Contributions from the Community
Photo Credits: Christmas shopping at Dundas and Richmond Sts., December 24, 1954 (LFP Coll) ,The London Free Press Collection of Photographic Negatives, Archives and Special Collections, Western Libraries, Western University, London, Canada
A Reflection on the Achievements of the London Italian-Canadian Community
[Originally delivered at the Italian Canadian Archives Project Annual Conference, Western University, 2016]
By Pasquale Palombo
January 25, 2021
It was a mid-September day a few years ago that I was summoned, for the fourth
time, to appear in court on jury duty, and with my luck I was selected as one of the
jurors. During these 3 days, we were ordered from time to time to recess in a room
on the 14th floor, and discuss the findings of the case we were called to witness and
eventually reach a verdict.
It was during these breaks that I had the opportunity to admire the astonishing
beauty of a London I had never witnessed before. In fact, looking through the
windows so high above ground, I had a bird's eye view of Labatt’s Park baseball
diamond on the right, the forks of the Thames on the left, and next to it, the Art
Gallery, Museum London. Just past these 3 landmarks, a canopy of green that
extended almost to the horizon and engulfed the rest of the city in bucolic scenery.
I saw it under sunny skies, under the rain and the following sunny breaks but my
awe never changed and if anything, it made me realize why our London is also
recognized appropriately as "The Forest City." In what the famous 20th century
English composer Edward Elgar might have called a "land of hope and glory." It was
here that a great number of people from our motherland decided to anchor
themselves down and start a new chapter in their lives.
I would refer to these people as the pioneers of our community. People who brought
with themselves all those essential human values: honesty, integrity, and most
importantly, the values of hard work, the ability to save money, spirit of self-denial,
but above all else, love and total commitment to the family. That has always been
the pillar of our civilization; virtues and principals "allattate dal seno materno."
In many cases, these were illiterate or semi-illiterate individuals whom, despite all
odds, had refused all compromise of a meager and less than honorable existence to
provide an opportunity for a better life to their children and grandchildren.
As the ancient Romans used to say: "ubi panis, ibi patria" which means "where it
is/well, there is one’s country." It would also be worthwhile to inconvenience the
great Dante Alighieri that in his Divina commedia (Inferno) asserts: "Fatti non foste
a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza" ["not to exist like brutes, but
made were ye to follow virtue and intelligence"]. (From "Italian Roots and Canadian
Blossoms" of Arcangelo Martino).
They chose to come to a country whose languages and culture they didn't know, a
country practically inhabitable during its frigid winter months, and they were
prepared to endure humiliation and racist epithets due to their diversity. They
accepted the humblest of works, they worked long hours, in many cases working
more than 1 job, and on occasion they walked and covered considerable distances to
reach their workplace. None of these difficulties diminished their commitment, nor
undermined their determination to progress and achieve their goals. In many cases,
and despite the lack of basic education, they showed a remarkable forward-thinking
ability to inspire their children by impressing upon them the importance of
schooling and higher education.
Therefore, I deemed it necessary to draft a list of commendable Italian-Canadians or
Canadians from Italian descent, who through their hard work and dedication, made
an invaluable contribution in many fields towards the betterment of our city and our
society at large.
- Orlando Zamprogna - elected in 1970
- Served as deputy mayor to 3 mayors: Jane Bigelow, Al Gleeson, Tom Gosnell
- Anne Marie De Cicco - Best- 60th and longest serving mayor of London.
- Took office on December 4th, 2000 to November 30, 2010. First elected to city council in 1991 in ward 5. Elected to board of control and deputy mayor to Dianne Hasket
- Joe Fontana - Liberal MP from 1987 to 2006.
- Mayor of London from 2010 to his conviction for fraud and forgery in 2014.Sentenced to house arrest (4 months) and 18 months of probation.
- Frank Mazzilli - elected on June 3, 1999 to September 2, 2003.
- Was parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation under Tim Hudak - Parliamentary assistant to solicitor general
- Roger Caranci - Was councilor for 3 terms.
- Ran unsuccessfully for Liberal MPand then for mayor
- Fred Tranquilli - Elected councilor in the 1997 - 2000 election in ward 3 and again in 2000-2003.
- From 2006 to present, partner with Lerners LLP
- Irene Mathyssen - MPP of Ontario from 1990 - 1995 and briefly served as Minister in the Government of Bob Rae.
- Of Italian descent
- She was elected MP in 2006 in the London Fanshawe riding and was subsequently re-elected in 2008, 2011, and 2015
- Bishop Ronald Peter Fabbro - Born November 6th , 1950 in Sudbury Ontario.
- Appointed April 27th, 2002.
- March 9th , 2016 Elected President of the Assembly (ACBO)
- Julian Fantino - Former chief of Police in London and Toronto and former
- Canadian politician for the PC party.
- Elected MP for the riding of Vaughn November 29th, 2010 until his
- defeat in 2015.
- Tony Dagnone - President and CEO of London Health Science Centre
- Appointed Board Chair of the Ontario Hospital Association in 1992
- Was granted the Order of Canada for his community work and leadership in healthcare
- In 2003, was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal
- Retired on December 31st, 2005 after 38 years of distinguished career in healthcare
- Dr. Rolando Del Maestro - Received his medical degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1973
- His PHD in Bio-chemistry from the University of Uppsala (Sweden in1979)
- Director of Brain Research, Laboratories from 1981–2000
- In 1991 became professor of Neurosurgery
- In 2000 was recruited by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University
- Was awarded the first McGill Neurological Teaching Award
- He retired in 2012 and is now focusing on surgical simulation using neuro-touch platform.
Some of the most successful people in the local construction industry are also Italian and have contributed to the changing shape of our city's skyline. Most notably:
- The Tri car Group, President Joe Carapella
- Southside Group - President Vito Frijia
- He is also president and owner of the London Lightening basketball team
- Dom us Developments London Inc. - family owned
- Specializing mostly in award-winning residential condominium projects
- Claude Pensa: Founder and Partner of London legal practice Harisson Pensa LLP
In conclusion, as you might have noticed, our Italian-Canadian community of
London Ontario has vastly contributed and distinguished itself in the promotion of
family values while actively participating in the social, political, economic, religious,
and law and order aspects of our society. At this point I would dare say, except for
the traditional English speaking countries (namely, England, Scotland, Ireland, and
Whales) no other ethnic group has achieved such success. In fact the 20 year period
between 1990 and 2010 represented the apogee in our history. Since members of our
community occupied all key posts at every level, that is especially at the political
level, where we had representatives in the municipal government with Roger
Caranci; provincially we had Frank Mazzilli, and to top it all off, Anne Marie De Cicco
was elected mayor of London; and let us not forget that Reverend Peter Ronald
Fabbro was appointed Bishop of London and Windsor and Julian Fantino was hired
as London Chief of Police. And this is why we might confidently say that our success
has been unequalled, unparalleled and unprecedented. And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the reason why we like to call London, Ontario, the Forest City, our home.