Franco Deleo’s Souls of St. Clair

New photography exhibit honours the elderly generation of Corso Italia’s Tre Mari Bakery.

Souls of St Clair

Portrait of Nicola Pallota from Franco Deleo’s Souls of St. Clair.

While writing our recent article on Tre Mari Bakery I learned that from 1999-2008, the Deleo family ran a second location of the bakery in Etobicoke.

They chose a place close to Michael Power, where second-eldest son Franco was attending high school, so he could help mother AnnaMarie and eldest brother James run the business.

During those years Franco spent so much time in Etobicoke between school and the bakery that he felt more integrated into that community than the Corso Italia neighbourhood where he actually lived.

When Franco’s father passed away unexpectedly in 2008, the family decided to close the Etobicoke location to be closer together. Shortly after that his career as a photographer took off, and for several years he was away from the family business altogether.

“But after doing that for a few years I felt like I needed a change in my life,” says Franco, “I wanted to reconnect with my family and the community.

“When I came back to the bakery to work full-time with my brothers, I needed to figure out my place, how I could contribute. I’m not a business or sales or marketing guy. So I decided to use photography – my medium – it was the most comfortable way I knew how to bridge the two worlds.“


Franco Deleo, with nonna Mary pictured in background. Photo by F. Gallé.

If you’re one of the thousands of people who follow Tre Mari on Instagram or Facebook  you know Franco’s instincts were right. His photography of the food and people of the bakery brings it to life, bridges the gap between history and the present, and has been instrumental in the revitalizing of the business.

But there have also been more personal benefits, like helping Franco reconnect with his roots. And that’s the focus of his new exhibit, Souls of St. Clair.

Souls is a compilation of photographs of elderly customers and former employees, people who have frequented Tre Mari since before Franco was born. He took them in his studio, located just behind the bakery, and also recorded the conversations that occurred during the photo sessions.

“I learned so much taking these pictures,” says Franco, “things about the bakery and its history but also just the wisdom of these incredible, brave people,” says Franco.

“When I think of that generation and the wits and strength they needed just to survive, coming here and not even knowing the language. It’s not something our generation has experienced.”

The audio recordings – mostly in Italian – have been cut into segments and play continuously during the exhibit. They’re full of anecdotes that bring out the humanity and wisdom of Franco’s subjects, as well as the striking differences between our reality and the world they recall from decades past.

While the actual portraits are on display in Franco’s studio, attendees for the event will enter through the bakery and proceed directly into the rear laneway, which will be closed to traffic for the event. There will be audio and visual elements in the laneway as well as the studio, and of course some refreshments, but beyond that Franco doesn’t want to say too much about what to expect.

“I want it to feel relaxed and family-friendly, which is what you’d expect from Tre Mari,” he says. “People can come and hang out, in the alley or the bakery, or out front. I just want it to feel free and easy, like a big party.”

Franco Deleo has re-mounted his Souls of St Clair exhibit at Cucinato Studio in June 2019, to launch the next phase of the project, which will culminate in a book of photographs, transcripts of his conversations with the subjects and more. Stop in to say hello Franco Sunday, June 9, 2019 any time between 1-7 pm for a free drop-in event. You can view the work and event pre-order the book if you wish!  

For more information visit Franco’s website: 

One thought on “Franco Deleo’s Souls of St. Clair

  1. Ciao Marco
    Just came across this interesting exhibit

    Need to talk about some events Wed like to explore for our showroom

    Maia olive oil tasting and presentation
    This photo exhibit sounds interesting too

    Lets chat

    Call me at the showroom or drop by if you’re in the hood

    Be well

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