In 1956, at the age of 25, he sailed from Naples to Halifax, then settled in Toronto with his wife, Teresa. Franco at first worked in the stockyards, but when a makeshift cart came his way, he became a street vendor and the course of his life changed.
A moving human landmark, Franco and his cart could be found everywhere – the Royal Ontario Museum, Kensington Market, Chinatown, Maple Leaf Gardens, the Canadian National Exhibition, Ontario Place, the annual Santa Claus Parade, neighbourhood festivals across the city.
Over the years, Franco was the subject of countless photographs and paintings.
Multimedia artist, Noelle Elia, spent hundreds of hours with Franco, watching, studying and learning from him. Her documentary film (The Franco Effect) evolved into an ongoing art project, and a life-changing friendship.
This friendship was the starting point for Noelle’s Journey, a short film which explores the underpinnings of the Italian-Canadian community in Canada.
Can one person embody the best of a city? I believe that in Toronto, Franco Grosso did just that. For more than 50 years, since 1964, he was known to many as the “original popcorn man.” Like a Fellini character, the sight of Franco and his red-and-yellow street vendor’s cart – with its inflatable toys, multicoloured flags, candy apples and roasted chestnuts – evoked an era when life was less complicated, when people had time to stop, chat and laugh. Franco created a positive space for people of all ages, classes and nationalities to meet. Kind, funny, hard-working and generous, he treated everyone the same, whether you were an old friend or new acquaintance.