DANTE ALIGHIERI SOCIETY
For the teaching and promotion of Italian language and culture throughout the world.
The Dante Alighieri Society has the mandate “to teach and promote the Italian language and culture throughout the world, nourishing the spiritual ties of citizens overseas with the Mother Country, and fostering love and appreciation among foreigners for Italian culture.”
The Dante Alighieri Society was founded in 1889 thanks to the work of the distinguished and influential poet Giosue Carducci and a group of intellectuals charged with spreading the language and culture of Italy world wide. The head office is in Rome, in the Piazza Firenze, the central reference point for 500 chapters located over 5 continents. The organization took the name of the Divine Poet to honour the one who had achieved linguistic unity in our country.
The Dante Society, in fact, undertook the task of becoming the point of departure for the teaching and promotion of Italian worldwide. In the first century of its operation, this work has taken on major importance, and its field has expanded, most notable in the promotion of special events and cultural activities, linked to Italian language courses on a global scale. The head office of the Dante Alighieri Society benefits from the voluntary collaboration of more than 500 chapters, of which more than 400 operate outside Italy.
In Toronto, the first committee of the Dante Alighieri Society started officially in 1908, thanks to the interest of Edward Sacco, docent of Italian at the University of Toronto. In this first phase the activities of the Dante Society developed primarily within the university setting. Closed during the Second World War, the Dante Society re-emerged in 1956, beginning the second phase of its existence. The large wave of post-war immigration from Italy contributed to reinforcing the desire for contact between the immigrant population and the mother country, and stimulated the interest of many others for contact with our culture. Such favorable conditions permitted the Dante Society of Toronto to expand its work of promoting Italian language and culture n this city, and gave it the capacity to expand on the provincial level. During this period, the Dante Society of Toronto made use of the work of the organization’s leadership, that of Prof. Emilio Goggia and Prof. Julius Molinaro, both scholars, and of Arturo Scotti, at that time the editor of Corriere Canadese. These men provided the base for a useful redirection of activities.
The orientation of the Dante Society of Toronto adjusted over time to the social and cultural changes in the community. If in the beginning the initiatives of the Society were contained within the academic ambiance, with the passing years the Society assumed a more open and accessible role, extending its range. In particular, the great surge of community development in 1968 encouraged the new direction of the Dante Society. The location of its meetings changed from the University of Toronto to the public library at St. Clair Avenue West and Dufferin St, in the heart of the Italian community. The presidents who succeeded each other in the 1970’s, namely: Elio Costa; Odoardo Di Santo; Fabio Rizi; and Alberto Di Giovanni, were the activists who changed the focus to the Dante Society from academics to the wider community.
With this new mandate, in 1971, the Dante Society of Toronto took on the challenge of coordinating the Italian language and culture classes in schools of the Greater Toronto Area, leading up to the formation of the Comitato Scolastico Italiano. In 1976 the Dante Alighieri Society, together with other cultural and social organizations in the community, gave life to Centro Scuola e Cultura Italiana / the Canadian Centre for Italian Culture and Education, which from that point assumed the leadership in the promotion of Italian language and culture classes in the schools in Toronto and the GTA. The Dante Society and Centro Scuola continue to work together, mutually supporting each other with the common objective of promoting Italian language and culture within the Canadian context.
At that point, the leadership of the Dante Society of Toronto undertook to make it a leader in important cultural events based on the close attachment to la bella Italia. Through the years there have been manifestations of every kind, from literature and figurative art, to music and dance; from sports to cinema, to theatre and high fashion. These are the activities which lead up to the opening of the Casa Dante in Toronto.
In 2006, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary year, Centro Scuola e Cultura Italiana, together with the Dante Society of Toronto, inaugurated the first Casa Dante in the Columbus Centre. This is the first such collection in honour of the Divine Poet to be located outside of Italy. This unique initiative is comprised of a permanent exhibition of contemporary paintings, book illustrations, and rare editions of The Divine Comedy, the magnificent epic poem which is the basis of all the diverse activities of the Dante Alighieri Society worldwide.
For the past 10 years the Dante Society of Toronto office has been located in the Columbus Centre, the acknowledged social and cultural centre for the whole community. The current President is Celestino De Iuliis, and the Vice President is Alberto Di Giovanni. Among the activities promoted by the Dante Society of Toronto is a series of annual lectures on The Divine Comedy, featuring a number of major artists. The 2007 production entitled “Gifts of the Italian Soul” presented readings of various passages from The Divine Comedy linked together by the magnificent interpretations of Italian actors Paola Gassman and Ugo Pagliai together with Italian Canadian actor Tony Nardi. This splendid bilingual performance was accompanied by the Baroque music quintet from Italy, the Ensemble Benedetto Marcello. The popular success of this production was living proof of the continuing interest the community shows in the works of Dante Alghieri and the Society that bears his name.