As you know by now, www.travelandtransitions.com has dedicated itself to building bridges between people of different places and different backgrounds. There are many organizations and individuals out there who believe in the same cause, and none more so than Toronto’s legendary Lombardi family. Johnny Lombardi was a musician, WWII veteran, successful supermarket owner, impresario, entertainer and founder of Toronto’s CHIN radio station.
CHIN Radio is Ontario’s first multicultural and multilingual radio station and today broadcasts in the Toronto and Ottawa area. The programs are beamed out from Toronto on CHIN AM1540 and FM 100.7, and in the Ottawa/Gatineau region on 97.9 FM CJLL.
CHIN’s radio programs reach audiences in more than 30 languages and an even greater number of cultural communities. CHIN Radio is also available via satellite across North America on Anik F1, Ku-Band, Transponder 18, and world-wide listeners can tune in live on the Internet at www.chinradio.com.
In addition, CHIN also produces multicultural television programs for the Italian, Hindi, Indo-Caribbean, Iranian, Pakistani, Polish, Portuguese and Russian communities which are broadcast to a Toronto audience on Saturdays and Sundays.
The original person behind this multilingual communications empire is none other than Johnny Lombardi (1915 – 2002), a son of Italian immigrants who came to Canada in the early 1900s from the southern Italian region of Basilicata. I had the opportunity to talk to Johnny’s son, Lenny Lombardi, President of CHIN Radio, to find out more about his family’s commitment to multiculturalism.
Lenny Lombardi, President of CHIN Radio & Television
In his office in Toronto’s Little Italy I sat down comfortably with Lenny who struck me right away with his down-to-earth demeanour and razor-sharp intellect. It is quite obvious that Lenny’s outlook on life was shaped strongly by his father and he started to tell me some more personal information about Johnny Lombardi, a local legend and recipient of many Canadian awards and honours which include Broadcaster of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, the Order of Canada and many more.
Lenny shared with me that his father grew up in extremely poor conditions after his parents’ arrival in Canada. I inquired why multiculturalism was such a driving force in Johnny’s life and Lenny explained that early on his father felt the sting of prejudice. However, he was a talented musician and at 17 years of age Johnny Lombardi founded his first band. With the young Johnny Lombardi at the helm, this musical group included many adult members that followed Johnny’s leadership. He was a real go-getter and eventually played the lead trumpet in the Benny Palmer Orchestra, second in stature only to Guy Lombardo. And along the way Johnny learned that music helped him integrate into mainstream Canadian society and gained him acceptance and respect. He was well on his way towards becoming a success story.
Two members of the Coro Italia choir sit down with Johnny Lombardi
Then World War II came, and Johnny Lombardi actually enlisted in the war rather than waiting to get drafted. He realized that this would give him access to more opportunities for advancement. During the war he was sent to Europe and fought in France, Germany and Holland, but fortunately he never had to fight in Italy, the country where his family had come from. Johnny was a decorated soldier and participated in D-Day to liberate Europe from the Nazis. Yet despite his dedication he felt a deep sense of alienation and aloneness. Lenny refers to it as a sense of disorientation due to missing his homeland, feelings that had a deep impact on Johnny.
When the war came to an end Johnny Lombardi began to entertain Canadian troops that were stuck in Holland, waiting to be discharged from the army. Being the bridge-builder that he was, Johnny started to organize dances, bringing together Canadian soldiers and local townspeople. And he brought in music from Canada, based on a keen understanding of how important familiar things are to all of us: music, language, food, traditions….
After the Second World War a huge wave of immigrants came to Canada from Italy, and Johnny, with his uncanny gift of psychological insight, realized that just as he had missed familiar Canadian things during his time in Europe, these Italian immigrants would certainly have to be missing their familiar foods, products and culture from Italy, the ever-important “creature comforts” that make us feel at home in a new place.
Images of Little Italy