Casa d’Italia, iconic Little Italy landmark in dire need of financial help

Click to play video: 'Casa d’Italia looks for helping hand' Casa d’Italia looks for helping hand
WATCH: A cornerstone of Montreal's Italian community is in desperate need of a financial boost. As Global's Gloria Henriquez reports, the Casa d'Italia is looking to the community to help – May 14, 2018

A cornerstone of the Italian community is in desperate need of help.

Casa d’Italia, a landmark of Little Italy, is looking for a financial boost to stay afloat.

They are $2 million deep in debt and they are turning to the community to bring the Casa back to its glory days.

President of Casa D’Italia, Gino Berretta, says he owes so much to the centre, including his first job.

“So my father said to me, ‘I got a job through Casa d’Italia, go to the Casa d’Italia, see Mrs. Corbo and apply for a job,” Berretta recalled.

Now that the Casa d’Italia is in trouble, Berretta says it’s time to give back.

“I owe Casa d’Italia a favour right?”

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Berretta has taken on the task of helping raise the money needed to keep the Casa afloat.

The centre got in debt after it built an extension five years ago but is now at risk of losing the building.

“That will never happen, that will never happen, I will give Gino Berretta’s word that that will never happen,” Berretta said.

Casa d’Italia was home away from home for the thousands of Italian immigrants landing in Montreal.

It was a place of celebration and of solidarity — helping newcomers build a life in their new country.

Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives. Casa d'Italia
Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives.
Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives.
Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives.
Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives.
Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives.
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Pictures from Casa d'Italia's archives.

“I’m happy that my dad got a job here through the Casa d’Italia because if my dad wouldn’t have got a job here, I wouldn’t be in Canada and I wouldn’t have the great life that I had,” Berretta added.

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The centre was established in the 1930’s. Italian-Montrealers got together and with donations ranging from 10 cents to $100, they erected what quickly became a cornerstone of their community.

“It was the workers who used to come after hours and build the Casa d’Italia stone by stone, brick by brick. So this Casa really belongs to them, to the community,” said the centre’s director, Marisa Celli.

But in recent years, the Casa’s shine has worn down.

Dwindling membership and difficulty engaging the younger generations have placed a toll on their finances.

The centre is hoping their fundraising campaign will help them pay their bills and build programs that will attract new members.

The community has already received $550,000 through donations and is hoping to raise $3 million.

“We want to use some of that money to renovate our kitchen so we can offer cooking classes and maybe the Italian cuisine so that the younger generation can learn about what it was to cook Italian,” Celli explained.

The money will also help organize the centre’s archives, important pieces of Italian-Montrealer’s history.

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From Guido Nincheri sketches to hundreds of old newspapers, they are things that Berretta says keep their heritage alive.

“This is our home,” Berretta said. “In 1936, Camillien-Houde, the former mayor of Montreal donated the land to us — it’s natural history here, nobody is going to let this building go.”

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