Ferraris, exceptional cappuccinos, soccer mania, tango in the park, simmering sauces, passionate conversation and lots of amore—that’s our Little Italy. Since the 19th century, this bastion of the Montreal Italian community has its own special feel; easy-going meets jet set in this unique district where backyards give way to tomato plants and grape vines, where soccer is a way of life and where the air is perfumed with the aroma of mouth-watering pasta sauce.
Discover Little Italy
Around the June Grand Prix, it’s not unusual to see a Ferrari owner “prancing” his way down Saint-Laurent Boulevard as the tifosi (die-hard Formula-1 fans) assemble in the many Italian trattorias and cafés to cheer on their favourite teams and drivers. In fact, the emotion, speed and unique style associated with Ferrari sports cars are representative of the community as well.
And the Jean-Talon Market ! Montrealers flock to the neighbourhood for the adjacent Jean-Talon Market where they can find an incredible variety of fresh and flavorful products offered by the producers of the region and diffrent cultural communities of the island.
Be sure to give yourself at least an hour to cruise around all the stalls. Chances are that once you see all the goodies, you’ll need more than that to take it all in!
Some of our fave Little Italy hangouts include Little Italy Park for summer tango, Quincaillerie Dante, which stocks everything from nails to spatulas, offers cooking classes and is often the place for celebrity-chef sightings.
Don't forget to pass by the sublime Madonna della Difesa Church with its impressive fresco and, of course, Dante Park for bocce.
Anyone up for a game?
Historic Sites in Little Italy
The Jean-Talon Market
Little Italy Park
FIRST STEP : the Jean-Talon market. If you arrive by car, use the underground parking. Taste fresh products from Québec and let you capture the colors of the market. Talk with merchants is a must if you want to understand what is meant by "typical of here" in Montreal. Have fun on the square Shamrock, where contemporary mixes with the old. Example of urban design with its carousel and musical bikes, the Shamrock site is characterized by typical buildings of the period «Art Deco». This road will take you directly to the «Main».
SECOND STEP : Via Dante, the heart of the neighborhood. In the streets, the atmosphere becomes more intimate and we quickly found in Dante Park, a recreation area. The visit inside the Church of the Madonna della Difesa is advised, after tasting the sun on a park bench Dante good cannolo of the oldest pastry territory.
THE END YOUR WALK, take the St-Zotique and experience the sophisticated boutique shops. Finish your round the park of Little Italy, all generations meet there for a picnic in the shade of trees, or a hot chocolate after a turn on the ice in winter. Tip: go with an empty stomach.
The cultural development of Little Italy is closely linked to the history of the Italian immigration to Quebec. The first Italian presence dates back to the 17th Century. At that time, they were mainly tradesmen, craftsmen or soldiers from Northern Italy who had joined the Carignan regiment. At the end of the 19th Century, as Italy experienced a period of political and economic turmoil, several men from the South of the peninsula left their country of birth to go to Canada. Those immigrants, only there temporarily, were employed to work on the railway, in the quarries and mines as well as lumberjacks. At the time, most of them lived in the areas situated along the St Laurent River. However, immigration evolved very rapidly. By 1880, many Italian workers had arrived in Montreal to settle permanently with their wives and children. They soon moved to the north of the city, in a merely urbanised area. The Italian-Montrealers had moved into the area, focussing on the Mile End train station, which was located on near the intersection of St. Lawrence Boulevard and Bernard Street. The community’s relocation to the north of the city, stretched to Isabeau Street (currently known as Jean-Talon street) They chose this district because it offered land and affordable properties, as well as many jobs related to the new railway and industries. Furthermore, this merely urbanised area was mainly made of fields which made it possible for Italians to home grow their vegetables directly from their Italian products, otherwise difficult, if not impossible to find in the local grocery stores. In 1910, with the growing number of Italian immigrants in this area of town, a new parish was created, Madona Della Difesa, the mother parish of the Italian Community in Canada. Then, in 1918, the wonderful Church located at the corner of Dante Street and Henri-Julien Street, was built. The 1930s, despite the Great Depression, spurred major public works projects creating needed jobs. The Northern Market (now Jean-Talon Market), Casa d’Italia, the Shamrock buildings, were built as well as many Italian shops and cinemas. The greatest wave