Chris Loreto has fond memories of growing up near the Porcupine Dante Club and attending get-togethers and festivals put on by the Italian community.
As those volunteers passed on, those celebrations dwindled. So, when Loreto, a local physician, started a family of his own, he longed to bring those traditions back so that his two daughters could have good memories of growing up Italian in Timmins.
“When you travel in Italy in the summer, they always have these food festivals, they’re called ‘sagre’ and the whole community gets involved and I’ve always wanted to have that in our area,” Loreto told the Daily Press.
Enthusiasm for the first Festa Italiana in 2017 was so great, that it quickly evolved from a one to a three-day event. Loreto credits its success to his volunteers and volunteer committee, community sponsors, and their partnership with the Downtown Timmins Business Improvement Association. Loreto begins securing sponsorships as early as January.
This year’s volunteer committee is made up of Mario Ciccone, Alana Loreto, Sam Rizzuto, Elaine Mackenzie, Carmella Bos and Louis Clausi.
By coincidence, the festival’s return in July after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus coincides with the Porcupine Dante Club’s 70th Anniversary, which will be celebrated with a Saturday night gala.
“It’s a lovely way of tying everything into one weekend,” said Loreto. “Which is a celebration of the Italian culture.”
Loreto’s grandparents arrived in Timmins from Abruzzo in the early 1900s. His paternal grandfather worked in the mines and his maternal grandfather was a tailor at Steinberg and Mann. Loreto grew up in what he calls “the Italian section of town,” at the time: south of Third Avenue, between Spruce and Mountjoy.
An Italian flag-raising on Thursday, July 21 at city hall will kick off Festa Italiana 2022.
Friday night from 6 to midnight there will be a party in the parking lot of the Dante Club, with an outdoor beer garden, the club’s house-made sausages, and pizza from Francesco’s in South Porcupine. Tap It Services will be pulling Full Beard Brewing along with a selection of domestic beers.
Local multi-instrumentalist Paul Sebalj will provide live music. Sebalj is a regular at the Moneta Club and the Royal Canadian Legion, and knows how to connect with an audience, Loreto said. Luc Chalifoux, a schoolteacher by day, will be disc jockeying between sets. Admission is free. Age of majority required.
The club’s 70th anniversary gala will take place Saturday evening, with a look back at the club’s history and programming intended to reflect the various regions of Italy where club members have their roots.
For example, the eight-course meal will include a northern Italian mushroom risotto and southern favorites such as seafood platters fettuccini, and cannelloni.
Among the Dante Club’s volunteer cooks, it is the tradition that the men make the pasta and the women make the filling and assemble the cannelloni, with recipes handed down by the “nonnas” or grandmothers, who were the backbone of the club since its founding , volunteer Carmella Bos told The Daily Press.
These women also taught the club’s current head chef, Rodney Jacques, all the authentic recipes from the old country.
“We’ll probably make 600 to 800 cannelloni,” said Bos.
Toronto-based Andrea Ramolo will perform Italian music from various regions.
“She’s of Italian origin and right now she’s in Italy performing,” said Loreto. “And she’s coming across Canada. She does both Italian and Canadian music, so we thought this would be a great idea to get her from her as part of our 70th birthday from her. ”
The gala is a ticketed event.
Sunday is a big street party along Cedar Street South, featuring a beer garden, vendors from the Urban Market, children’s activities provided by Climb n’ Fun, and, of course, a spaghetti-eating contest.
Loreto said, “We’ll have various Italian foods – sausages, porchetta and meatballs, freshly-made that week by volunteers. There will be hot dogs for the children. There’ll be a pig roast. There’s also arrosticini, Italian lamb skewers, a specialty from the Abruzzo region.
“There’ll be Italian desserts, such as Italian ‘beaver tails.’ We call it pizza fritte. It’s like a beaver tail, but it was made in Italy first. When people say beaver tails, I say, ‘yeah, well we did it first.’”
Amateur dancing and singing will emanate from the main stage all of Sunday afternoon. The local line-up includes: The Dante Club choir, Paul Sebalj, The Timmins Big Band, the Nancy Floreani Dancers, and Tony Kos. The Italian Stallions (Hector Ciccone on accordion and Dominic Colantonio on vocals) will be performing various Italian favourites.
Loreto appears to have succeeded in instilling a sense of cultural identity in his two daughters. His daughter Kirsten will be performing traditional Italian songs on Sunday, and his other daughter is volunteering, “After she was told she has to,” Loreto said.
The day will culminate with a draw for a $1,600 Traeger barbecue, donated by J&B Cycle and Marine.
Sunday’s festival will run from noon to 6 pm Admission is free.
Festa Italiana 2022 takes place from July 22 to 24, rain or shine. Tickets for the Saturday night gala will be available in early June by calling, 1-705-264-3185.