Well, there goes Christmas for another year. Come and gone in the blink of an eye. But it was all good. Oh yes, very good indeed. Santa found me, as usual; I overate, as always; and once again, my grandparents gave us a great gift. This year, they bestowed upon us the scrumptious miracle that is homemade waffles, in the form a waffle iron – frankly, the gift that just keeps on giving. Marvelling at its beauty, I was reminded of a story I chanced upon a while back now. It isn’t long in content, but it is thought-provoking, and so I’ve decided to seize the opportunity to share it with you. And I mean, as far as waffle segues go, I think this is about as good as it gets.
Or is it? Bah – now I’m just waffling.
Daily Examiner – 14 May 1878
An ill-bread attack upon one of the Italian waffle vendors was made yesterday evening by a man named Coyle. The gentlemanly proprietor of the waffles politely asked Mr. C. if he desired to invest in his delicious edibles, when, to our Italian friend’s dismay, his shop was suddenly overturned by Coyle. For this amusement, Mr. C. appeared this morning before the Stipendiary, and was requested to contribute $6 to the city revenue or “go below for one month”.
Anyway, like I said, it’s a short story; but there is a bit going on here. First, a note or two on our colourful cast. The antagonist Coyle, or “Mr. C.”, charged with being drunk and disorderly, and for assault, was Francis Coyle, a home-grown lad of Catholic Irish stock. Likely the same Francis Coyle born sometime around 1852/53, he worked as a painter by trade. After marrying his wife Ellen circa 1880, he would go on to father eight children before passing away between 1891 and 1901, when she is enumerated a widow on the census taken that year. Our hapless protagonist, as revealed in a brief follow-up article, was one Lucia Pepino (more likely to have been “Luca” or “Lucius” or “Luciano”, male forenames, and “Peppino” with a third “p”). His origins are uncertain, as is what became of him after the fracas of 1878. There is no trace of him in the 1881 census on the Island, or anywhere in Canada for that matter, although one must take into account the fact that the anglicized butchering of Italian names can make it a tricky endeavour to locate such individuals in historic records. All I can say on the matter is that he established a waffle vending business in Charlottetown prior to 1878, somewhere in the vicinity of Black Sam’s Bridge (where Brighton Road and Euston Street meet), an odd location for such a venture, but I’d think it one based on ethnic and social marginalization. In spite of that, I would imagine that the food was probably pretty ace, because hey, waffles – you can’t really go wrong there. Now, that same article also tells us that Coyle wasn’t alone during the commission of the offence, as a John Flynn was also brought up on assault charges against Pepino at the same time; however, he was later cleared of all wrong-doing, and thus we can assume that, although present, he was simply guilty of failing to intervene.
So, aside from the clever pun on the part of the Examiner (“ill-bread attack” for “ill-bred attack”), the fact that Italian waffles were not an uncommon commodity on the streets of Charlottetown in the 1870s (who’da thunk it?), and what was likely just a straight-up alcohol-fuelled act of racism on the part of Coyle, I think that the main takeaway from this story has to do with immigration, and how surprisingly diverse it was here.
The history of migration to the Island has largely been monopolized by four groups, each of which accounts for a large percentage of the province’s population: French; English; Scottish; and Irish; however, into that mix you need to toss in a number of other groups. Lebanese, for instance. And Chinese. They appear in much smaller numbers, but appear nonetheless. And if it’s something to which you’ve not given much thought before, then it may come as a surprise that, historically, there was an Italian presence on the Island as well. A very small one, mind you, but a presence all the same. A cursory search of the 1881 census for the province turns up seventeen individuals who identified as Italian, a number that drops to eleven by 1901, but bumps up to twenty-six by 1911 (strangely, no one identified as such in 1891). They were thinly spread across the Island, from Up West to Down East, and mainly engaged in agricultural pursuits. As a result, Charlottetown never developed an Italian Quarter (how cool would that have been?), nor did the mafia ever take hold (that I know of). But despite being largely assimilated, some names, like Cantello, are still kicking about today. An unfortunate casualty of time, however, has been the Italian waffle making trade, which appears to have made an exit in these parts by 1881 despite its apparent proliferation in 1878. Something to unravel in a future post, perhaps.
Now, as for our thinkkitchen Belgian Rotary Waffle Maker, we put it through its paces yesterday. It made for a delicious assault on the taste buds.
PEI History Guy
P.S. – It’s unclear whether Pepino’s “waffles” were of the fluffy variety, or the traditional Italian pizzelle, thin waffle-esque cookies made in much the same vein.
P.P.S. – While Charlottetown does not possess an Italian Quarter, it is home to an abnormal amount of pizza joints for a city of its size. This, however, appears to be purely coincidental. And a delicious coincidence at that.