of Italian immigration occurred just after the Second World War. Between 1946 and 1960, more than 100 000 Italians arrived in Quebec, many of whom went to Montreal. Having migrated thanks to a sponsoring scheme, the newly arrived went to join their relatives already settled in Montreal, mainly in the north of the city near St-Laurent boulevard. This period marked the expansion of the shops in the area. Cafés, restaurants, delis, Italian shops grew in number on St-Laurent boulevard and its side streets as well as near the Jean-Talon market. This was the beginning of Little Italy. Finally, in the late 1960s a new migration took place. Many Italian-Montrealers bought or built small buildings and moved to Saint-Léonard, LaSalle, Laval and Rivières-des-Prairies. Then, Italians began to desert the neighbourhood, and other communities began settling in their place. In the 1980s, the rise of the average rent threw Little Italy in a terrible economic crisis. At the start of the 1990s, more than twenty shop units, solely located on boulevard St Laurent were left empty. It is then, that the City of Montreal, in partnership with the Association pour la promotion de la Petite-Italie de Montréal, undertook the regeneration of the area through a development project. Its objective was to create a cultural experience in Little Italy in order to attract clients and then new businesses. Many massive new architectural installations were then built in the area. Nearly fifteen half sails appeared everywhere in Little Italy. Then huge arches were erected on St-Laurent boulevard at the entrance and exit of Little Italy. With time this revitalisation was a success and shop units began filling up. Little Italy remains the heart of Montreal’s Italian community. Whilst walking in the district, you will find those Italian flavours in the many cafés, restaurants, delis and pastry shops that you will come across. You will see many Italian-Montrealers as well as many Italophiles who come to do their shopping and to the traditional cultural events. You may see them play bocce in the parks or watch soccer on one of all Little Italy’s TV screens showing the games.
Photo credit: Casa d'Italia
In 1909, the city councillor Joseph Martel sold his land to the city hall in order for it to be transformed into a park. This space was first named Martel Park in honour of the previous owner. The City of Montreal renamed it Parc de la Petite-Italie in 1988. At the time, The City of Montreal conducted important refurbishment works whilst a campaign to revive businesses began. This park, located at the entrance of Little Italy, is a major meeting place for Italian-Montrealers who come each year to celebrate the Italian week.
In the 1990s, the Association pour la promotion de la Petite-Italie de Montréal undertook the regeneration of the area through a development project. Its objective was to create a cultural experience in Little Italy in order to attract clients and then new businesses. The contract was given to Pierlucio Pellissier, an architect of Italian origins, specialised in the conservation and restoration of works of art and of the architectural patrimony as well as the use of technology innovation in architecture. More precisely, the architect had to measure the perimeter of Little Italy and propose a layout that would highlight the Italian culture of the area. After many meetings between the Assiociation, the architect and the City of Montreal, the final decision
was to create 13 half sails and position them to determin the limits of the area. The sculptures, which represent the sails of the boats carrying the Italian immigrants to Canada, have been designed by Aurelio Sandonato, an Italian-Montrealer artist, also known for his clay mural at the underground stop du Collège.Once the first phase of the development was over, the members of the Association de la Petite-Italie wanted to start the second and third phase of the project.The second phase focussed on building the gates of Little Italy on St-Laurent boulevard. They had to be built in granite because marble is a porous rock that would not have survived the winters in Quebec.The third phase of the development planned to add imposing pieces to the doors to transform them into arches.For phases 2 and 3, the granite had to be extracted from Sri Lanka because Canada didn’t have a piece big enough for the works. The boat carrying the enormous piece of granite left the port for Montreal on September 9th 2001. However, its origin combined with 9/11 attacks made berthing impossible for a long period. The granite finally got to its destination in April. Then, when all the pieces were ready, the St-Laurent boulevard was closed for two days in order for the structure to be erected. At the bottom of the arches, you can find commemorative bronze plaques with Little Italy’s logo. The names of the people who helped erect those arches are written with a short story about the construction process on the back of the plaques.
