Montreal's Casa d'Italia - Spiritual Home for Italians Abroad
Montreal’s Casa d’Italia was the first major commission for 25 year-old architect Patsy (Pasquale) Colangelo, born in Brooklyn, New York, of Italian parents. It would also be his most controversial. The annals of the community recount that the only parameters imposed on him were that the building be “modern” and that it be decorated with fasces. Colangelo designed a building in the Art Deco style in vogue in Italy during Mussolini’s time. The inlaid fasces in the foyer floor are preserved to this day. In addition to the money raised through thousands of donors, its construction was also made possible by the donation of the land by Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde.
When is was completed, the Casa was seen by the authorities in Rome as evidence of esteem and support for the fascist regime. The new building would be the spiritual home for Italians abroad, and soon it became a beehive of activity for members of Mussolini’s Fascist party in Canada. Cultural activities, veteran and youth group meetings, and Italian language courses were deemed by Italian authorities as opportunities to promote the ideology of Fascism. In the 1930s few in North America questioned fascism or its tactics, as the ideology stood as a bulwark against Russian Bolshevism.
But the celebrations surrounding the opening of the building on November 1, 1936 were short-lived, as the Casa was sequestered, and then occupied by the Canadian Army between 1940 and 1946. In many ways the building underwent a period of internment, much like the leaders of the community. At the beginning of 1947 when it was returned to the community, it had suffered much abuse and degradation, not unlike the Italian internees themselves. It needed more than a facelift. Many plans and projects for its renewal were put forth over the years, but none came to fruition until the one begun in 2006 and being completed this year.
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