Kelowna Italian club changing with the times to remain strong | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna Italian club changing with the times to remain strong

A Kelowna Italian Club cooking class held prior to the pandemic.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Kelowna Italian Club
January 31, 2021 - 3:31 PM

With an aging membership, Kelowna’s Italian club has pivoted in recent years to cater to those interested in their own ancestry and who want to make delicious Italian food and learn the language.

The club’s 55th anniversary is this year and like many cultural clubs and associations, it's concerned for a loss of the culture. Club president Rosann Nanci said the club is attracting a new generation through language, food classes and history.

“Prior to COVID, that is definitely a situation all cultural clubs were dealing with. (Membership) kind of comes in waves depending on the wave of immigration. Like for Italians, for example, a majority of them came in the (1950s to 70s) so that group has remained tight and social. Their children, like me, followed in their parents’ footsteps but we don’t socialize in the same way,” she said.

Kelowna's first Italian club on a picnic in 1938.
Kelowna's first Italian club on a picnic in 1938.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Rosann Nanci

Kelowna’s first Italian club was formed in 1938 and had roughly 75 members. It disbanded after the Second World War because of the negative feelings towards Italians during the war, and the first clubhouse, located at Casorso Road and Gordon Drive, sold in the mid-50s, Nanci said.

In 1966, the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club was officially founded, with some of the members of the older club as well as new immigrants. At the time there was no clubhouse, so everyone socialized in everyone else's house. Their first banquet was at the Capri Hotel that year and Nanci estimated they would have had 50-60 people involved during that time.

Now, about a third of the current Italian club membership is from the older generation and it has roughly 250 members, but Nanci noted there are others that participate in club activities that aren’t members.

“When we did (Kelowna Folkfest)… it’s the new immigrant groups that are the most dynamic because they still have ties to their home country," she said. "It’s clubs like ours... where the people have been here for quite some time and the next generation and second and third-generation have come in that it’s problematic and I think if any club is going to survive they’re really going to figure out to make it relevant and change.”

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They no longer hold dinners and dances every month because that was a social occasion from the previous generation. But cooking and language classes geared towards adults are open to everyone and the club has created an Italian book and film library for those looking to learn more about the language and history.

Out of 10 current board members, five are now first-generation Canadians, Nanci said.

“We’ve had to look at what is interesting to that particular age group so we’ve switched some of our programming to accommodate that new demographic," she said. “I think people are still interested in their culture. I think they’re still interested in anything Italian but we have to look at it from a different angle, not just a social, but more a cultural (one) and we’re finding with those classes we are getting people of a younger generation coming in. Maybe they want to learn the language because they want to do some travelling, maybe they want to learn about Italian art and history. Maybe they’ve taken courses in university and they want to keep up." 

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Events have been cancelled since March 2020 for the club, but they continue to offer language classes online and are looking for an online application to continue the cooking classes amid the pandemic.

“Change is inevitable and if you take advantage of those changes, people will be around for a while. I think people are still interested in their culture, they just want it to be of something of interest to them in some way,” Nanci said.

About two years ago, the club started a genealogy group, which allows younger generations interested in their history to learn about their ancestors. Italians have been here since the 1850s, Nanci said, and the group holds presentations and virtual projects that showcase Kelowna's pioneer Italian families.

In June, they highlighted a Kelowna Italian family each day on social media for Italian History Month.

“People are really interested in their ancestry, where did they come from? Why did they leave and why did they settle here? So that’s been a really interesting part that our members are working on,” Nanci said.

To learn more about Kelowna’s Italian club, visit their website or Facebook page.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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