St-Laurent boulevard, the oldest North to South road of Montreal also known as La Main , was used to integrate immigrants for more than a century. From the end of the 19th Century, Montreal welcomed hundreds of thousands of European immigrants. Bit by bit, they left the port and began entering the urban fabric following the St-Laurent boulevard. From 1893, the 55 tram line of St-Laurent boulevard is extended to Isabeau street (now Jean-Talon). This extension, combined with the fact that this part of town was merely urbanised, led to the migration of the Italian-Montrealer’s community towards the North. At that time, the plots of land along La Main were developed up to Beaubien Street. Past that road, residential housings progressively spread to the North; but were separated by wastelands. By 1949, all the buildings built through the years to meet the increasing demand, formed a continous line on the boulevard up to De Castelnau Street. Following the Second World War, a second wave of Italian immigration settled on the northern part of St-Laurent boulevard which led to an important change in urban planning of the area. The duplex and triplex accomodations, which until then were mainly residential, gave way to shops and services on the ground floor. Cafés, restaurants and delis serving Italian food increased, confirming the role of the boulevard as the main road for the Italian community. From the 1960s, Italians gradually left the North of the boulevard and the surrounding areas. Many businesses closed down. However, a few Italian shops remained opened and kept on attracting the Italian
community as well as the rest of the Montrealers. Over the following decades, the buildings of this section of the boulevard, gradually deteriorated and more and more shop closed down. At the start of the 1990s, more than twenty shop units were empty on the St-Laurent boulevard, between St-Zotique Street and Jean-Talon Street. It was at that point, that the City of Montreal, in partnership with the Association pour la promotion de la Petite-Italie de Montréal, undertook the regeneration of the area through the installation of distinct urban furniture, particularly the decorative arches. Since 1998, St-Laurent has been considered as one of Canada’s National Historic places. Its many commercial and cultural events infuse Little Italy with its vitality and effervescence.
505 Rue Jean-Talon Est, Montréal, QC H2R 1T6
The Casa d’Italia was founded on November 1st 1936. The Italian community rapidly made this building its “home’’ by making it the heart and the center of Little Italy and by organizing all its cultural and social events in this location. All the events of the community took place in this building, from Valentines day to Christmas including weddings, associations meeting, exhibits, dances, etc.
The project of Casa d’Italia was entrusted to a young architect born in Brooklyn named Patsy (Pasquale) Colangelo (1907-1984). The “Art Déco” architectural style of the building was popularized by Ernest Cormier and inspired the making of many other buildings in Montreal such as the Université de Montréal and the Atwater market.
In 2010, the Casa d’Italia was transformed in an eco-museum on the Italian immigration in Montreal. This successful transformation awarded the architectural integration prize of the Opération patrimoine architectural de Montréal to the community center of Little Italy and to Saroli-Palumbo architect office.
Monday to Friday
From 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
7070, avenue Casgrain, Montréal
Questo piccolo edificio, situato all’angolo tra le vie Casgrain e Shamrock, è stato costruito nel 1935 seguendo il progetto dell’architetto in capo della città, Donat Beaupré che ha diretto i lavori per la costruzione di una dozzina di edifici municipali tra gli anni ’30 e ’50. In origine, questo edificio serviva come clinica d’ispezione alimentare per le carni vendute al vicino mercato Jean-Talon. Norme rigide in materia d’approvvigionamento di prodotti alimentari furono adottate dalle autorità municipali nel 1927, in seguito ad un episodio di tifo. Questo edificio, dato che ha oggi perso la sua vocazione originale, testimonia l’evoluzione dei servizi d’igiene pubblica. La clinica ristrutturata e ingrandita verso il 1958, rappresenta lo stile costruttivo dell’inizio degli anni ’30, l’Art déco. La clinica forma un complesso architettonico interessante insieme ai due immobili vicini, eretti ugualmente in stile Art déco nello stesso periodo, ovvero la casera dei pompieri n°31 e il padiglione centrale del mercato Jean-Talon.
