Johnny Lombardi

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Johnny Lombardi
An old man wearing glasses, resting his cheek against his fist. The image is cropped just below the neck, though a striped dress shirt and tie are visible, covered by a blazer or suit coat.
Born(1915-12-04)December 4, 1915
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedMarch 18, 2002(2002-03-18) (aged 86)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Other namesMr. Toronto
OccupationRadio broadcaster
Known forCHIN
SpouseLena Lombardi

Johnny Lombardi, CM OOnt (December 4, 1915 – March 18, 2002) was a pioneer of multicultural broadcasting in Canada.[1][2] He founded CHIN in 1966[3] and CHIN-FM in 1967.[3]

Early life[edit]

The son of Italian immigrants, Lombardi was born in what is now Trinity Square, in The Ward neighbourhood in central Toronto, Ontario.[4] His father Leonardo Barbalinardo changed his name to Leonardo Lombardi shortly after moving to Canada because the Anglo-Saxon community of Toronto at the time had difficulty pronouncing his name.[5] Leonardo had come to Canada from Pisticci, in the region of Basilicata.[6]

He was lead trumpet player for the Benny Palmer Orchestra[3] in London,[7] a popular Ontario big band during the 1930s. He enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War II in 1942,[8] and was soon stationed in Europe, participating in the taking of Juno Beach. He was a Sergeant in the army, and during the war he entertained the troops with his trumpet.[9]

CHIN Radio[edit]

He returned to Canada in 1946, and in 1948 he opened a supermarket named Lombardi's Italian Foods Ltd., or simply Lombardi’s Supermarket, at 637 College Street, an area which came to be known as Little Italy.[10] He began his broadcasting career as a producer for an hour-long Italian music program, first on CHUM and later on CKFH in which he advertised his supermarket.[4] The show was successful and his store flourished. Lombardi became a promoter of concerts and sporting events. A champion of multiculturalism before it was implemented as Canadian government policy, he and James Service founded one of the first multilingual radio stations in Canada, CHIN in 1966[3] and CHIN-FM in 1967,[3] which now serve over 30 ethnic communities. By 1968, CHIN was broadcasting in 32 languages,[2] with Italian language programming predominant, at 60 hours per week.[2] Lombardi bought Service out in 1970.[11][12]

Another entrepreneur who did not forget the "ethnics" was Johnny Lombardi, who put his creature, CHIN Radio, at their disposal. Not only for Italians, but also Hispanics, Asians, people from the Middle East. All of them found newscasts, talk shows, educational programs in their respective languages.

— Antonio Maglio, 23 - Respect through much hard work, Tandem[5]

Lombardi later hosted an Italian-language television program on CITY-TV. He was also known for hosting the annual CHIN Picnics[13] at the Canadian National Exhibition,[1] featuring bikini contests derided by many feminists.

He would later explain the choice of CHIN using a backronym:

He explained the meaning of that approach through the letters in CHIN: "C is for Canada, H for happiness, I and N for international. CHIN is the happiness of living in Canada in a multicultural, international environment."

— Antonio Maglio, 23 - Respect through much hard work, Tandem[5]

Lombardi ran for a seat on Toronto City Council in the 1969 municipal election in Ward 4 which included Toronto's Little Italy but was defeated by less than 200 votes.

Personal life[edit]

Lombardi was married to Lena,[14] with whom he had one son, Leonard (also known as Lenny), and two daughters, Donina and Theresa.[14] He was sometimes referred to as "Mr. Toronto",[13] and usually wore a baseball cap.[15]


He died in hospital on 18 March 2002 after a brief illness.[15] A funeral mass was held at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Little Italy on 25 March, and was attended by over a thousand people, including former Premier of Ontario Mike Harris.[16]

The day after his death, York West representative Judy Sgro paid tribute to him in the House of Commons of Canada.[17] Mel Lastman, then mayor of Toronto, stated that "Johnny invented multicultural radio in Toronto".[15] On 20 March, Eglinton—Lawrence Member of Parliament Joe Volpe also paid tribute to Lombardi in the Commons, referring to him as "king of Little Italy" and the "father of multicultural broadcasting",[18] also stating:

Johnny was an integral part of the transformation of urban society in post-war southern Ontario. His radio station, home to broadcasting in 30 different languages, gave voice to the marginalized and served to give newcomers a sense of comfort and familiarity in a new and often strange land. Those programs not only served to acclimatize and integrate people into the Canadian mainstream, but they also helped launch Canadian talent in music and the arts.

