Corriere Canadese

"Fathers build, sons demolish" - Elio Costa

TORONTO - June 2 is Republic Day in Italy, a national holiday celebrating the end of the Monarchy and the founding of post WW2 Italy. Its constitution is a beautiful, even noble and moving document, written by a generation of Italians who had fought Fascism, many of them at the cost of prison and exile.
Article One of that constitution states that "Italy is a democratic country based on work". It goes on to state that "Sovereignty belongs to the people".
A few years later, in the now distant 1951, my father came to the bitter realization that, noble principles notwithstanding, there was not enough of the former (work). For him, the exercise of the second (sovereignty) was no longer instrumental in putting food on the table, or in providing a future for his three sons, of which I was the youngest.
As thousands did thousands of others, he made the hard decision to emigrate. He never complained about the harsh conditions of working in construction in a climate like Ontario’s; nor of his struggle with the language for a man already close to 50, and with only a grade 3 education.
In this he was perhaps not unique. Like many of his generation, who had known hardship, war, unemployment, and much more, he had a hope for a better future. As happened he, did not enjoy much of a future, and died before even being able to enjoy his old age pension.
Today is June 2, and I have just come back from Queens’s Park, the seat of the Ontario legislature, where Italian Heritage Month was opened with a very dignified ceremony before a large group of proud Italian Canadians. In attendance were many politicians, some of whom are the sons, and daughters, and perhaps even the grandchildren of those who, like my father made the often heart-wrenching decision to leave the towns and villages where they were born.
Flags of Canada and of Italy flew side by side, national anthems of both countries were sung. Speeches were made in praise and celebration of the Italian contribution to the city, the province, the country. All quite true, all beautiful. Italians have won praise for their contributions in many fields of life in this country, in ways that were unimaginable to those of my father’s generation.
 It was a fine sunny day, and it was all quite beautiful. 
While I listened to the speeches celebrating Italian culture, Italian cuisine, Italian art and artists, and entrepreneurs, I could not help thinking about my father, long gone from this world, and all those who, like him, literally built the foundations for all this pomp and celebration in the cold, muddy wintry days of sixty plus years ago.
I can drive through entire neighbourhoods from Downsview to Scarborough to Ajax in which he and thousands of others like him, were driven to their jobs in the open back of half-ton trucks. Many of the sons of those construction workers have become rich beyond their fathers’ dreams, I thought.
And I could not help also thinking of something else Italians built in Toronto: the Columbus Centre, Villa Colombo, Caboto Centre, Casa Del Zotto and the cultural and social assistance hub for the elderly in the heart of the Italian community in Metro Toronto, in the Lawrence - Dufferin area.
The Columbus Centre, for those who care for something more than money, is where Italian Canadians gravitate when they feel the need to speak and hear Italian spoken. It has a beautiful big hall, a large art gallery, and a good Italian restaurant named after Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the three "crowns" of Italian literature, with Dante and Petrarch. And it has open space, and trees, where in the summer the residents of the homes for the aged can enjoy the open air.
And now an indignity, a veritable betrayal of the community, is being planned by the very people who have been put in a position of trust, the members of the Board of Villa Charities, which runs the Columbus Centre, and the Home for the Aged. These “trustees” propose to literally tear down and destroy the heritage built with the contribution of past generations.
This is being planned, plotted and presented as an improvement. The plan is to rebuild a much-reduced Columbus Centre, integrating it with a High School proposed by the Toronto Catholic District School Board, another rebuild of the existing Dante Alighieri Academy. Why?
The cloud of bad faith hovering over this operation is startling, given the fact that the Province provided the money for a new school years six ago. Why did the TCDSB wait years to bring this project forward now? The answer seems obvious once one looks at the Official City Plan:
Part of the area now open space is slated for the construction of apartment towers containing up to 3,000 apartments. If the proposal is accepted, the Lawrence - Dufferin intersection will be one of the busiest and most congested in the city, adding at least another 3000 - to 5000 people to the area.
 To underscore the bad faith with which the members of the Villa Charities Inc have come to choose as their trademark, the Developer has short-circuited any attempt by the community to study and comment on the proposal. It has applied directly to the Ontario Municipal Board to expedite the process. This would circumvent even a planned meeting of the North York Council, called for June 13, to consider a motion to name the Columbus Centre a Heritage Site. 
This why I came away from the celebrations of "Italianità" at Queen’s Park with mixed feelings. Who gains by this operation? Certainly not the Community: certainly not the members of the Columbus Centre who will see their facilities and space much reduced, and certainly not the residents of the homes for the aged who will be deprived of the enjoyment of the open spaces.
Those who will gain will be those who have learned nothing from their elders, and who have nothing to hand down to their offspring. 
Driven by a sterile greed for the almighty dollar, with total disregard for transparency, and communicating through lawyers and planners, these new, unscrupulous “barbarians” will have broken all links with the values and principles of a "job well done" which motivated the real builders of the community – their fathers.  
Elio Costa

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Elio Costa