I took these photos in Toronto around 2005, put them in an envelope and found them again a couple of months ago.
They show the Good Friday procession in the city’s Little Italy district. With lots of shots of the marching band and the women and the crowds. But, alas, it seems I didn’t take pictures of the focus of attention – Jesus dragging the huge cross, the centurions wearing helmets, the women in shawls. Those images have stayed in my memory, even if not on film, but finding these photos in a box have helped to jog my memory.
Like New York, it’s a city of distinct neighbourhoods, but with a clear difference. Toronto’s city villages were populated with new arrivals from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean much later in the 20th century, than the US. It feels more like a mosaic than the American melting pot.
We lived at Queen and Bathurst, close to the vibrant, globally-epicurean Kensington Market and right between two neighbourhoods – of Portuguese and Italians. With, apparently, half a million first and second generation people from Portugal and Italy living in Toronto, we had a lot of great bakeries and old-men bars around. And the day when there was a World Cup match between Portugal and Italy… well that was a sight.
Every year Toronto’s Little Italy hosts a Good Friday Procession, apparently the largest Catholic procession in North America. We decided to check it out one year, expecting… what, exactly? The Italian-Canadian version of an Irish-American St Patrick’s Day parade? A quiet display of people in odd hooded hats ringing bells?
We didn’t expect this huge, solemn, 3-hour long event that was clearly a cornerstone of this neighbourhood and the communities living there for over 50 years.
I don’t know which part of Italy most of these communities came from: no doubt, from the south. The parts where women still wear black today. But even if they have moved on, these 1960s emigrants still did, still holding onto the old ways.
I remember standing in that crowd, feeling the stillness and deep feeling of devotion among the people participating and watching from the side as they lined along the tramlines. No-one had a camera or did anything other than just watch. I looked carefully at the faces of these local Torontonian men, women and children who chose to dress up and walk the streets for hours as a centurion or a Philistine. Year after year. The Jesus taking very seriously the carrying of the cross, berated and shouted at. Each one marking this day of sorrow just as their parents had before them, and their grandparents before them, back in Italy.
My husband and I were so dressed in normal, bright colours among the crowds of black-clad women and men. I towered self-consciously over them with my discrete camera. The 1990s Irish woman among the Italian women still dreaming of 1960s Puglia.
10 years later, when we lived in Tuscany, we never came across anything quite like this show of devotion – that went beyond just the religious. Where the motherland is part of your religion.
Here’s a link to a lovely collection of photos of the Procession by a local photographer, from the 1960s to today. There’s also the wonderful film of another Canadian Easter story with a more French Catholic twist, Jésus de Montréal.
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