Looking back at Vancouver’s original Italian Pioneers

Posted by Lia on August 26, 2015

“It’s a bit surreal to see this project finally come to fruition, but it’s been great,” says Angela Clarke, il Centro’s Museo* Curator, who has been tirelessly working on coordinating this exhibit amongst other events for the past two years. The exhibit, entitled “Società degli Emigrati:** The History of Italian Canadians in Vancouver,” is part of Performigration, a global, European Union project spanning over 5 countries and 16 cities.

The exhibit is comprised of photos from the Ray Culos Family Archives and Photos Collection. Ray, the extremely knowledgeable community historian, did the research and was the foundation for the exhibit.

Photos on display included the three main pillars of the Italian community in Vancouver: the Sacred Heart Church, the Silver Slippers (a social venue) and the Italian Cultural Centre. In addition, there were photos of prominent and influential mutual aid societies, showing a glimpse of what the social activities (and outfits) used to be.

“It surprises me how many people could identify a relative in these photos,” Ray exclaims. “These are photos of the original ‘Italian pioneers’ in BC, who, without their hard work, we would not be where we are today (as a community).”

The story of one photo in particular was pointed out: an image of Angelo Colori, a patriarch of the Italian community in Vancouver during the late 19th/early 20th century. The photo was taken circa 1905, and he’s on his horse, in front of the famous 600 year old “hollow tree” in Stanley Park. At the time, Italians would flock to the park, dressed up in their best attire to take a photo with the tree. This photo would later be mail to Italy to the family there who would be asking, “I wonder how they are making out in America…”

The exhibit is part of a week-long series of events in Vancouver, including a video presentation in collaboration with VIVO Media Arts Centre, a national conference in partnership with ICAP, an event with the Collingwood-Renfrew community, and a digital arts series. As a whole, the series looks at what it means to be part of an immigrant community, the impact of immigration, and at the same time, the shift in Italian identity amongst the generations over a long period of time.

The exhibit will be housed at il Centro’s Museo until October 30th. For more information on Performigration, visit www.performigrations.eu.

*Definition: Museum

**Definition: The Society of Immigrants

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