Souls of St. Clair

Waves of immigration and its rich indigenous history make Toronto the most diverse city in the world. One big wave of immigration occurred directly after World War Two. Arriving on boats from all parts of Europe, people looked to escape devastation, poverty, and turmoil in a land with few conflicts and many opportunities.

Italian immigrants, like others from Ukraine, Poland, and many other countries, arrived in Toronto at this time and were quickly confronted by a city where customs, language, and climate were different than their own. St. Clair West was a place to seek refuge in the familiar. More specifically, Tre Mari Bakery on St. Clair at Dufferin, a business owned and operated by my family since the 1950s, became a place for people to hear Italian sounds, eat Italian foods, and feel the warmth of the country and people they left behind. As a fixture of the neighbourhood, the bakery is part of Toronto’s culinary and cultural history.

Souls of St. Clair tells the stories of people who have lived different lives, but who have shared this street and this bakery in common over the past half-century. Theirs are stories which must be captured now before they, and a part of this city’s rich history, are gone.

This book features the portraits and words of 10 men and 14 women, ranging in age from 75-96, all of Italian descent, and all members of the St. Clair West community. I want to showcase their fragility and strength, wisdom and doubt in equal measure. This book serves as both an archive and a celebration of Toronto and of Canada’s cultural diversity. Communities, places, and stories like the ones featured in this book made our city what it was, and have paved the way for what our city will be as we continue to welcome successive waves of immigrants to struggle, settle, and thrive.

[Franco] photographed them after discovering the importance of preserving their stories and capturing their personalities.

Angelina King, CBC News

He would invite [old people] to his studio, just off the alley behind Tre Mari, in the back of what was once a seafood store.

Rick McGinnis, BlogTO

Franco is a true genius. His mastery over the medium of photography is breathtaking and spectacular.

Mark Savoia, Art Toronto