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  • October 08, 2010

Italian Heritage Month in Ontario

Today, Bill 103, An Act to proclaim the month of June Italian Heritage Month, passed second and third reading, making June Italian Heritage Month in Ontario. I had the honour of being able to speak in support of this Bill in the Ontario Legislature. If you would like to listen to the comments I made during the debate, click on the following link:

I have also provided the text of my comments below:

Mr. Mike Colle:
Grazie, Mr. Speaker, grazie…

This August, I celebrated 60 years in Canada. We came in August 1950 on a small Greek ship with my mother and my sister. We joined our father here, so this is certainly a resolution very close to my heart. As you've all been speaking, I just thought of so many incredible memories.

I think the reason why I can see the passion in Mario's voice is because we think of the people who went before us. I think of Johnny Lombardi, one of the incredible pioneers in broadcasting who left such an indelible mark on Canada; Danny Iannuzzi, the great journalist; Nino Ricci, the author; Charles Caccia, the great environmentalist.

I've got an incredible volunteer in my riding, Toni Ciccarelli, who had her fingerprints taken and was arrested in 1940 as an alien at that time. She's still fighting to get her fingerprints back, Toni Ciccarelli. At 92, she's still fighting.

We've got people like Ralph Chiodo who's here, a great business person. Lenny Lombardi is here, another greater broadcaster following in his father's footsteps.

I think of the builders: the DeGasperis family, the Sorbara family, the Montemarano family, the Cortellucci family. All these families came with nothing and they built incredible places to live and house people. They're still doing it.

I think of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians in London in the music world, the contributions he made with his brother, Carmine. I think of Vittorio Coco, the morning voice of Canada every morning. I think of Gino Cucchi, the great man of St. Clair; Ali Bidabadi, who's an honorary Italian, who's always there with his camera everywhere that things are going. There are just so many people who gave so much, never asking anything back but just wanting to work so they could raise their family and their kids could go to school. That's really what they wanted.

I just think of the unnamed workers—we know of the five who died at Hoggs Hollow. I think of my next-door neighbour, Antonio Garisto. He was the first Italian-Canadian foreman for Metro Works, and he used to tell stories about how they used to do all these incredibly complex tunnel-digging exercises—the Beare Road tunnel—and they would do very dangerous work. He, in fact, even had a tunnel collapse on him. He said that what was really hard for him to take was that many of the engineers with the white hats would really have problems figuring out a complex issue. They'd always come to Tony quietly and say, "Tony, we've got a problem here. What do we do?" So Tony, in his broken English, would explain, "If you want to really do this properly and tunnel properly, here's what you do." Then they would follow Tony's instructions and the problem would be fixed. He would sort of stand there with a tear in his eye because, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the guys with the white hats would get all the pats on the back and poor Tony and the workmen are sitting in the back in their boots, ignored. Those are the unknown workers. There are so many of them.

I tell another story, the Ferma brothers, who told me that when they first started on construction, in the summertime they were working up at Markham Road. They said that it was so hot, and there was no water on the job site, so the cement truck would come by. That's where they would get their water to get a little bit of nourishment on a hot summer day—the dirty cement truck water.

These are the kinds of sacrifices that these men and women—the women. My mother was a seamstress on Spadina, working piecework, coming home, like many Italian mothers—we had boarders in our house. We had three or four boarders. She would come home, cook, clean, even for the boarders, and then go back to Spadina the next morning at 6 o'clock, sometimes walking home because she didn't want to spend the 12 cents for the streetcar ticket. This is the kind of people they were.

There are people from Portugal now doing the same thing, from Jamaica doing the same thing. This is what truly makes us an incredible country, an incredible province, because these people have put part of themselves into our streets, into our homes, into our buildings, our schools and into this place.

So I feel honoured being here today, being part of this incredible group of people who have called Toronto home. We're so proud of being Canadians, because Canada opened the door for us when nobody else would.

Thank you all so much for listening to us and supporting this very important resolution that really makes us all Italian Canadians today.

For the full text of the debate, click on the following link:

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This website is provided for your convenience. If you'd prefer to call or email, my staff and I would be happy to hear from you.

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