The songstress of St. Lawrence

A glimpse into the life of Phyl­lis Cavallini

The Southern Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BY CYN­THIA FAR­RELL

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.

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