Given the closure of Greater Sudbury’s two other Italian organizations, the Caruso Club’s survival to celebrate its 75th anniversary is all the more poignant.
The Copper Cliff Italian Club recently announced it's folding due to an aging membership base and the financial impact of the pandemic. Club Allegri in Coniston also closed its doors some years ago.
“Every year that we're around is something to celebrate,” said Diana Colilli, a member of the Caruso Club’s board of directors.
“Seventy-five years is a long time for a cultural organization, especially given the other two in the city, Club Allegri closed a few years ago, and the Copper Cliff Italian Club did not survive COVID.
“We came through strong thanks to our membership and the Sudbury community. Caruso was only open for takeout during the COVID period, and the city of Sudbury really supported us. So we thought it was important to mark this milestone.”
Caruso is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a gala dinner Nov. 19. Doors open at 5 p.m. Enjoy delicious Italian food and wines, entertainment by Sudbury musician Joey Niceforo and DJ Fabio DiGiacomantonio, as well as remarks by guest speaker Gerry Lougheed.
If you’re interested in attending, tickets cost $125 for members and $150 for general admission. Tickets can be purchased by phoning 705-675-1357.
The Società Caruso was formed in 1947 in the Gatchell area, its name honouring the famous Italian singer Enrico Caruso.
Colilli said the society was formed out of the need to support the growing Italian community that came to Sudbury because of the mining industry.
When they came to the Caruso Club, “they felt like they had a little piece of home,” she said. After the purchase of five lots situated at Whittaker and Haig Streets, the new building was completed in late 1948.
The Caruso Club building has undergone a series of renovations and expansions over the course of the years in order to meet the demands of a growing community and a blossoming business. Today it consists of several halls, a restaurant, bocce courts and more.
“The hall downstairs is the original building,” Colilli said. “Then in ‘67, for the centennial year, they built the hall upstairs and the kitchen upstairs.
“And then in ‘91, they built the restaurant, and added the members’ lounge here in the back with the bocce courts. Our job now is to keep up the codes with a building that’s old.”
Since 1972, Caruso has put on the Italian Festival, a four-day event that puts Italian culture at the forefront.
The club also puts on various other activities, including cultural programming and sporting events.
Colilli, a former professor in Laurentian’s now-defunct Italian studies program, now teaches Italian language classes through the Caruso Club.
She has set up a foundation in the name of her late husband, Paul Colilli (also an LU Italian studies prof), and plans to build a dedicated teaching wing for the club when enough money has been raised.
Caruso is also home to the offices of the Patronato ACLI Italian pension office and the Vice Consulate of Italy, administering Italian pensions for anyone who now lives in Sudbury, and offering services for those seeking an Italian visa, for example.
It has only been since 1992 that Società Caruso has allowed women to be regular members and stand for any position on the board of directors.
The first woman to sit on the club’s board was Dolores Battaino-Dini, the daughter of Luigi Battaino, a member of the founding board.
Diana Colilli was the club’s first female president in 2011. At the moment, the Società Caruso boasts a board of directors composed of 10 women and two men with a woman, Christine Sansalone, at the helm as president.
While the original founders of the club have passed on, their children and grandchildren keep the spirit alive, said Colilli.
“The Caruso Club is the point of reference for the Italian community,” she said.
The anniversary gala will feature a full dinner with “a deluxe antipasto bar that you can graze for an hour.” An “extravagant” meal is promised with a first course of penne al pomodoro and asparagus risotto. For the main course, veal medallions with seasonal vegetables will be served. Vegetarians have the option of a delightful cauliflower steak. Dessert will be a pistachio tartuffo.
“Each table receives two complimentary bottles of wine and a bottle of Prosecco (a sparkling Italian white wine),” the club said.
Gala attendees can also enjoy a lavish espresso bar. And because this is an Italian event, there is still more food to come.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.