring Paul Benedetti in 2017 and has arranged for Lidia Bastianich to be with us again in 2018.
2010 & 2011
It’s apparent now that Festitalia appeals to a newer and younger generation of Italian Canadians wanting to share the richness of the Italian culture with the whole community. It was Matt Moccio, during his term as Chair in 2010 that coined the phrase, “Festitalia is 35 years old and getting younger”.
2012 & 2013
The Festitalia Italian Heritage Awards was introduced during Sam Cino’s term as Chair in 2012. The Italian Heritage Awards program was established to recognize the enormous contributions made by Canadians of Italian descent to enrich the City of Hamilton and to make it a better community for all its citizens.
As you can see from the previous year’s lineup of events past chairs Maria Motschman and Anthony Macaluso, the month-long festival continues to appeal to the older generation and is packed with activities for their children and their children’s children, with or without Italian ancestry. New partnerships with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra continue to keep at the forefront all aspects of our mission. After 43 years of celebration, Festitalia continues to be rich in diversity; both in events and in participation and will continue to be so for many years to come.
Under the leadership of new chairperson, Pat Mostacci, FESTITALIA hopes to remain at the heart of the Hamilton community and celebrating that La Vita è Bella – Life is Beautiful. As the world faces new challenges and struggles it is our hope that, even for one day, we can celebrate in a culture that embraces family, art, music, literature, film and of course food.
In summary, it should be noted that an organization this successful over a long period of time could not have been possible without the leadership and participation of all our board of directors working under the leadership of past board chairs.