Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

Odes to a Dictator

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Benito Mussolini wasn’t just an Italian dictator who warmed the hearts of many an Italo-Montrealer who trained in local fascist camps, marched in black-shirt parades, and sat around a wartime detainment camp in Petawawa, Ontario. In 1936, Il Duce shelled out for the Casa d’Italia (505 Jean Talon E.), which remains the spiritual centre for many locals with roots in that Beatle boot of the Mediterranean. Inside the door of the building sits a marble plaque commemorating the Italian leader. For more fascist fun, check out the Madonna Della Difesa Church at the eastern tip of Dante, where you can also see Mussolini on the ceiling riding a horse and chit-chatting with the pope. The work was painted by the great Guido Nincheri, who was reportedly reluctant to place the Bald Boss among the deities. One Italian Montrealer named Frank reports that he has frequently spray-painted over Mussolini’s marble inscription and also objects to seeing Mussolini in church. “I even had to walk out on my grandmother’s funeral,” he says. For decades, local socialist Joseph Spada battled with fascist rival Dieni Gentile for the hearts of the local Italians, and although Gentile died in 1995, his old restaurant sits across from the church. According to Gentile’s son-in-law, Joe Frantino, president of Casa d’Italia, hidden in the back room of that restaurant opposite the church sits a bust of Mussolini and other commemorative fascistic relics. “It used to make me mad when people would criticize it, but now I realize that the fascist memorabilia brings people to Little Italy and that’s a good thing.”