In the spring of 2022, the Government of Canada issued an official apology to Canadians of Italian descent for the internment of thousands of men during WWII. Decades before, Vittorio Rossi penned Paradise By The River, and it remains an important work that describes a dark period in Canadian history.  

Vittorio Rossi is one of Canada’s most celebrated playwrights, and working with Executive Producer Barry Lorenzetti, Vittorio is delighted that one of his greatest plays, Paradise By The River will be re-mounted in September at the Leonardo da Vinci Theatre.

The genesis of the play goes back to the 90s. In a recent conversation, Vittorio stated; “The internment of immigrants and Canadians of Italian descent during WWII was a travesty, and I believed that it was a story that had to be told. It deserved a large canvass, perhaps even a mini-series. I didn’t think that I could do that – but I did know that I could write a play.”

“In the mid-90s, a local movie producer had hired me and another writer to write a movie about the internment camp at Petawawa. However, he and the other writer wanted to chronicle what amounted to a history of the Canadian-Italian community from the 40s up until the then present day. I told them that it was too big a time-frame, and that it contained too many separate events.” Vittorio adds; I asked them, ‘Where’s the story? Where are the human relationships that will carry the historical narrative that will put a human face to the thousands of people who had their lives uprooted by their own government?’ The project collapsed under its own weight.”

“A year later, the same producer hired me and this time provided me with a researcher, who gathered a lot of material from the National Archives in Ottawa. I wrote a treatment, but again the project was dropped. But this time – I had a wealth of research at my disposal.”

“I immediately got to work and wrote a mini-series, which I adapted to the three-act play. Now working for myself, I was able to create a love story and human relationships with the internment of Italian-Canadians as a backdrop. I was still able to tell that story, but now I had a way to make people listen and follow the story through the interaction of the characters.”

“With the help of several business people in the Italian community, we rented Centaur Theatre and were able to present Paradise By The River as an independent production in 1998. The play was presented again as part of the 2010 Centaur Season.” Continuing, Vittorio adds, “I am so grateful that as a playwright, I am able to see that the play I wrote so many years ago still has life.”  

Romano and his wife Maria are making a new life for themselves and their soon-to-be born baby in Montreal’s working-class Ville Emard district. After Mussolini declares war on the Allies, hundreds of men of Italian descent are arrested as possible spies and shipped off to internment camps. The law enforcement agencies were often given un-verified information by local citizens – many who had ulterior motives. Wrongly accused – Romano is taken against his will sent to a detention camp in Petawawa, Ontario.

Romano and Maria each face challenges in during the internment and their separation; and the audience wonders if the strength of their love can be sustained against the backdrop of the ongoing internment, and the treacherous informants in Ville Emard and in the camp.

In a review of the original 1998 production, Gaetan Charlebois wrote: “Rossi is not generous to the array of stool-pigeons, hustlers, frauds and carpetbaggers who existed inside and outside the Italian neighbourhoods across this country.”

Vittorio adds to his comments about the upcoming production at the elegant Leonardo da Vinci Centre; “I’m looking forward to playing the role of Romano one more time. With 10 people, it’s a big cast and an elaborate set. None of this would have been possible without Barry Lorenzetti stepping up to be the Executive Producer for three of my plays – culminating with Paradise By The River.”

“Barry and I made a handshake agreement for these plays in 2018. We didn’t know then that there would be an official apology from the Canadian Government in the spring of 2022; or that Justice Minister David Lametti would cite the content of Paradise By The River as helping to raise awareness about the wrongful actions of the government during WWII.”  

Paradise By The River will be at the Centre Leonardo Da Vinci from September 13 to October 2. Located at 8370 Lacordaire, Saint-Leonard, H1R 3Y6, the theatre has ample free parking. Tickets are available at or

Editor’s Note: This is a landmark work – don’t miss it.