— Joe Volpe, 37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION EDITED HANSARD, Parliament of Canada[18]

He would complete his tribute with a statement spoken in Italian. On 26 March, Lombardi received tributes in the Canadian Senate from Frank Mahovlich and Consiglio Di Nino.[19]


A statue seated on a curved bench, behind which is the trunk of a tree adjacent to the wall of a building.
The Lombardi statue on College Street.

Lombardi was a recipient of the Order of Canada and was invited by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1994, in which he had originally participated.

Often referred to as the "mayor of Little Italy," Lombardi lived in the neighborhood all his life, and a memorial to him was installed at the southwest corner of College Street and Grace Street,[20] in an area known as Piazza Johnny Lombardi in Little Italy. It is a bronze statue of Lombardi,[20] seated on an arced granite bench, with a statue of a seated boy nearby. It was designed by Veronica and Edwin Dam de Nogales.[20]

In Pisticci, a comune of the Basilicata region in southern Italy, a square was restored and renamed Piazza Johnny Lombardi (also known as Piazza Lombardi) in his honour.[21] It will "function as the main focal point for all musical shows and exhibits in Pisticci",[21] a tribute to Lombardi's trumpet playing.[21] A ceremony held on 11 August 2007 in Pisticci, declared Johnny Lombardi Day,[21] officially twinned the Piazza in Pisticci with Piazza Johnny Lombardi in Toronto.[21]

Lombardi was also bestowed with the Cavaliere Ufficiale (Official Knight of the Italian Republic),[3][7] awarded a Federal Citation of Citizenship,[7] and won Broadcaster of the Year Award. The municipal government of the city of Toronto officially named a segment of College Street between Clinton Street and Grace Street as Johnny Lombardi Way in his honour.[15][3] That area houses the CHIN Radio building, and was the location of Lombardi's grocery store.[15]

His son Lenny and daughter Theresa, and daughter-in-law Grace, along with Joe Pantalone, established The Johnny Lombardi Multicultural Foundation on 21 May 2008.[22] The hour-long documentary, produced by his son Lenny and his wife Grace Fusillo-Lombardi, Johnny Lombardi: The Great Communicator about his life contains interview clips from many well-known Canadians, including Jean Chrétien and Ted Rogers.[23]

Lombardi was one of six original inductees into the Italian Walk of Fame in Toronto, honouring Italians or descendants of emigrant Italians "who have demonstrated an exceptional level of accomplishment within their respective fields".[24] The others were Rudolph Bratty, Phil Esposito, Julian Fantino, Connie Francis and Giancarlo Giannini.

The Ethnic Broadcasting Award in honour of Johnny Lombardi at Toronto Metropolitan University awards CA$1,000 to a student in the School of Radio and Television Arts program at the university "who demonstrates a special proficiency in ethnic broadcasting".[25]

In Portrait of the Street: The Soul and Spirit of College, a documentary by Sandra Danilovic of the history of College Street and the surrounding area, Lombardi recounts an anecdote from his youth. He had walked for more than an hour to a pool in Mimico with friends, only to be turned away:[26]

The man at the gate pointed to the sign, "Gentiles Only". Lombardi turned to the man and asked, "What does that mean?" He tells him no Jews, Lombardi says, "but I'm not Jewish, I'm Italian." "That's worse," said the man at the gate, and Lombardi spent the long walk home in tears.

— Paul Townend, Portrait of the Street: The Soul and Spirit of College. - Review, Take One[26]

Lombardi was memorialized in a Heritage Minute, discussing his service at Juno Beach and subsequent impact on Canadian culture.[27]

His son Lenny and daughter Theresa remain dedicated to continuing the legacy their father left. Lenny is president and CEO of CHIN Radio/TV International. Theresa is the vice president and general manager.


There is a Johnny Lombardi fonds at Library and Archives Canada.[28] The archival reference number is R5389.


