Every year, a carnival dance kicks off the summer for Toronto’s 6,000-member Maltese community—the largest in Canada. In the recent past, thousands of people have lined the streets for a parade which included resounding marching bands and festive floats. The parade passed Malta Park, a small parkette in the West Toronto Junction named in recognition of the contributions of Maltese-Canadians to Canada. Located at St. John’s Road and Dundas Street West, the parkette is encircled by a Maltese neigh-bourhood with shops, clubs, and the community’s landmark, St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church.
The Ontario community dates back to 1840 when early settlers arrived from Malta, a Mediterranean country comprised of three islands—Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Pre-Confederation pioneers included Louis Shickluna, a shipbuilder who arrived in 1836 and established a prominent shipyard on the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, Ontario.
By the turn of the century, Toronto had two Maltese neighbourhoods, one in the Dundas and McCaul streets area, and the other in the West Toronto Junction. Maltese living in the downtown neighbourhood worshipped at St. Patrick’s Shrine Church and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, while early settlers in the West Toronto Junction attended St. Cecilia’s Church until St. Paul the Apostle was built in 1930. Immigration continued from 1907 and through the 1920s. Maltese labourers found jobs in meat-packing factories, on the railway, and in various trades.
In 1922, meetings were held in a house on Simcoe Street by the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto (MCST), the first North American Maltese organization. Its main purpose was to build the first Maltese national church. By 1930, St. Paul the Apostle Church in the West Toronto Junction was completed. For its efforts, the MCST became affectionately known as “il-kazin tal-Knisja” (the club of the church). Today, the names of the MCST members and church benefactors can be read on a large stone slab at the church’s entrance.
During the Second World War, the Malta Relief Fund, headed by the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto, united the community in sending supplies and funds to their homeland. By the mid-1940s, the main community was concentrated in the Junction area surrounding the church, where some Maltese started their own businesses in 1955. St. Paul the Apostle Maltese Church was expanded after the Second World War when large numbers of Maltese settled in the area.
Community get-togethers for Malta’s favourite sport have become a familiar sight on West Toronto soccer fields. Maltese have contributed to the economy with real-estate firms, travel agency, restaurants, and various businesses.
The 80-year-old statue of St. Paul is decorated during St. Paul the Apostle Church and the community’s celebration of the Feast of Malta’s patron, St. Paul.
THE FEAST OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE, who converted the Maltese to Christianity in 60 A.D., is marked on February 10.
DAY OF FREEDOM is celebrated on March 31 to commemorate the day in 1979 when the last foreign forces peacefully left the island.
THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF SORROWS sees statues of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John carried outside St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in a solemn procession held every April. Special masses are held in Maltese and English at the church during the Pashal season.
THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL (L’IMNARJA), held on June 29, sees a festival of folklore and music.
THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF VICTORY on September 8 commemorates Malta’s victories during its two Great Sieges in 1565 and 1942.
INDEPENDENCE DAY, September 21, commemorates the day Malta was recognized as an independent country within the Commonwealth.
REPUBLIC DAY, December 13, recognizes the day in 1974 that Malta officially became a republic within the Commonwealth.
CHRISTMAS. On December 25, Toronto’s Maltese attend Christmas midnight mass at St. Paul the Apostle Church. Many homes display a nativity scene. Gifts are exchanged after Mass with a visit from Father Christmas. Dinner the next day consists of leg of pork, lamb, or a turkey. After the meal, family and friends toast each other with “Il-Milied it-tajjeb” (Merry Christmas).
SENIORS’ DINNER. Every year, the Maltese-Canadian Federation organizes the Senior Citizens Christmas Dinner Social which treats seniors of all ethnocultural backgrounds to a complimentary Christmas dinner and show.
THE MISS MALTA OF CANADA PAGEANT is an annual event organized by the Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto, Inc.
LEHEN MALTI, OMNI-TV, (Tel. 416-260-0047, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). Sunday, 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
RICHARD CUMBO—FREELANCE MALTESE JOURNALIST, (Tel. 416-762-6613, 480 Windermere Ave).
MALTESE-CANADIAN FEDERATION, at St. Paul the Apostle Church, (Tel. 416-767-8185, 3224 Dundas St. W). Founded in 1974, this Federation is comprised of Maltese organizations in Ontario and other parts of Canada. Its goals are to foster co-operation and interaction amongst groups, act as a unified voice for the community, and organize community events. President: Henry Formosa.
The following organizations can also be reached through St. Paul the Apostle Church:
172ND SCOUT GROUP, BROWNIES, AND GUIDES OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE CHURCH, (Tel. 416-767-7054).
THE MALTESE ACTORS GROUP, which promotes and performs traditional Maltese plays.
Other organizations include:
MALTESE VETERANS ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-767-8185, 3 Baby Point Cres).
THE MALTESE CANADIAN SOCIETY OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-767-3645, 3132 Dundas St. W). Founded in 1922, MCST sponsors sports and social activities and provides services to the needy. The society celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1972 with a spectacular parade, and in its 60th year produced a publication outlining its history. In 2002 the society marked it’s 80th anniversary. President: Charlie Grixti.
MELITA SOCCER CLUB INC., (Tel. 416-763-5317, 3336 Dundas St. W). Founded in 1963, the club borrows Malta’s biblical name, Melita, and sponsors its own Metropolitan Toronto Soccer Association team, the Melita Soccer Club, which won first prize for its float in Toronto’s sesquicentennial parade in 1984. It also stages popular social events.