Italian Cultural Centre open house celebrates 70 years in Calgary

Generations of families in Calgary's Italian community have underpinned the Italian Cultural Centre's longevity, member say

The Italian Cultural Centre, in Calgary on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The Calgary Italian Cultural Centre is opening their doors this weekend, inviting Calgarians to take in the sights, sounds, and tastes of Italy.

The open house is also celebrating the centre’s 70th year in the city.

Linda Blasetti, who served formerly as the president of the centre, said that the open house would be a re-introduction to the wider Calgary community.

“We’re hoping that as Calgarians attend the event, they’ll have a good taste of Italian culture from the dancers, choir, various musicians, good foods—spaghetti and meatballs—and just get a sense of what the Calgary Italian Cultural Centre means in the heart of the city,” she said.

Blasetti said that you don’t have to be Italian to be a member. The centre invites all people through it’s doors.

“We invite Calgarians to come and join us at any time, not just this coming weekend, but at anytime. Have a nice meal, have a glass of wine, you know, there’s numerous events throughout the year that anyone can join,” she said.

She said that whether visitors stayed for five minutes, or for the entire day, they would get a great opportunity to experience a celebration of both the centre’s longevity, but also what the centre has to offer.

On Sept. 23, the centre will be hosting a 70th anniversary dinner featuring among the many choices, proscutio e melone, traditional cecchetto beef and pork lasagna, veal pizzaiola, filetto di sogliola alla mandorla, and torta Italiana.

On Saturday, the centre’s open house will be featuring Bocce lessons, performances by the Calgary Crescendo Choir, Calgary Italian Dancers, Opera Diva’s, activities for kids, and of course Italian food and drink. The open house is free to attend.

Hidden gem of Italian culture and cuisine

Mario Toneguzzi, a member of the centre’s board, said that one of the little known facts was that the centre hosts a number of different clubs, sporting leagues, a choir, and even a school.

Toneguzzi said that one of the real hidden gems in the city was the La Cantina Restaurant that operates out of the basement of the centre.

“I called it the hidden gem, and it truly is an incredible place to to experience experience real good authentic Italian food in such a great environment.”

“It truly is a fantastic experience.”

Toneguzzi laughed about being able to watch some Bocce while eating, as players use the centre’s indoor lanes.

“And if you’re lucky the Bocce lanes are not being taken so you can play,” he said.

The Bocce leagues are one of the centre’s most popular attractions throughout the year, with Men’s and Women’s leagues that run from October through May. The centre also has a mixed league that runs in May and June.

Blasetti called La Cantina one of the best Italian restaurants in Calgary, that is part of one of the premiere locations for events outside of the hotel industry.

“We’ve got a beautiful hall that has hosted numerous weddings of non-Italian families. It’s a premier location,” she said.

Continued relevance to Italian community

Blasetti said that generations of families have volunteered to make the Calgary Italian Cultural Centre a success.

“It’s a rich history in the sense that it’s an army of volunteers really, who have made this work,” she said.

“There’s certainly multi-generational families who are still involved today—four generations who have served in leadership roles at the various regional organizations.”

The centre began in the city as the Calgarian Italian Club, and the Calgary Italian School.

She said that the centre has changed many times over the years. It has persisted because of its ability to adapt. The current desire for the centre, said Blasetti, is to reach out to the younger generations within the Italian community.

“It’s a home for many, in a sense. The challenge will be to encourage our young families to see it the same way,” Blasetti said.

“It was a gathering place when the immigrants were first arriving. It was a place of camaraderie and shared language, and shared concerns as immigrants.”

A continuity of heritage

The continued importance of the centre is that it maintains that heritage, she said.

“We’re constantly talking with these young people to say, ‘come, come bring the children,’ and let them know that this is where their grandparents and their great grandparents were—but bring your friends.”

Toneguzzi cited the strength of the community, and the strength of leadership over the years for the continued relevance of the centre.

“I think a lot of the cultural clubs do struggle to stay stay afloat and to stay relevant, even within their own communities. A lot of that is economic, it can be how many people are part of the community anymore,” he said.

“To have something like the Italian Centre, that has not only survived all the challenges, but has thrived in many ways, it is quite an accomplishment.”

For more details on the Calgary Italian Cultural Centre, and the open house, see www.calgaryitalianculturalcentre.com.

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