Sudbury’s largest hall had a modest beginning in the heart of the city’s Italian community almost 70 years ago.
On May 18, 1947, members of Sudbury’s Italian community, including Luigi Battaino and Antonio Buttazzoni, met at the Ryan Community Club in the city’s west end, and decided to form their own association, as other communities in the outlying region had already done.
The proposed name for the association was Fratellanza Italiana di Sudbury, or the Italian Brotherhood of Sudbury.
But when the provincial registry office shot down the name, they settled with Società Caruso.
The club was named after Enrico Caruso, a famous Italian operatic tenor who died in 1921.
With a name in place, construction began on a new building to host the association, located at the corner of Whittaker and Haig Streets, just west of where that original meeting had taken place.
Construction ended in late 1948, and the Caruso Club, as it had become known in English, was born.
At the time, the club had only one hall – called the Heritage Hall – that could accommodate around 220 people.
The original structure also included a mezzanine, a bar, and a kitchen.
To celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967, then Caruso Club president Gino Pollesel decided to build a major expansion to the building by adding a second level.
Pollesel and club members embarked on the project in 1966, and the expansion was completed the next year. The large upper hall had a maximum capacity of 820 people.
It was the Caruso Club’s last major expansion, although most of the building has been renovated since then.
In 1991, the club’s restaurant – which has maintained a strong reputation for delicious homemade Italian meals – was gutted and updated.
In 2002, the kitchen received the same treatment with more a more modern space and appliances.
And in 2006, the large upper hall was upgraded to accommodate the demands of meetings, banquets and conferences.
“I would like to think we give better service than most people,” said John Cimino, the Caruso Club’s manager.
That service has long since expanded beyond its initial cultural mandate to host events for numerous local charities, and organizations like the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce.
Today, the Caruso Club is officially recognized as a non-profit organization, and has the mandate to “promote, enhance and preserve Italian culture and heritage within the Canadian Multicultural Mosaic; to render assistance to persons of Italian nationality in need; to establish and maintain a library and archives of Italian heritage.”
One of the bigger events that help the club achieve that mandate is the annual Società Caruso Annual Italian Festival.
The 2015 edition, which ran from July 9 to July 12, featured a professional wrestling show during the week, a number of live performances throughout the weekend, a petting zoo, and wide variety of Italian food to satiate most appetites.
The club’s not-for-profit status allows it to remain competitive with other venues on price.
“We just make enough to pay the bills,” Cimino said.
He added the restaurant, which can seat up to 130 people, also gives it an edge over other venues.
He recounted how he bought a $4,000 pasta machine to roll out the dough for the restaurant’s lasagna, and his most senior cooks cast it aside after a day.
They like doing it by hand,” Cimino said. “They’re right, it tastes better by hand, so that’s the way we still do it.”
The Caruso Club hosts 300 events a year and is booked until 2017.
While weekend weddings bring in most of the revenues to keep its 25 full-time and 60 part-time employees working, Cimino said he is most proud of the work the Caruso Club has done to support local charities.
A number of charitable organizations, including the House of Kin, United Way and Easter Seals Ontario have used the club for free, or at heavily discounted rates, to host their fundraising events.
Even after 68 years, the Caruso Club remains in a constant state of evolution.
Cimino said the club’s parking lot is next on the list for renovations, and there are plans to update the upper hall’s video equipment.
He also has a big project in the works, reliant on government funding, but cannot divulge any details until next year.