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Angelo Licari

Many Canadian Aboriginals live by the seven-generation rule, which simply means that they consider how their actions today will affect their children's children right down to the seventh generation. Some environmentalists use this idea to urge people to respect the planet. Other people live this law in terms of preserving a rich and vibrant culture for future generations.

Angelo Licari is one such person. He has dedicated his life to the continuation of Italian culture and language and has done so by building and maintaining strong family and community ties.

Angelo Licari was born in 1929 on Preston Street and lived there for the next 70 years. Born just two months after his seven-year-old brother Angelo died, he was baptized Angelo Secondo Licari. His parents would have no other children. Licari admits that as the only child he was "precious."

"They were very devoted parents and placed a great importance on promoting and preserving the Italian culture in our home," Licari says.

Licari recalls how at six-years-old he started to speak English at home and his mother said, "No, in questa casa si parla italiano."

His parents, Domenico and Paola (Belle) Licari, were community pioneers. They left their hometown of Fiumara in Reggio Calabria to come to Canada in 1912. Like many immigrants they arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, later moving to Ottawa. Also like many immigrants, Domenico first worked for the railroad. He then entered a traditional Italian industry - building - and remained in the plaster/stucco trade the rest of his life.

In 1913, Domenico helped build what would become the cornerstone of Ottawa's Italian community - St. Anthony's Church.

The Preston Street of Angelo Licari's youth had a wonderful sense of community. Perhaps it was a desire to preserve this atmosphere that motivated him to become so active in his community.

At the age of 16, he joined the Società Figli d'Italia, becoming its youngest member. The society, founded in 1907, was the first Italian Society in Canada. Many society members were pioneers of the Ottawa community, including Domenico Licari.

During the early years, Società Figli d'Italia was one of the only Italian organizations to exist; therefore, much of the job of helping new immigrants fell to it.

"Welfare and the whole social system that we have now didn't exist then," Licari explains. "We had to help each other."

At 24, Licari was elected President of the Società Figli d'Italia; he served for 18 years. This leadership position would be the first of many: President of St. Anthony's Parish Council, Vice-President of the Holy Name Society, President of the Legion of Mary, President of the Altar Boy Society, and Secretary of St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Angelo Licari helped the new Italian immigrants in many ways. He represented them at immigration hearings and appeals; he acted as a court translator; he assisted in obtaining building permits for home renovations; and, he found jobs for many. He also taught English classes at what was then Dante Academy and is now St. Anthony's School. Licari also organized over 100 dances, including the famous annual picnic, to help immigrants socialize.

Never one to wait for someone else to lead, Licari took the initiative on many projects. He initiated citizenship evenings and free income tax services. He also came up with the idea to memorialize the Societa Figli d'Italia pioneers. He arranged chauffeurs to drive the pioneers - all between the ages of 90 and 100 - to St. Anthony's Church Hall where the historical picture was taken. Afterwards, he served the pioneers brandy. The photo still hangs in the church basement.

"You've got to realize that it was pretty amazing for someone at the age of 16 to have an interest in joining such an organization," says Stella (Panetta) Licari, one of his seven children.

"I made a solemn vow to the pioneers that I would maintain, preserve and promote Italian culture," says Licari.

Licari was an altar boy at St. Anthony's Church for 15 years; the church became a "second home." He served mass every morning at 7 a.m. and then again at the Benediction in the evening. There were many priests and all three of the altars were used each morning for saying mass. Today only one altar is used. Licari remembers seeing the famous artist Guido Nincheri working on the church frescoes and says that he knew all of the people whose names appear in Nincheri's stained-glass windows.

In 1952, Angelo Licari performed a nine-week "Novena" at St. Anthony's Church.

"It's a prayer service," he explains. "If you have a special intention, you pray for this with the hope of receiving your request. I was praying for a suitable partner."

Three months later, his prayers were answered. He met Juliette McIntyre from New Brunswick and in 1954 they married. They enjoyed 48 years of marriage until Juliette died in March of 2002.

Licari explains how the couple spent their first five years of marriage living with his parents and describes the relationship as "very harmonious."

"Juliette learned everything," he says, "Italian cooking, traditions, habits and culture."

"She went to night school on her own for two years to learn Italian," Licari says proudly. "She was in every way a partner. Whatever I did, I never did it alone because I got my strength and inspiration from my beloved wife. I can't explain the emptiness I feel without her."

"I was the only child, but Juliette was from a large family of 12 and was accustomed to large family gatherings. We entertained often with Juliette playing the piano and the guests singing along. Our house was always full of joy and laughter."

On top of all the work Angelo Licari did for his community, he had a successful 40-year career with the government including the Department of External Affairs where he worked as a Foreign Service Officer. He visited over 20 countries and "had the pleasure of visiting Italy several times." In the interest of promoting international trade, he introduced Canadian business people to government officials in other countries, and escorted foreign officials and industry representatives when they visited Canada.

Without fail, Licari returned home from a trip bearing gifts: silk from Thailand, lladros (distinctive porcelain figurines) from Spain, and always jewelry for Juliette.

Now retired for the past 14 years, Licari keeps busy by spending time with hislarge family (he has seven children and 18 grandchildren), composing poetry, gardening and reading.

Angelo Licari raised his family on Preston Street, living next door to his parents and only leaving after his father died at the age of 102 in 1996. Domenico Licari was very proud of his roots and despite the changing face of Preston into a more commercial street, refused to leave. So Angelo and Juliette stayed as well.

All of Angelo Licari's family have remained in Ottawa and often meet for family gatherings.
Licari is still very involved with the community. He's a director of the Preston Street BIA (Business Improvement Association) and an enthusiastic supporter of Italian Week.

"Italian Week is very close to my heart," he says. "It's setting a good example for our children and grandchildren. It's the cultural highlight of the year and all Italians should attend with great pride."

Licari says that Villa Marconi is something else to be proud of because "it demonstrates to Ottawa that Italians are united and successful. It's a symbol of unity and strength."
"I recall my father and his friends often dreaming and talking about a Villa Marconi," says Licari.

When asked what his advice to the Italian community would be, he says: "Participate in Italian activities, keep culture fresh, buy a subscription to Italian newspapers so that you're informed of all the community events. To young people, I would say get a good education. Our's is a land of magnificent opportunity but that opportunity is only available provided you have a good education."

Angelo Licari's children have learned the lesson well - they understand how important it is to preserve their Italian heritage for future generations. Michael Licari has named his own son Angelo Terzo Licari. There is no doubt there will someday be an Angelo Settimo Licari.

By Tessa Derksen

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