If there’s one thing that can bring people together, that can cross cultural divides and make strangers feel like family, it’s food.
So it’s little wonder that the organizers of Italian Day on the Drive chose the theme for this year’s celebration to be “Mangiamo,” which is Italian for “Lets eat!”
“The Italian dinner table is a place for conversation, celebration and community, and we want to extend that to everyone,” explains event organizer Brunella Gaudio, executive director of the Italian Day Festival Society.
This year’s celebration takes place this Sunday, and there will be no shortage of delicious Italian food on hand. More than 150 vendors will be handing out free samples of prosciutto, salami, mortadella, cheese, olives, olive oils, and just about every other Italian food product you can think of. And if you are looking to have something a little more substantial, there will be close to 30 food trucks on hand, as well as dozens of restaurants and more than 20 street patios, and cooking demonstrations up and down the Drive.
“Italians love food, it forms a big part of our passion for life,” says Gaudio.
The celebration will stretch along Commercial Drive from Venables south to Grandview, the length of which will be blocked from traffic for the 15 block-long street party from noon to 8pm. The Drive will be turned into several pedestrian piazzas, each with their own attractions, including live opera and Tarantella folk dancing, Italian car and motorcycle exhibitions, cooking demonstrations, kids areas, crafts and sports.
This year’s event will be the first Italian Day on the Drive to celebrate the neighbourhood’s recent designation by the City of Vancouver as “Little Italy.” While many of the original Italian families who settled in the area in the post-war years have either moved on or passed on, their influence and impact on the neighbourhood is undeniable.
“It was a long time coming,” says Federico Fuoco, owner of Federico’s Supper Club at Commercial and East 1st, of the official regognition. “It pays homage to the pioneers of the Italian community.”
Fuoco grew up just around the corner from the restaurant that bears his name on East 2nd, and has seen the community change around him.
“It’s changed like the city has changed,” he says. “It was 90 per cent Italian back in the day, and that has changed. A lot of working families left for North Burnaby, Heritage Mountain in Port Moody, Westwood Plateau. But there are still a lot of Italian families and businesses here. There are businesses here that are second and third generation now.”
But one thing Commercial Drive has always been, is welcoming, and Italian Day is an opportunity for long-time residents like Fuoco to share his love for the old country.
“We celebrate life,” he says. “That’s what it means to be Italian, and that’s what people will feel on Sunday.”
And being Italian means there’s no shortage of things to celebrate.
“We’ve given a lot to the world for art and culture,” says Fuoco. “Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci. And the music! Everybody knows Volaré, everybody knows O Solé Mio, everybody knows opera. As far as food, pizza is probably the most celebrated food in the world!”
Fuoco will also be one of the dozens of musical artists performing this year at the festival’s three stages (along with his 87-year-old father Gianni).
“If you can’t go to Italy, this is the next best thing,” he says.
• For the full festival line-up, visit ItalianDay.ca
Live music line-up
East 2nd Ave Main Stage
• Federico Fuoco with his band Fire
• Singer/songwriter Carmelina Cupo with her band
• Fashion show with woman’s high fashion designs direct from Italy, courtesy of downtown boutique, Vetrina, and Kalena Shoes
• Vancouver Opera and Vancouver City Opera companies
• Cory Weeds Quartet
• Laura Crema Quartet
• Il Centro players sketch comedy
Grandview Amphitheatre Park Stage
• Langley Ukulele ensemble
• Templeton Secondary’s Theatre Temp Improv Theatre
• Luna Rossa with special guest Danilo Ciaccia from Italy
• Lou Marocco