The Great Guglielmo Marconi (April 1874 – July 1937)
Guglielmo was an Italian inventor and electrical engineer known for his work on long-distance radio transmission and for his development of a radiotelegraph system. He is often credited as the inventor of radio. He succeeded by building on the previous experiments preformed by predecessors.
At the turn of the 20th century, Marconi began investigating a means to signal across the Atlantic Ocean. He was able to send a message from Cornwall, England to Signal Hill in St. John’s Newfoundland on 12 December 1901, using a 500-foot (150 m) kite-supported antenna for reception. The distance between the two points was about 2,200 miles (3,500 km).
“Italian Canadians” adapted from Judge Ray Stortini
Our country is rich with Italian history and so is our town. The Guglielmo Marconi Society is a highly respected organization in the community of Sault Ste. Marie for this reason.
The first Italian to arrive in Canada arrived in Newfoundland and his name was Giovanni Caboto. He was from Genova, Italy and he arrived in Canada in 1496. His son Sebastian followed him to Canada shortly afterwards.
In the 1600’s Enrico Di Tonti, a renowned solider from the Italian peninsula, was handpicked by a man named LaSelle to come to the New World which was more commonly known as New France. Di Tonti had lost his right hand in a battle and a blacksmith fashion an iron hand for him. Thereafter, he was known as Tonti of the Iron Hand, “Tonti, Mano di Fero.” He came to Sault Ste. Marie and visited Mackinac Island and was later entrusted by LaSalle to oversee the construction of the first ship built on the Great Lakes known as the Gryphon.
Another Italian named Father Guiseppe Bressani, came to Canada at the same time as Di Tonti and was part of the Italian Jesuit Missionary. He was tortured and enslaved by the Iroquois until his freedom was bought by passing Dutch traders. A Toronto church has since built a statue in his memory.
Canadians with Italian blood are proud. We are proud of the great culture that was brought to this land many years ago and honour the efforts of those men who came before us.
The Marconi Society served as a settlement house to assist immigrants with their transition to the “New World.” The Society started one of the first group medical plans in Canada. The Society was well named after Gugelielmo Marconi who discovered the first wireless signal. It is no surprise that Italians have made a lasting impact in Canada, and in the community of Sault Ste. Marie.
This artistic Monument was a donation to the Marconi to commemorate the journey of the Italian immigrant to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and was a project that Judge Ray Stortini proudly advocated for.
“Our Society’s History” adapted from Judge I.A. Vannini: 75th Anniversary of the G. Marconi Society
At a meeting on December 14th, 1912, thirty-one steelworkers, labourers and merchants came together to form an association known as the “Societa Italiana di Mutuo Soccorso Guglielmo Marconi.” This association provided support to those immigrants who were unemployed, sick, and who were recognized as family members of recently deceased.
The logo, which was designed in 1912, is a warm, meaningful handshake that symbolizes the society’s bond of fraternity. To highlight both the pride and loyalty immigrants held for their homeland as well as the hope they held for a brighter future, the logo was designed to emphasize both the Italian and Canada flags. In a ceremony dedicated to the launch of the Marconi, Mayor William H. Munro presented the Society with a Canadian flag.
By the outbreak of the First World War the membership of the Society dwindled to twenty members and was in debt. Undaunted, the Society undertook a membership drive and, by the end of 1916, the membership increased to sixty members and the deficit was overcome. To celebrate, the Society held it’s first banquet on it’s fourth anniversary.
On May 13th, 1917, the Society was registered as a “Mutual Benefit Society” under the laws of the province of Ontario. On October 12th, 1918 the Marconi moved into it’s first home at 183 James Street located in the heart of the Italian community.
It was not until November 12th, 1931 that the Marconi moved to the building site it now occupies on 450 Albert Street West. This move was the result of an increase in membership and community support.
On February 21st, 1932, The Marconi established a new facility known as the Elettra Marconi Society for female members. Over the years, this facility raised funds for many charitable causes including the Cancer Society, the local Sault Ste. Marie Rotary Club, and the F.J. Davey Home.
