Italian Heritage Month – meet the East End’s Angelo Branca

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One of the best parts about messing around with history, especially criminal history, is digging up connections. Angelo Branca appears as a Canadian middleweight boxing

Angelo Branca in the 1930s

champion in the 1930s, and as the scrappy East End (Strathcona) lawyer and defender of madams and bookies in At Home with History.

In Sensational Vancouver, he is defence attorney to notorious brothel owner Joe Celona during the Tupper Royal Commission into police corruption. In another chapter, he pops up as a patron of former VPD detective Joe Ricci’s West Coast Central Club, and in another, he is boss and close friend to Tosca Trasolini a pilot and member of the Flying Seven, Canada’s first all-female aviator club.

In Blood, Sweat, and Fear, Branca swaps sides in 1935 and defends 17 VPD officers suspended for corruption. Every one of them got their job back. Ten years later he is defending a soldier accused of murdering a young woman in English Bay in 1945. It’s one of the few cases he loses in his career.

Angelo Branca boxing in the 1930s. Courtesy Ray Culos

During his career, Branca defended 63 people on murder charges, and only one, Domenico Nassa, received the death penalty in 1928. Branca told his biographer that he had no quibble with that decision, but he didn’t think the soldier deserved to hang, and he fought the verdict all the way to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. He often took on pro bono cases.

Angelo Branca with client Joe Celona. Province photo, 1955.

Branca was born in 1903 and grew up at 343 Prior Street with parents Teresa and Filippo, two brothers John and Joseph and sister Anne. Filippo ran the grocery store on Main Street and he and Peter Tosi and Sam Minichiello were the three biggest importers of California grapes in the area.

West Coast Central Club, Main Street, ca.1950. Joe Ricci far left. Photo courtesy Louise Ricci

My favourite story comes from Ray Culos whose grandfather was Sam Minichiello, and says that the joke in the neighbourhood was that wine was a family affair. Filippo would sell the grapes to the bootleggers, his son John, a detective with the dry-squad would arrest them, and his other son, Angelo, would get them off in court.

343 Prior Street, Vancouver 2017. Photo Google maps.

The Canadian Lawyer magazine wrote that Branca was the most famous criminal defense lawyer in Canada’s history. In 1963, he became a Supreme Court judge. Branca died in 1984.

To read more about his remarkable life, check out:

Vincent Moore’s book: Gladiator of the Courts, Douglas and McIntyre, 1981

Ray Culos’s website

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.


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