  1. ^ a b "Media legend Johnny Lombardi dies at 86". CTV News. 19 March 2002. Archived from the original on 2005-12-04. Retrieved 2010-04-11. Prime Minister Jean Chretien praised Lombardi's accomplishments upon hearing of his death. "I think he's done a lot to establish multiculturalism in Toronto and he will be missed by a lot of people," Chretien said.
  2. ^ a b c Whyte, Murray (24 June 2006). "Forgotten in media's culture gap". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2010-04-11. Lombardi's vision predated any official recognition of what a strong multicultural media could do for nation building. In 1985, the CRTC drafted its first ethnic broadcasting policy, drawn from the template Lombardi had been practising for almost 20 years.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Fairbridge, Jerry (January 2002). "Lombardi, Johnny (1915-2002)". Biographies. Canadian Communications Foundation. Retrieved 2010-04-10.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ a b "Johnny Lombardi".
  5. ^ a b c Maglio, Antonio (19 January 2003). "23 - Respect through much hard work". Spotlight. Tandem (Corriere Canadese), Multimedia Nova Corporation. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  6. ^ Renato Cantore (2 August 2015). "La buona jobba di Johnny Lombardi, da Pisticci a Toronto passando per lo sbarco in Normandia". Archived from the original on 23 July 2018. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "Johnny Lombardi: It all started back then..." CHIN Radio/TV International. Archived from the original on 2010-03-08. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  8. ^ "Juno Beach". Historica Minute. The Historica Dominion Institute. Archived from the original on 2011-06-09. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  9. ^ "Entertaining the Troops". Canada Remembers Times. Veteran's Affairs Canada. 5–11 November 2009. p. 4. Archived from the original on January 1, 2013. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  10. ^ "Johnny Lombardi". Inductees. Italian Walk of Fame. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  11. ^ "Lombardi buys out Service", Staff. The Globe and Mail (1936-2016); Toronto, Ont. [Toronto, Ont]18 June 1970: 10.
  12. ^ "Lombardi keeps CHIN frequency", The Globe and Mail (1936-2016); Toronto, Ont. [Toronto, Ont]07 Nov 1970: 29
  13. ^ a b "'Mr. Toronto' Johnny Lombardi dies". CBC News. 19 March 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  14. ^ a b "JOHNNY LOMBARDI". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  15. ^ a b c d e Vallis, Mary (20 March 2002). "Toronto Mourns Beloved 'Mayor of Little Italy'". National Post. The Canadian Press.
  16. ^ "MEDIA ADVISORY - Premier Mike Harris to attend funeral mass for Johnny Lombardi". Office of the Premier of Ontario. Canada Newswire. 25 March 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-11.[dead link]
  17. ^ Sgro, Judy (19 March 2002). "Johnny Lombardi". Retrieved 2010-04-11. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honour the passing of a remarkable man, Johnny Lombardi, founder of CHIN radio and TV.
  18. ^ a b "37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION" (160). 26 March 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-11. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ "Debates of the Senate (Hansard), 1st Session, 37th Parliament". 139 (102). 26 March 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-11. Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to the late Johnny Lombardi, founder of the multicultural radio station CHIN, Chief Executive Officer of CHIN Radio/TV International, and an icon in Toronto's immigrant community. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ a b c Warkentin, John (2009). Creating Memory: A Guide to Outdoor Public Sculpture in Toronto. Becker Associates. p. 284. ISBN 978-0-919387-60-7.
  21. ^ a b c d e "The legend of Johnny Lombardi lives on in Pisticci, Italy". Cat*PR Publicity & Communications. CHIN Radio. 30 July 2007. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  22. ^ "Federal Corporation Information". Corporations Canada. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  23. ^ "JOHNNY LOMBARDI: The Great Communicator". Rogers Communications. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  24. ^ Connor, Kevin (8 September 2009). "Walking proud in Little Italy". Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2010-04-11. The first-ever Italian Walk of Fame recipients include hockey legend Phil Esposito, singer Connie Francis, Academy Award-nominated actor Giancarlo Giannini, real estate developer Rudy Bratty and pioneer broadcaster Johnny Lombardi.
  25. ^ "Program Specific Scholarships for Returning Students: Radio and Television Arts". Ryerson University. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  26. ^ a b Townend, Paul (May 2002). "Portrait of a Street: The Soul and Spirit of College. - Review". Movie reviews. Take One. Archived from the original on 2007-02-14. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  27. ^ "Juno Beach | Historica Canada".
  28. ^ "Johnny Lombardi fonds description at Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved November 14, 2022.

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