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L'histoire de l'immigration d'Emilio Santamario (immigrant italien)

Le Musée examine et accepte les dons de souvenirs et d'histoires, personnelles ou familiales, à la collection. En tant qu'institution pédagogique, ces récits nous aident à comprendre comment les individus se souviennent d'expériences vécues, comment ils les interprètent ou, encore, comment ils créent un sens à partir de celles-ci. Les histoires ne sont pas modifiées par le personnel du Musée. Le point de vue exprimé est celui de l'auteur et non celui du Musée.

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My father, Emilio Santamaria left his small mountain town of Rotondoli, Italia for Canada at the age of 19. His father, a farmer loaned him the 128,000 liras (about $ 200 CDN) needed for the one way ticket. At the time, that kind of money could have purchased 3 cows for the family farm. He knew that his father was making a huge sacrifice and he vowed to pay him back once he settled in his new land. My father was nervous and excited about his future, he loved his native land but knew jobs were scarce.
This would be Emilio’s first venture outside of Italia. He didn’t know any English; only that he was headed to the capital of Canada to join his older brother and start a better life with opportunity. He would dream of Ottawa and what a huge and glamorous capital city it would be –much like Roma.
He boarded the Saturnia ship in Napoli on April 20, 1957 with 12,000 liras (about $ 20 CDN) and a tin trunk carrying 2 shirts, a pair of pants and 3 barrels of homemade olive oil - essentially everything he owned.
On the ship, he recalls the rough waters and the crowds of people getting seasick. His cabin was small with 2 bunk beds and his roommates were also young Italian men headed for the new country. When he wasn’t seasick, he would join his new friends in the dining room. He enjoyed the food and especially the service ... he loved how they would prepare his breakfast eggs any way he wanted them.
His arrival in Halifax at Pier 21 was most memorable; he recalls the fog and cool weather but warm reception from the Canadians at the harbour. Most of the Italians were headed to Toronto or Montréal, few were going to Ottawa. As the journey continued and despite the language barrier, my father was grateful for the Canadians’ hospitality – they were always nearby to guide him along his way.
Finally, he arrived in the capital city and stepped off the train only to feel huge disappointment… Ottawa was so small and sparse! Nothing like he expected. He was greeted by his brother and cousin and hopped on his first streetcar to his new home. He soon realized a trail of oil was following him and his beloved olive oil was leaking from his trunk. Thankfully some was cherished and he was able to enjoy this last connection to home with his relatives.
Three days later, my father had a job as a bricklayer’s assistant. Not easy work but he was among many new immigrants all working together to build the Natural Resources government buildings on Booth Street. He worked five days a week and took English classes and chef training weeknights. Almost all weekends were spent at the Experimental farms, relaxing with friends and marveling at the beauty of the oak and willow trees. Ottawa had become a beautiful city in his eyes… so much greenery everywhere.
In 1963, his life changed. While working as a chef manager at a restaurant, he met a young, beautiful Italian woman, Maria Barrucco, applying for the vacant waitress position. They married a year later and I was born followed by my brother, Antonio.
Our parents continued to work hard to provide us with choices they did not have. More importantly, they gave us strong family values and work ethics.
50 years later, my parents boarded the Pier 21 anniversary cruise to re-visit where it all began. It was an emotional day at the Pier 21 museum in Halifax. They were deeply moved by the stories, the photos and especially the film. My father could not believe how much time had gone by and how he was able to make that journey on his own. Seeing all the names on the brick wall was profound. This was a very special day for him and will forever be in his heart.
My father says he loves Canada “no regrets ever”. He is enjoying his life now- visiting family in Italia, planting his summer garden every year and insisting a fig tree can grow in Canada! (We’re still waiting for proof).
We are proud of our parents and the journey my father took to this country, our home.
Joanna Santamaria Zito