A Legacy

The History of Festitalia

It was in 1975....

When Frank Raso, Received A Call From The Then Manager Of The Eaton's Store, Roy Walker...

"Frank", he said, "I was given your name by the Vice Consul of Italy, Dr. Barolo". Frank listened, "My name is Roy Walker from Eaton's. I have just returned from a business trip in Italy…I want to meet with you to see if we can collaborate with the Italian community to promote Italian culture".

Eaton's fell in love with everything Italian...

They probably had some help from Lady Eaton herself as Frank recalls meeting her at her home in Toronto; "she loved Italian culture". Frank became the Chair and helped to establish a committee comprised of ten individuals from the Sons of Italy and ten team members from Eaton's.

The ten-day event was fully supported and funded by Eaton’s with Frank, along with his friends, Peter Cicchi and Nick Zaffiro coordinated the many events that made up the “Italian Affair”.

The Results were outstanding...

The Italian community in Hamilton fondly embraced it and over the 10 days many events and activities were held which included: 40-mile Bicycle Race, Fashion Show with fashions from Italy, and musicians from Italy also came to perform. Hamiltonians became Italian during this time period as there was something going on every day inside of Eaton’s and around Hamilton too.

Festitalia is born!

Festitalia was born in 1976 following the great success of the “Italian Affair”, and its first chair was, of course, Mr. Frank Raso. Frank surrounded himself with leaders in the community, Italians and non-Italians who shared the same love for the culture.

Among the earliest Board members were television and media personality, Emilio Mascia, Sam M. Cino and Frank Attardo along with former Mayor of Hamilton, Bob Morrow, Spectator Editor, Gord Bullock and Conductor, Boris Brott.

Something for everyone...

Festitalia 1976 was planned to invite Hamiltonians of all backgrounds to participate in a festival organized by Italians who are proud of their heritage and created an opportunity to share the heritage with fellow Canadians and contribute to the quality of life in a country that provided individuals of Italian background with opportunities to build a good life.

Some events that took place in 1976 included:  the first VINO  & AMORE  at James St. Armouries planned for the whole family to sample Italian dishes & music;  Hamilton Ticat Game half-time Italian show at Ivor Wynne Stadium; various live music events which included an opera production that came from Opera House in Rome that involved over 200 members that included stage hands, set workers, performers and orchestra, for a Hamilton performance of Barber of Seville.

A Community of Support

Over the 49 years, Festitalia has had many supporters and partners to help it deliver its program and activities in the community. Throughout this time long term partners have been The City of Hamilton and Fortino’s. Other corporate supporters have included The Hamilton Spectator and the Dofasco Employee Fund. The Regional Italian Clubs and all their volunteers have been significant contributors to Festitalia activities helping to showcase the diverse regions of Italy.

Incredible Partners

To help the organization with its sustainability over the years there have been legal and accounting partners to support efforts. These include: Nick Zaffiro of Agro Zaffiro; Bruno Bagoli of MacGillvray Partners; Lou Celli of Grant Thorton; Vince Raso of KPMG. From our faith leaders: Bishop Tonnos and Bishop Crosby, one of whom have been part of every year’s celebrations; From our honorary chairs in the past Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, who loved every event he attended and the late Fern Viola.

Music is an important part of Italian culture and sincere appreciation and thanks go to all current and past members of the Festitalia Musicians, Sons of Italy Choir, Abruzzese Choir, and The Hamilton Italo-Canadian Band who have contributed to Festitalia activities over the years.

Hamilton's Leaders

Other significant partners that have supported Festitalia over the years include the many elected officials from local, provincial and federal governments from all political parties. Some that have had long-standing participation the late Mayor Bob Morrow, David Christopherson and Tom Jackson. All governmental leaders recognized the importance for Hamilton citizens of Italian descent to celebrate their roots and contributions to growing the quality of life for Canadians and Hamiltonians.

49 Years

In 2024, Festitalia celebrates 49 years of evolution, always focused on its mission “to develop and promote Italian culture and heritage with the community-at-large in Hamilton.  

It is a year to Celebrate the Past while embracing the future as Festitalia 2022 Board of Directors launch a new extended Festitalia Program! Programming will include both in-person and virtual events throughout the year.

Conversation With Frank Raso

Steven Zecchin sat down with Frank Raso to get his first hand account on the origins of Festitalia.

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