As if part of a master plan a heavy blanket of snow was part of the scenery for the kick-off of Edmonton’s “Winter in Little Italy” celebration in this colourful north side community. The 30 centimeters of snow that fell over the weekend was likely more than event organizers had expected but added an authentic touch to the festivities.

The Little Italy area extends from 107 Avenue in the South to 118 Avenue in the North, and between 97 and 93 Streets and traces its Italian roots trace back to an immigrant influx between the end of World War II and the 1970’s but it was the 1958 opening of Santa Maria Goretti Church that really solidified the enclave as Italian. A street arch welcomes visitors with ‘benvenuti‘ on one side and wishes them goodbye with ‘ciao‘ on the other.

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At Little Italy’s modern heart is a number of family-owned businesses including the Italian Bakery and the Italian Centre Shop where fresh pasta, prosciutto and deli meats are served in the largest deli in Western Canada.

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The competing aromas from the bakery, cafe and deli make this a wonderful place to linger and soak up the sights, sounds and smells especially on a cool Winter afternoon.

Just outside the store chestnuts roasting on an open fire had me humming the lyrics to this familiar holiday song.

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Just across from the Italian Centre Shop is a seated life-size bronze statue of its founder Frank Spinelli who emigrated from a small town near near Salerno, Italy in 1951 eventually settling down in Edmonton to open a store in 1959 offering authentic Italian goods to other recent arrivals to Canada.  Over the decades until his passing in 2000 due to cancer Spinelli grew to become a pillar of both the Italian community and the city of Edmonton and was posthumously elected to the Alberta Business Hall of Fame in 2013. The snow obscures his hands which hold cards as he’s depicted playing his favourite card game Scopa, one of two major national card games in Italy.

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The Spinelli statue sits in Giovanni Caboto Park named for the Italian-born explorer and navigator that settled in England and we know by his anglicized name John Cabot whose second voyage in 1497 made him the first European to explore the coast of Newfoundland since the Vikings some 500 years prior.

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The park was originally called Patricia Square Park named for Princess Patricia, the daughter of Canada’s Governor General, Prince Albert, the Duke of Connaught, and patron of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry but in 1981 the local Italian community requested a change in the name to better represent its neighbourhood and culture.

Horse drawn sleigh rides took visitors along Church Street, a stretch of 96th Street that’s home to a dozen different churches, cathedrals and temples. The City of Edmonton in 2017 took the first step toward establishing this area as a historical and cultural destination by preserving current buildings through restrictive zoning bylaws.

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Edmonton’s Little Italy is worth visiting year ’round however it’s especially festive ahead of Christmas so well worth an afternoon detour and evening meal. My visit proved to be a timely antidote to the bland big box stores and generic shopping malls that occupy so much retail space in the city and it was refreshing to stroll the street sampling the goods at a number of family owned and operated businesses and feeling the sense of community that still exists in this corner of the capital.