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Making History Together | STORIA 2024

Since 2010, Italian Day’s revival on Commercial Drive, home to Vancouver’s historic Little Italy, has been shaping a new chapter of Italo-Canadian history. This reflection inspired this year’s 2024 theme – STORIA – meaning History or Story in Italian.

This year’s theme is significant because history creates memories, generating emotional connections with the ability to transcend generations via storytelling, keeping traditions and important values alive while bridging the past with the present. We are drawn to history because its story is our story, where we can learn from the past to create a better future together.

Historia vero testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuntia vetustatis
History is indeed a witness of time, the light of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity

La Storia è Maestra di Vita | Historia Magistra Vitae
History is Life’s Teacher

– Cicerone

Our Story

As a simple grassroots organization, the Italian Day Festival Society is humbled and proud to look back and see what has been achieved with the festival’s revival for the community and our Italian heritage. This would not have been possible without the support of the City and Provincial governments, our sponsors and our family of partners. It takes a village, and we are immensely grateful for the support.

Italian Day has also afforded us the platform to give back to the community beyond the festival’s embracing spirit, assisting at-risk youth and mental health programs via funds raised and donated in 2019 and 2020.

The event has placed Vancouver on the festival map, garnering interest in attending, participating, and even being rewarded with several ‘Best Festival’ awards. Italian Day’s 2023 Renaissance return not only brought record crowds after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic but was also honoured with ‘Best of Vancouver’ in the Festival category by Vancouver’s Georgia Straight and nominated ‘Festival of The Year’ by The Golden Owl Awards.

June is Italian Heritage Month

Italian Heritage Month is a time to honour the history, culture, and contributions of Italian Canadians to Vancouver. Italian Day on The Drive is the most prominent celebration of the month.

Italian Heritage Month

Involves a series of events presented by various partners, including Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre, the Italian Day Festival Society, the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver, and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada—West. These events showcase performances, exhibitions, language and cultural initiatives, and community festivals. In addition to the celebrations, it is also a time to remember the hardships faced by Italian Canadians who struggled to immigrate to Vancouver, build their lives and businesses, and contribute to our city. Among these hardships was the internment of more than 30 Italian men who lived in Vancouver and were taken from their families and sent to camps in the early 1940s.

On June 8th, 2022, the Mayor, on behalf of the City of Vancouver, officially apologized for this injustice in the presence of several of the internees’ descendants in Council Chambers. The men were incarcerated as POWs without the benefit of private council representation, and where upwards of eighteen hundred Vancouverites, classified as Enemy Aliens, were required by government legislation to report monthly to the RCMP during Canada’s war with Italy. A sad episode in history which relates to the internment and improper monitoring of Italian people living in Vancouver who were denied due process of the law circa 1940 – 1943. We sincerely thank the Mayor and City Council for this official apology in June of 2022.

History of Little Italy

In recognition of over 70 years of Italian heritage, in 2016, the City of Vancouver officially designated 8 blocks of Commercial Drive as Vancouver’s historic ‘Little Italy’.

As history describes, the largest wave of Italian immigrants made their way to Vancouver after WWII, where many made their homes and established businesses in the Commercial Drive area. Between the 1940s – 1980s, The Drive had developed into a true Italian enclave. Italo-Canadians, comprised of residents, businesses and building owners, were the district’s dominant influence and played a key role in revitalizing the community and landscape.

This included street celebrations and festivals with the introduction of parades in the 60s, as well as the Italian Market (Mercato) Day from 1977 to 1985, the predecessor to today’s Italian Day on The Drive. It is interesting to note that the name of the Il Mercato complex, located on the corner of 1st and Commercial, is said to come from the 70s Italian Market Day.

Leading up to 2010, the interest in resurrecting the late 70s – mid-80s Italian street festival was high among many Italo-Canadians in the community. The inspiration became a reality when the Commercial Drive Business Society, Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre, and other active community members collaborated and formed a volunteer team to make it happen. Supported by a grassroots group of about 10 – 15 volunteers from both societies and the general public, the festival was successfully resurrected in the summer of 2010. A monumental endeavour, the experience led to a unanimous decision to form a unique society solely dedicated to the festival, and in 2011, the Italian Day Festival Society was formed with a mission and vision of what would become Italian Day on The Drive. No one imagined that within a few years of its resurrection, the festival would explode as it did in terms of appeal, attendance and positive community impact from many perspectives: social, cultural, economic, tourism and international visibility for Vancouver.

A memorable celebration, the Proclamation was delivered by the Mayor at the Italian Day 2016 Opening Ceremony with a ribbon cutting and attended by many special guests, including the Italian Ambassador to Canada. Two years later, in 2018, Italian Day was recognized in the City of Vancouver’s list of Official Observances and Celebrations under the umbrella of Italian Heritage Month, officially celebrated in the month of June. In 2019 the following year, the Commercial Drive Business Society, with funding support from Fortis BC and in partnership with the City of Vancouver, unveiled new heritage crosswalks in the colours of the Italian flag at 3 Little Italy intersections: 1st Avenue, Charles Street and 4th Avenue. Fueled by the advocacy of key Italo-Canadian community members, in 3 years, the Italian Day Festival Society and its partners, the Commercial Drive Business Society, Il Centro Italian Cultural Centre and the City of Vancouver, were able to achieve monumental designations and landmarks honouring Italian heritage and contributions. This would not have been possible without the return and impact of Italian Day on The Drive.

Today, the 22-block Commercial Drive district is a multi-ethnic cultural hub of boutique shops, restaurants, and nightlife, offering a unique and distinct flavour that many attribute to the roots planted by Italian immigrants. And at the heart, un cuore Italo-Canadese remains, which still beats in this historic neighbourhood. Italian-owned businesses with 50 – 80 years of heritage anchor the 8 block village where one finds Italian restaurants, pastry shops, a tailor shop, a ‘made in Italy’ shoe boutique, delicatessens, espresso coffee and sports bars – not to mention the soccer aficionados, especially with any major Italy win, pouring down to the Drive. With these ingredients, it is no surprise that in 2020, the Lonely Planet, a popular travel guide, designated Commercial Drive as one of the world’s ‘coolest’ neighbourhoods among 50 cities around the globe.

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