As the hub of Vancouver’s Italian-Canadian community, Commercial Drive is a great place to walk, shop, people-watch, or just enjoy a nice cup of coffee on a patio.
It’s also a great place for a festa, as this Sunday (June 10), the street will be alive with Italian food, fun, and entertainment for the third annual Italian Day on the Drive.
“It celebrates our Italian culture and heritage, and pays homage to the pioneering businesses on Commercial Drive,” says Federico Fuoco, president of the Italian Day Festival Society.
A true renaissance man, Fuoco is also on the board of the Commercial Drive Business Society, and the owner of Federico’s Supper Club, where he’s not only the impresario but also the star performer.
Having earned his musical chops at the legendary Luigi’s Moka Ristorante (where his father, Giovanni, was bandleader and chef), Fuoco has a long history with Commercial Drive, and strong ties to the local Italian community. It’s a familiar story within the tightly knit group.
“You have all these Canadians of Italian heritage who have taken over the family businesses,” he explains, mentioning such multi-generational enterprises as Kalena Shoes, run by the D’Onofrio family (who also have a wine-importing firm) and the diverse stores of the Grippo family empire, which have included over the years a TV shop, a gelateria, a wine bar, and the ever-popular Continental Coffee .
“There’s this kind of rebirth now, a new wave,” Fuoco says happily. “The children are taking over—adapting, renewing, and refreshing things.”
This new excitement also extends to celebrating, if the jam-packed schedule of events for Italian Day is any indication. On Sunday, things start at 9 a.m., as Italy plays archrival Spain in the Euro Cup tournament, with the game televised live in cafes and restaurants along the street. Then, from noon until 8 p.m., Commercial Drive will be closed to traffic from Venables to the Grandview Cut, and the real fun begins.
A stage at 2nd Avenue and Commercial will offer a wealth of live entertainment, including both singing Fuocos—Federico and father Giovanni—as well as local singer-songwriter Carmelina Cupo, City Opera Vancouver, and a number of up-and-coming youth singers. An additional stage at Grant Street and Commercial will showcase Italian folklore dancers, plus a series of fun (and undoubtedly hilarious) contests, such as grape stomping, spaghetti-eating, pizza-tossing, and watermelon-eating.
The festival will also feature a bocce court for those who’d like to give the traditional Italian game a try; a Little Italy Kids Zone at Grandview Park; an Italian car and motorcycle display; miniature Formula One cars; Roman Legionnaires mingling with the crowd; and an autograph session with former Vancouver Whitecap Carl Valentine.
Then, of course, there’s the food. With restaurants and cafes from one end of Commercial Drive to the other, Italian Day will offer up the most delicious food that Italy has to offer, from pastas and sausages to confections like cannoli and tiramisu. Local Italian-Canadian organizations such as the Calabrese Cultural Association, the Famiglia Balognese Society, the Confratellanza Italo-Canadese, and the Civitanovese Society will also be on hand, cooking up Italian delicacies that will tempt any palate.
For Fuoco, the day will be a chance for him to do what he loves—sharing his culture with all of Vancouver. “It’s a chance to celebrate all things Italian,” he says with obvious excitement, “and for everyone to be Italian for one day.”