A place of honour for cherished Sicilian souvenir
The Sicilian cart first appeared in the early 1800s when the roads of Sicily were dramatically improved. Originally, they were put to use as transportation vehicles hauling people, agricultural products, wine and so forth. They were also used on festive occasions such as weddings, parades, etc. The cart was either pulled by a horse (often in urban areas or flat country) or a donkey (in difficult terrain).
Building Sicilian carts was not only a highly complex undertaking but it was a testament to the skills of the people of Sicily – cartwrights, painters, iron smiths and other artisans contributed their skills to the process. They also became vibrant works of art and carving as their creators rendered elaborate religious and historical scenes on the cart.
The cart walls were especially useful for painting these scenes but all surfaces of the cart were carved and painted to tell a story. Different types of carts were produced in Sicily’s various regions, such as Palermo, Catania and Agrigento. Through their attention to detail and use of colour, these artists brought forth creations that proclaimed the history and the culture of Sicily.
The process of painting a cart became an art in itself that was handed down from generation to generation in craft families. Many painters became acclaimed cart painters, notable among which were the Ducato brothers of Palermo.
By the 1950s, with the arrival of motor vehicles, the use of the Sicilian cart as a commercial vehicle had largely been discontinued. It has become a major part of the folklore of Italy playing a crucial part in portraying Sicilian customs and traditions.
The Sicilian cart that sits on display in the foyer of the Centro Caboto Centre
has its own story to tell. Thirty- two years ago (1984) the Sicilian Club of Winnipeg submitted an application for a pavilion to be part of the Folklorama celebration.
The club wanted to create an exhibit that would present an important part of the Sicilian cultural heritage and delegate done of its members, Sal Rapisarda, to travel to Sicily and find and purchase a carretto Siciliano to bring back to Winnipeg.
Arriving in Paterno, Sal enlisted the help of Giuseppe Cannavo (uncle to Alfina Grande, president of the Italian Canadian League of Manitoba) in his search for the carretto. Eventually they came upon and purchased the cart that now stands at the Centro Caboto Centre. The cart, built in 1954, arrived Winnipeg in June 1985 and has been a central part of the Winnipeg’s Italian community ever since.
Shortly after coming to Winnipeg the cart won top prize in the Red River Parade. During Folklorama 2016 the cart continued to be an object of intense interest for pavilion visitors to the Italian Pavilion.
The carretto is an amazing work of art and culture. Each time you look at it you see something new. There is Charle magne dressed as befits a Holy Roman emperor; there are scenes of battle on Sicilian soil between French and Turkisharmies. Saint George, the Roman soldier, appears fighting his dragon.
In our time, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a carretto. The skills required for their creation are disappearing and very few are being built.
It is estimated that in Europe our carretto is currently valued at 80,000 Euros(C$117,000). Like the other seniors in our community, the carretto is a rare jewel. Nestled in the heart of the Italian community at the Centro Caboto Centre, it can be honoured and respected for generations to come.
Greg Barrett is a member of The Committee of Italians/Canadians of the Third Age.