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Family behind Yellowknife’s first Italian delicatessen and pizzeria reflects on legacy

In Yellowknife today you can sate your culinary cravings with international flavours originating from Ethiopia to Japan. But that wasn’t always the case according to Melina Fiume.

Fiume and her husband Luigi moved to Yellowknife from Italy in 1956 when she was 20 years old. At the time, she said the only food store in town was The Bay, which didn’t carry Italian foods.

At first, the couple ate ketchup with noodles until Fiume asked the store to order specialty items such as tomatoes, pasta and oil.

“They told us ‘anything you want just tell us the name,'” she recalled.

Fiume said her husband, who died last July at the age of 87, always dreamed of opening an Italian pizzeria and delicatessen in Yellowknife. He worked at Con Mine for two decades until he realized his dream in 1978 — to open the family-owned and operated Luigi’s Salumeria.

The salumeria sold pizza, pasta, salami, prosciutto and mortadella — among other Italian fare — at the corner of 53rd St. and 52nd Ave. across from St. Patrick’s Catholic church. Today, you can still buy a slice at the location which is now Bruno’s Pizza.

“People would come from all over the town,” said Elena Fiume, who worked at the store when it was owned by her parents. “On a Friday night people would wait for two hours and we started telling our regulars, ‘don’t order pizza on a Friday night it’s way too busy.'”

“It was a lot of fun to have the Italian store,” she added.

People in Yellowknife who now enjoy fancy cups of coffee can also thank the Fiume family, who brought in the area’s first cappuccino machine and specialty coffees roasted in Edmonton, Elena said.

“It was very cutting edge food back then.”

The Fiume family currenlty lives in B.C., but three generations recently returned to Yellowknife for a visit as a high school graduation gift from Melina to her grandson Antonio.

“It’s been really cool, really interesting to see where the grandparents immigrated to and started their life here in Canada and how my family has grown up here,” Antonio said of his first trip to the northern capital.

“It makes me appreciate being in Canada so much just because of what my grandparents, all the hardships we had to go through.”

Antonio described his grandfather as a “tough as nails” entrepreneur and said he will carry his grandfather’s stories, lessons and legacy with him for a lifetime.

“I just hope I can be half as good as he was,” said Antonio.

“He just taught me to be super resilient and just not care what anyone else thinks and just do you for you.”

For Elena and Melina, the return to Yellowknife brought back a lot of memories.

Melina remembers her first home in Canada, the birth of her three children — who were all baptized at the church across from their store — and not having warm enough clothing for her first winter. That led to a week in hospital after a chilly trip across the frozen lake.

“That’s what I remember. Really big things happened to me,” she said.

Melina said she wished her husband Luigi could have also made the return trip.

“My husband really missed that store. He never wanted to leave Yellowknife,” she said.

Looking at old photos and taking new ones around the city, daughter Elena said she noticed a lot of changes since she grew up in Yellowknife. But she said some things remain the same.

“The mosquitoes are still here.”

Elena remembers walking along School Draw Ave. and wading in the water of Yellowknife Bay. She also said on Sundays her mother would make a big Italian meal — pasta with red sauce and meatballs — and her family would have a picnic outdoors.

“I think it’s really special. It’s a lot of memories,” she said of the trip.

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