Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Corso Italia -- Toronto, St. Clair Avenue, and the 1982 World Cup

Like Tardelli's mad run from the German goal mouth in the sixty-ninth minute of the 1982 World Cup final, Toronto's Italian community had burst from the shadows in the most memorable way. As full-time blew on Italy 3, Germany 1, half a million Italian-Canadians poured onto St. Clair Avenue West, also known as Corso Italia, the main artery of Toronto's Italian community. Images of the flag-waving, horn-honking Italian-Canadians were beamed to the world, and Toronto moved leaps and bounds in cementing its multicultural identity.

St. Clair Avenue West, July 11 1982 (photo courtesy of torontocorsoitalia.com)

Census Canada's 2006 report revealed just under 10% of Torontonians identified as Italian in origin, and Italians form the largest non-Northern European ethnic group in Canada. Italy has had a long and distinguished history in Toronto with many first arriving in the city at the turn of the twentieth century, yet Little Italy had long been ignored by the city. Only in the past thirty years has the community received long-overdue recognition as a vibrant, attractive neighbourhood, and the exuberant celebrations in July 1982 went on a long way in helping this to happen.

Ask most Italian-Canadians of their memory of the event and they will have a great story (some more true than others). A couple of years ago, one man told me about how he'd watched the final at the famed Cafe Diplomatico on College and Clinton, the main intersection of Toronto's more southern Little Italy. The game was on a half-hour satellite delay from Spain, but he couldn't wait; he spent two hours on a pay-phone with a cousin watching live in Italy, and was mobbed by others wanting updated information.

Such scenes must have been disheartening to fans and officials involved with Toronto's local leagues -- if there was this much interest in a global final, why were attendances so average at the city's various pro club games? It's for this reason that July 1982 revealed more than just a vibrant Italian Canadian community -- it revealed a central truth about Toronto and the beautiful game: soccer was beloved in the heart of the city, but this heart belonged to Europe.

This is part eleven of A More Splendid Life's history of soccer in Toronto. I would like to thank Tom Dunmore for promoting this series on his excellent site, pitchinvasion.net. If you have any comments or questions about this series, please either email them to me or leave them on the blog!

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