A Brief History of the Maltese Canadian Community of Toronto

By: Richard S. Cumbo

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 101-103
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

By the early 19OOs a substantial number of Maltese families could be found living in downtown Toronto in the vicinity of St. Patrick's Shrine Church and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at McCaul and Dundas Street West. These facilities were used by the Maltese for their social and religious functions. An Augustinian friar, Father Alphonse Cauchi, used to visit the small MaItese community, especially during the Easter season, and deliver the missions at the church in Maltese. Malta-born Father Cauchi instilled in the Maltese the idea of building a Maltese national church.

A group of men inspired by Father Cauchi took it upon themselves to organise activities to help keep their Maltese heritage vibrant in Toronto, but most of all to solicit funds for a future Maltese Catholic church. These events also helped to stimulate and unify the small but growing Maltese community in the area. It was in September 1922, that these same men met in a house on Simcoe Street and founded the Maltese Society of Toronto. These society founders were: John Zammit, Joseph Vassallo, Sr., Anthony Scicluna, Emmanuel Borg and Anthony DeBatisse. In 1925, as a Maltese contingent, the society participated in the procession of the Holy Name Society at St. Patrick's. Father Cauchi had been the first society member, and ultimately became the society's first spiritual director. Since 1927 the society has been governed by a binding constitution, this may be one reason why it has lasted so long. It has always been a non-profit and charitable organisation.

During the 1920s, with the funds collected, the founders and members of the Maltese society were able to purchase a plot of land in west Toronto's Junction area, and with the aid of all Maltese, including the few families already living in the Junction, the first St. Paul the Apostle Maltese Church was built by the community. The histories of these two institutions were closely interwoven and for many years the society was known as "il-Kazin tal Knisja" (the club of the church). In 1934, when Toronto was celebrating its centenary, the float sponsored by the society members won first prize in the centennial parade. The trophy can be found in St. Paul's convent, at 3224 Dundas Street West.

For a while there were two Maltese communities in Toronto, the original one at McCaul and Dundas Street, and the newer one at Gilmour and Dundas Street West. It was not until the mid-forties that the majority of the Maltese could be found in the Junction area. The facilities at St. Patrick's were still being used by the downtown Maltese up until then for some events. However, the main community was well established around St. Paul's Church.

Due to the large influx of immigrants after the Second World War, a larger church was needed and the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto (MCST) (as it was now known), through its members, played an integral role in the erection of yet another new church. The cornerstone was laid in 1955, and St. Paul's Church was completed in 1956. It was due to the deep involvement of the society that the name of the club was engraved along with other benefactors, on a large stone slab at the church entrance.

Many individuals wonder why the society does not have its own premises. The main reason is that all of the money collected in earlier times was directed towards St. Paul the Apostle Church. Father Lawrence Bonavia, a Franciscan friar, will long be remembered as being the driving force behind the new St. Paul's building project. He is a life-member of the society.

Through the efforts of the MCST, money and supplies were collected for beleaguered Malta during the Second World War. Under the presidency of Angelo Cutajar, thousands of dollars were collected from across Canada by the society. The MCST was in charge of the Malta Relief Fund in Canada. Through the fifties and sixties the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto prospered. Up until the mid-seventies the society continued to serve Maltese Canadians. The membership was able to acquire the rental of a spacious club (until now the members had met in their own homes). Some of the major society events include: Miss Malta Pageant, Fiere Maltija (Fair), Carnival dance, outings to shrines, picnics, the children's Christmas party, theatrical plays and other social events. Displays promoting Malta take place throughout the year, and one is held annually at Toronto's City Hall. An immigrant aid centre, providing information about the facilities available in Toronto, also operated out of this location. The society was originally responsible for organising the Maltese Nation Day celebrations in Toronto. The community had grown immensely, and many other clubs had been founded since 1963. So in 1974 a National Day Committee was set up in which all clubs could participate in the preparations for the celebration. That committee is now known as the Federation of Maltese Organizations.

The society is governed by an executive committee elected by the membership, all volunteer workers. It also has a life-membership award, an honour bestowed upon members who have devoted hours of their time to the preservation of the organisation. The MCST is totally dependent on the proceeds from its main social events and on donations for its operating capitals. It has received grants from the federal and provincial governments. The society is mainly geared to assisting immigrants in making the transition to their new life in Canada. The works of this benevolent organisation were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1969 during the presidency of J.R. Cordina. A momentous day for all Maltese in Canada was the joyous celebration of the society's fiftieth anniversary in 1972. Thousands of Maltese Canadians converged on west Toronto to view the spectacular parade. The majority of Maltese clubs participated in the event.

The MCST suffered immensely during mid-1975 and 1976 because of mismanagement on the part of the committee. However, in April 1977 a new committee was elected and set about re-establishing the society to its former self. In May 1982 the society was incorporated. Also in 1982 it celebrated its sixtieth anniversary-over 600 individuals attended a combined Miss Malta 1983 Pageant and the sixtieth birthday celebrations. With the assistance of a Wintario grant, a sixtieth anniversary publication was produced outlining the society's history. It is hoped that one day the MCST will acquire its own permanent premises.

The west Toronto Junction has the largest community of Maltese outside of Malta. It now numbers approximately eight to ten thousand. Maltese businesses and other organisations cater to the community. The twenty-year-old Melita Soccer Club, Inc. is very active in the sports field, as well as community events. The Malta Band Club, Inc., formed in 1971, has become an integral part of the community. Recently they purchased their own premises. The Maltese Programme Fan Club is active in promoting Maltese talent and sports events. The Gozo Club, the various parish groups, Maltese Forum (a quarterly publication) the various cable television programs and Maltese radio, all help to make the Maltese community of Toronto an active and an integral part of Toronto life. It was through the community combining its efforts that a small parkette at St. John's Road and Dundas Street West was named Malta Park in recognition of the Maltese community. Along with other Maltese organisations, the Maltese-Canadian Society (the oldest Maltese association in North America) is contributing to the aspirations and goals of all Canadians.

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