(fonte: Città di Montreal, proprietà municipale d’interesse patrimoniale)
Rue Dante, Montréal
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Italian parish of Notre-Dame- de-la-Défense, a group of Italian-Montrealers undertook the project of creating a park of ornaments a few steps away from the Florentine looking resplendent church. Inaugurated on 26th June 1963, this space has become the iconic heart of Little Italy. It symbolises the contribution of the biggest Canadian Italian community to the development and wealth of Montreal. Dante Monument, which used to be in La Fontaine Park, found its place there in 1964. Nowadays, during the sunny season, Dante Park is a favourite spot for picnic lovers as well as bocce players. And for the pleasure of cinema lovers, many open-air Italian cinema nights have been taking place in the park for several years.
7041, rue Sainte-Dominique, Montréal
The interest given to the fire station #31 takes roots in its historical and its architectural value. During the Great Depression, this building was used to support the unemployed people. Its architect, Emmanuel-Arthur Doucet, also helped to build many other buildings in Montreal such as the Notre-Dame des Victoires church (1927-1929), the Denise-Pelletier theater (1926-1929) and the fire station #48 (1931). On the other hand, the architectural value of this building is set by its “Art Déco” style and by the fact that, unlike other buildings, it has been conserved in its original state.
(source: Ville de Montréal, propriétés municipales d'intérêt patrimonial)
6841, avenue Henri-Julien, Montréal
The Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense school was officially founded in 1933. At that time, it also included a residence for Franciscan nuns, a group that was in charge for this school. This building’s architect was Eugène Larose and its style is the “Art deco”. (see Madonna della Difesa church for more info)
The creation of the market came from the desire of the City of Montreal to tackle the economic decline caused by the 1930s Great Depression.
Located at the heart of Little Italy, where the lacrosse field used to be, the market was opened to the public in May 1933. It was first called the North Market. Then, in 1982, the market was renamed Jean-Talon in honour of the first intendant of the New France.
At first the market was not a trading place. The mayor’s office, who had wanted to make it a living space, built a public library (where the Première Moisson bakery is now) and a children’s playground. After a few years, this project was abandonned and the market became a real trading and gastronomic place.
Originally the market was only opened on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1954, it was opened daily. It counts more than 400 farmers who sale fruit and vegetables, eggs and living animals. Over the years, the warehouses on the North and South sides have become Italian food shops.
Since the opening day, Quebeckers and Italians shop there. However, at the time, the clients did not choose the same products. Quebeckers bought cucumbers and tomatoes, whereas Italians were looking for aubergines and red peppers.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the market opened the indoors section, made with movable partitions. Nowadays, tourists and locals come throughout the year to get hold of local and fresh products.
6956, rue Saint-Denis, Montréal
The old Le Château theater was build in 1931-1932 for the Confederation Amusements Limited, an entertainment enterprise owned by the Lawand and Tabah families. For years, it attracted Montrealers by showing films, music halls and shows. However, after World War II, more and more Montreals went to live in the suburbs and the Theater was a lot less frequented. In the 1980s, this theater finally closed. The architect behind this building is René Charbonneau. The old theater is one of the most well preserved building in Montreal. It’s architectural style is the “Art Déco”.
6800, avenue Henri-Julien, Montréal
Recognized as an historical location by the federal government in 2003, the Madonna della Difesa church is the oldest Italian church in Canada. Italian Montrealers still visit this church today and they organize baptism, funerals, weddings and other celebrations in it. This church was built in 1910 after the request of archbishop Paul Bruchési. The name Madonna della Difesa was chosen in reference to the location of La Difesa, Casalenda (Campobasso) in Italy, a place where the Virgin Mary made an appearance. Back in 1910, the building served as a school and as a Church. In 1918, the Church was rebuilt following the wish of the community to represent better their Italian artistic heritage. The architect for this project was Guido Nincheri. Nincheri worked in collaboration with architect Louis-Roch Montbriand. The quality of their work is absolutely stunning. The inspiration for the interior of the church was the neo-roman style.The church has the form of a greek cross (top view). The main fresco inside the church represents 200 religious and historical characters from both Italy and Canada during the 1920s.
Monday to Friday 7 :00 pm
Saturday at 8:00 am
Sunday at 8:30 am and 11:00 am