Italian Day and Little Italy

In the 1940s and 50s, many Italian immigrants had made their home and established businesses in the Commercial Drive area.  Between the 1940s – 1980s, Commercial Drive had developed into an Italian enclave, otherwise known as Little Italy; and where Italo-Canadians played a key role in influencing and revitalizing the landscape, including the introduction of street festivals – with the last one of this era being in 1982. It was an unforgettable day on Commercial Drive with thousands of Italo-Canadians pouring onto the street in a passionate display of emotion, celebrating Italy’s win in the World Cup, which fell on the very same day as the festival. It was a the first Italy World Cup win since the 1930s.

In 2016, Italian Day marked another important day of celebration. In recognition of over 70 years of Italian heritage, an 8 block area of Commercial Drive was officially designated Little Italy by the Mayor and other officials, including a ribbon cutting and special visit from the Italian Ambassador to Canada.  An achievement attributed to the support of government representatives, and community individuals and organizations, including the Italian Day Festival Society.  The return of Italian Day on The Drive revived this heritage conversation and opportunity, and has proven to not only be a day of community celebration, but also an avenue encouraging collective goals and economic benefits for businesses and city.

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History

Canada benefited greatly by the mass exodus of immigrants after World War II, as in the process, some of Italy’s finest rushed to our shores. Everywhere one looks, the Italian presence is constant.

Architects like Bruno Freschi, shipbuilders like Vito Trevisi and contractors like Aquilini, Boffo, Bordignon, Bosa, DeCotis, Nardone, and Zen have left a permanent print on the landscape of this world class city.

The celebration of the Italian culture and the contributions made to this city is the foundation of Italian Day, which has a rich history of over 70 years on Commercial Drive. The festival has grown and diversified from its parade oriented origins in the 60’s, street dancing in the 70’s, and cultural celebration in the 80’s. Now, Italian Day is one of the city’s most celebrated cultural festivals. It pays tribute to the community’s vibrant Italian enclave and the contributions made to the city by Italian immigrants and their children, the next generation(s) of Italian-Canadians.

Historical photo of trolleys along Commercial Drive

A crowd gathers on Commercial Drive