Intergenerational cultural sharing, with a side of gnocchi

In the last century, plenty has changed about cultural attitudes towards Italians in Canada. While they no longer face widespread discrimination, Italian-Canadians once faced intense levels of prejudice. So as Italian culture becomes more accepted in the country over time, what role does an Italian cultural club have in 2024?

For Gordon Hotchkiss, co-chair of the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club (KCIC) heritage committee, there are many good answers to that question. He says organizations like KCIC are in a unique cultural position to share the importance of diversity with others. At the same time, the club looks to offer a space to the
city’s Italian-Canadian community to come together and celebrate their culture.

“Our president Rosann [Nanci] says it’s like coming to a big Italian wedding. You come to one of our dinners, everyone knows everyone,” says Hotchkiss. “Organizations like ours continue to promote multiculturalism and diversity and the importance of that, and the lessons that can be learned from it. I think that’s also something we want to carry forward.”

Changing with the times

Kelowna Canadian Italian Club members film for an upcoming documentary series on Italian contributions to Okanagan irrigation and railway systems. | Photo courtesy of the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club.

Founded in the 1960s, KCIC was originally created as a support network and community space for Italian new arrivals, but plenty has changed since then. While that demographic faced widespread discrimination in Canada even after World War II, negative sentiment has since largely dispersed, with many feeling very integrated into Canadian culture.

As time goes on, and Canada’s cultural relationship with its Italian immigrants has evolved, so too has the mandate of KCIC, which now serves Italian-Canadians who have called this country home for generations.

“Over time the mission has shifted from providing that support network to really embracing, preserving the culture,” says Hotchkiss. “The heritage activities that we’ve taken on seem to be a nice fit for that.”

Those activities include events which suit both long-time members of the club and members of the wider community alike, including pasta dinners, language courses and cooking classes.

Hotchkiss says cooking classes have been an especially good opportunity to connect with Italian culture for those who may have lost touch, including younger generations whose connection with Italian culture came primarily through their grandparents.

“They kind of go through this evolution where you grow up and you have your nonna and nonno. And when you lose that connection with the past when nonno and nonna are no longer around, you go ‘Oh my God, I missed that,’” says Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss says classes like these – often led by Italian-Canadian women who have been cooking Italian dishes for decades – offer a welcoming space to jump back into the culture.

“There’s kind of an informal, you know, ‘Come into our cucina. I’ll teach you how to make, you know, gnocchi,’” he says.

A perspective on acceptance

Hotchkiss himself has played a leading role in the club’s heritage and historical efforts. His largest project to date was writing, producing and directing an entire documentary about the Casorso family, who are believed to be the first Italian immigrant family in the Okanagan.

That documentary showcases the unique social position that Italian families like the Casorsos had in Kelowna, given the region’s agricultural focus. As Hotchkiss explains, owning a farm changed the Casorsos’ relationship with the usual social hierarchy, allowing more leeway than the strict “pecking order” of industrial work which typically employed Italians in other B.C. towns.

“You can have a farm next to an English or a French or a Polish family. You’re equal because you [all] have to try to get the crops off in time,” he says. “So you had a really unique experience happening here that I think created much more of an acceptance for the Italian families.”

Hotchkiss says it’s stories like these that are important to share with both the Italian community and the wider public. In addition to offering Italian-Canadians a space for communal cultural celebration, he hopes KCIC can continue to share stories like these which offer a unique perspective on the importance of cultural acceptance.

“At the turn of the 19th century, Italians were pretty far down the pecking order of desired immigrant groups,” says Hotchkiss. “[But] we can now talk about it in a way that may not push any hot buttons politically. We can get across those principles of why it’s important to welcome newcomers and how it’s vital for Canada to continue to function as the country it is by bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives.”

KCIC will be hosting its 58th Anniversary Gala on March 23
at the Immaculate Conception Parish Church Hall. For more info on the event and on KCIC, visit