72 Murray Street
Constructed in 1932, Fratellanza Hall is a central institution of the West End Italian community. The hall is an offshoot of the Societa Mutuo Soccorso Reclamutese, a mutual benefit society founded in 1918 to offer newcomers to the area sickness and life insurance. In the early 1930s, Dr. Vincent Agro, a prominent member of the Societa Racalmutese, helped found the Circolo Ricreativo Fratellanza Racalmutese. Fratellanza Hall was constructed in 1932. It gave the community a central meeting place and sponsored sporting events, banquets and theatrical productions.
Hamilton is home to two distinct Italian colonias. In the East End, an Italian community flourished in the Barton Street East and Sherman Avenue North area. It welcomed immigrants mainly from the Marcheggiani and Abruzzi regions of central Italy. The West End Italian community, bounded by King Street West, Caroline Street North, Simcoe Street East and James Street North, dates back to the early 1890s. It was chiefly inhabited by southern Italians and Sicilians. The largest single group to settle in this neighbourhood were people from the Sicilian town of Racalmuto. The decline of the Sulphur-mining industry around their home town forced many of these people to move to Hamilton in search of jobs.
In the early years, the newcomers tended to be hired as unskilled labourers. Many performed the heaviest and hardest work in the Queen Street Rolling Mills and the old Hamilton Bridge Works on Caroline Street North, north of Barton. Others found jobs in the city’s booming construction industry. Some worked on one of the city’s numerous paving or sewer contracts, or as maintenance workers on the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway.
Employers hoping for a pool of docile, cheap labour often faced protests over their poor treatment of these workers. In 1895, a large group of Italian labourers on the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway threw down their picks and shovels, hoisted a red handkerchief on a pole and marched down the track demanding higher wages. Sicilian workers at Stelco’s Queen Street Rolling Mills staged a successful strike in 1910. It caused the most serious disruption in the company’s production in the entire half century before the 1946 steel strike.
The church was important to these Italian immigrants. In 1908, Reverend Giovanni Bonomi began to hold services in the chapel adjoining St. Mary’s Cathedral, at the southeast corner of Park and Sheaffe Streets. All Soul’s Church, located at 21 Barton Street West, became the permanent parish of the area’s Italian Catholic population in 1923.
Many new immigrants joined the Societa Mutuo Soccorso Recalmutese. This mutual benefit society was founded in 1918 to offer newcomers from that area sickness and life insurance. Its activities soon expanded to include theatrical productions and leisure activities. It also organized the three-day feast of the Madonna del Monte, which began on July 24th each year.
Today, members of the Circolo Fratellanza Hall still come here to socialize or play bocce. They have revived the celebration of the feast of Madonna del Monte, which attracts hundreds of people from the Racalmutese community. In 1987, Hamilton was twinned with Racalmuto. It is estimated that 23,000 Hamiltonians can trace their roots back to this Sicilian town.