La Dolce Vita
Starting a new life in Canada wasn’t always easy, but this couple has no regrets
We have raised two children, helped raise six grandchildren, and have fed many neighbours and friends over the years since immigrating to Canada from Italy more than 50 years ago. Here is our story:
When I arrived in Canada from Italy 54 years ago as a young bride, Canada was very different from the country celebrating its 150th birthday this year—except for the cold and snow, which I have come to welcome every winter. In 1963, the little town of Belmont near London, Ont., was not very different in size from my hometown in Italy, but it was full of the opportunities I didn’t feel I had at home. Here, I was free to do things my own way, whether it was going to school, working, staying home to look after my family, or all three.
People in Belmont welcomed me and appreciated my ability to sew; I made wedding dresses and dresses for the ladies at the local lodge. They helped me learn to speak English and figure out how things worked in this country. The storekeeper would tell me, “It’s not a gallon of milk, it’s a jug of milk,” and I remember the matrons of the town acting as role models for “the Canadian way” of doing things. When I took high school classes here, the history teacher let me take oral exams because I could speak better than I could write.
I never looked back, and I’ve never regretted coming here, but I don’t think the same freedom or that way of life exists anymore, even here. One of the things I enjoy doing is volunteering as a gardener and an interpreter at Fanshawe Pioneer Village, because it is a way of reliving the way of life that used to exist here.
I left Italy in 1958 at the age of 19, to start a new life in Canada.
My first encounters in Canada were not quite so welcoming. When we got off the boat at Pier 21 in Halifax, it was the first time I had ever seen people of different colours, but that wasn’t what I found disturbing—it was what they were saying to us, telling us to go back home so we wouldn’t take their jobs. It wasn’t a good first impression. But in fact there was always a lot of work for us, as tile setters and terrazzo workers, even though sometimes we had to work out of town, leaving at 5 a.m. and driving for three hours through the snow and bush to the middle of nowhere.
I still remember depositing my first $5 at the Scotiabank on Somerset in Ottawa, and the feeling of accomplishment that gave me.
The good times have definitely outweighed the bad, and the thing I value most about Canada is how people here respected and trusted me. Now I’m trying to give back any way I can by volunteering in different ways within the community. ■