As the Society began to grow in membership of both men and women, plans were made for the creation of a recreational and cultural banquet hall as well as a modern kitchen.
On July 21st 1938, a monument of Guglielmo Marconi was unveiled. It presently resides in the main lobby of The Marconi building.
During the Second World War, the Society donated an ambulance to the Canadian Red Cross which sent aid to Coventry, England. The Society was recognized for their donation with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Red Cross. Members who served in the war remained in good standing and were provided with “care” packages.
To lift morale in the community during the years of 1944 and 1945, the Society raised funds to purchase uniforms for the Sault Concert Band and supported softball, hockey, and soccer teams. A drama group was also organized by the Society to provide plays and comedic acts spoken in both the English and Italian language.
Every Saturday at the Marconi, the Italian community would participate in dances or organize card games. A badminton court was located upstairs and teams would create tournaments.
As the war ended, more Italian immigrants settled in Sault Ste. Marie and became members of the Society. On October 15th, 1982 a new complex was developed. The construction was funded by generous donations provided by local residents and from the assistance of a Wintario Lottery Grant.
Although the original founding members are now gone, they are certainly not forgotten as our Society continues to stand as a symbol of Italian ancestry, heritage, and pride.
The Challenges of the Italian Canadian
When Italian immigrants moved to Sault Ste. Marie in the 1900’s, they were surprised at the condition in which they found the area. Most felt that the living conditions were worse than those they had left behind in Italy. Mr. Guiseppe Greco, who came to the Sault in 1906, stated that the West End, at that time, was mostly bush and rocks. An old stove was used by Mr. Greco for heat, but winter conditions were very harsh. Over time, the West End became known as “Little Italy” as Italians settled around the industries and factories where they worked. During this time, men would work 10-12 hour shifts, six days a week for approximately $0.15 cents an hour. Most work at this time was done by hand. To supplement their income, Italian immigrants took in boarders.
Of the numerous challenges that the Italian immigrants faced, the language barrier proved to be one of the greatest. Since 20% of the population was Italian, two fraternal societies were created, the Marconi Society and the Sons of Italy Lodge.
James Street in 1912 was considered the commercial centre of the Italian community. Businesses that existed in this area were hardware stores, dry goods, and candy kitchens, as well as cigar shops. A macaroni factory was established by immigrant, Emilio Preteroti and many locals were pleased to visit it frequently.
In 1917 James Street was paved. Elementary schools were also built in the area including McFadden School and St. Mary’s. The schools enabled the Italian children to better assimilate and learn the English language. Two churches were also very important to the West End Community: Holy Rosary, a Roman Catholic Institution, and a Presbyterian Church.
“CENTANNI!” adapted from Past president Tony Celli
In 1996 the Society changed their membership requirements to allow members of “non-Italian” descent. In addition, the first calendar was created to inform members of upcoming events. At the same time, the first Marconi International Soccer Tournament for Senior Men and Women was organized in conjunction with the Italian Festival in the month of August. A Youth Division for boys and girls soccer was developed and, as a a result, fifty-six teams were created.
To celebrate the Italian culture in the community, the Society was awarded finances to build Bocce Courts, enhance the on-site gym facility, and cultural library by The Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Society received funding for three summer students to conduct research on the contributions of Italians to the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The Society initiated a campaign known as the “Be Part of Our Heritage” campaign which resulted in a wood carving of the geographical form of Italy that is currently displayed in our cultural centre. At the time, Italian Language classes were also offered by Tony Celli.
In 2002, a plaque honouring the founders of the Society was donated to the Marconi Society. New guidelines were drawn up to reward active members and the first meeting of the Centennial Committee was held. Under the guidance of the Honourable Ray Stortini, a historical monument to commemorate the influence of Giovanni Caboto, Enrico Di Toni, and Francesco Bressani was erected.
In 2012, the Marconi marked their 100th Anniversary and celebrated each member who made a contribution in one way or another!