The songstress of St. Lawrence
A glimpse into the life of Phyllis Cavallini
Phyllis Cavallini is no stranger to the people of St. Lawrence and the surrounding area. Her musical talents and a smile that lights up any room have made her known to all.
With the exception of a few years, she began visiting St. Lawrence when she was seven. That first visit was with her mother’s brother, Uncle Ned, and his wife Antonia.
Her love for Aunt Toni and Uncle Ned and their family won her heart. Phyllis longed to visit every summer, helping Aunt Toni with the raising of their small children.
They enjoyed the simple life of swimming and fishing in Clarke’s Pond, visiting Blue Beach and Shoal Cove Beach, participating in the concerts and just being another kid “down in the dock.”
Phyllis was born to Mary Slaney and Antonio da Silva in 1939. Her dad, a native of Portugal, arrived in Newfoundland in 1920 at the age of 15. He stowed away on a schooner bound for Newfoundland, leaving his parents and family behind, never to return.
Antonio set up a boarding house in St. John’s where many Portuguese sailors from the White Fleet visited. Antonio referred to his boarding house as a “home away from home” for fleet members.
For the fishermen, it was a welcome safe harbour. For Antonio, the fishermen were like his long-lost family, returning to him by the sea.
Phyllis grew up in a very musical family of three sisters and three brothers in St. John’s. On completion of high school, she went on to col- lege to obtain a career where she worked until she met her husband Rino Cavallini who was working on a project in St John’s. They married and in 1960 moved to Toronto.
Phyllis and Rino were the proud parents of two sons, Gino and Paul. The family of four made numerous trips to St. Lawrence, reuniting with her Uncle Ned, Aunt Toni and the children.
The Cavallini sons loved visiting St. Lawrence during the summer months. Her youngest son, Paul, played minor soccer with the Laurentians. In later years the Cavallini boys both played in the NHL – Gino with the Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues and Quebec Nordiques; Paul with the Washington Capitals, Blues (side by side with his brother) and Dallas.
Raising an athletic family, Phyllis continued to be an avid hockey and soccer fan, especially for the Laurentians, following them on road trips around Newfoundland and St. Pierre.
Phyllis lost the “love of her life” on March 31, 1994 with the passing of her husband.
Since then, she has spent a large part of her life making other people happy, especially senior citizens, whether it be group therapy at the retirement homes in Toronto or one-on-one entertainment in several different long- term care facilities in the city.
“My passion is to entertain the seniors … make them laugh,” she said.
She also does a church choir strictly in Italian and is part of other choirs in her local area.
When asked her age, Phyllis quickly smiled and said, “Fiftynine of course, or should I say 59 at heart.”
Phyllis has many talents – her music being one. Songwriting, storytelling and her multilingual tongue are others. She speaks and is able to entertain in English, Italian, German and Portuguese.
Upon returning to St. John’s after a summer’s visit to St. Lawrence, she was inspired to write many of her songs about personal experiences in the town.
In 1997, as part of the John Cabot celebration, Cavallini produced her owned cassette tape, called “Brighter Days.” Many of her songs were written as early as the ‘ 60s but a few verses were changed to coincide with the Cabot celebrations. She toured the island singing her songs while playing the guitar and of course, enjoying many of Newfoundland’s breathtaking sites.
Some of the songs she wrote include “A Townie That I Know,” written in 1974. She writes and sings, “She was a little Silver girl who lived in St. John’s town but when the summer time arrived, I know where she’d be found, t’was in a place St. Lawrence, that is, in Placentia Bay and for two months out of every year, it was there that she would stay.”
“The Ballad of St. Lawrence”, also written in 1974 but revised in 1992, includes the following verses, “The Fluorspar mines... so deep and dark, the miners below ground, he showed no fear to his family, but prayed his shift safe and sound. The mines have claimed so many lives of men both young and old; they risked their lives for the fluorspar, down in the deep dark hole….
“Just come out to the soccer field, a game you’ll surely see, for the young men of St Lawrence, this sport comes so naturally. The Challenge Cup so many times, brought home for all to see. When the boys in Blue make up their minds, they’re hard to beat, you’ll agree!”
Cavallini will return to Toronto in early September to again entertain the seniors until she returns in the spring.
Phyllis Cavallini returns each year to her St. Lawrence roots. She entertained with a song on St. Lawrence Day this month.