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L'histoire d'immigration de Felice D'Asti et Dina Maria Mignacca (immigrants italiens)

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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On September the 2nd, 1956, Felice and Dina’s life was about to change forever. Our parents were both born and raised in Galluccio, a small village, in Provincia di Caserta, Italy. They were both young children when WW2 arrived in Italy and the brutality of war leaves behind many irreparable scars. And so it was for our parents. Hard times befell upon them, as well as others, and it did continue for a number of years after the war as the depression lingered on. Our father often speaks of the hardships everyone faced on a daily basis and of the common goal they all shared …..survival.

They both attended elementary school in their village, and once this level of instruction came to an end, the possibility of further education distanced itself. In the meantime their life continued with agricultural duties.

In 1954, the year prior to our parent’s marriage, talk of immigration to Canada began and it started to feel like a possibility of a different and better future. With that progression in mind, once married, (August 1955), the wheels of immigration started their momentum. Our father’s cousin, Stefano, became our parent’s sponsor, and after several trips to relevant offices – from Galluccio to San Clemente to Mignano, - finally in February of 1956, our parents were invited to Rome to pass a medical, (perfect health was imperative for travel) and to their relief, all went well. Both were granted permission to apply for their visa, which coincidentally we issued on that same visit. And so on September the 2nd, 1956 our parents climbed their first steps to a new future by riding the corriera (bus) from their village and headed towards Naples where they would board the Queen Frederica and set sail across the Atlantic.

Our parents recall that it was a ship made up of immigrants mostly, and depending on what one paid for the travel fare, this determined the class of one’s travel…first, second, or third class.

Our dad tells us that there were but few first class passengers. These were Americans; tourists he believes.

Upon closer inspection of his fare and our mom’s, our dad noticed a discrepancy with the information on their tickets. Our dad remembers questioning the agent who sold him the two fares about why he wasn’t going to share a cabin with his wife. The agent assured him that this was only protocol and that once on board the captain would see to the proper arrangements. This was probably the first rude awakening for our dad, as new arrangements were definitely not on the cards as he was later informed on board. He would not be sharing a cabin with his wife; and whilst the agent probably rejoiced at the success of his trickery by pretending to sell two fares of equal value, but in reality one was a lower budget, thus concluding with the agent pocketing the difference, the only thing our father would be sharing was a cabin with two other men on the second floor of the ship. Mom would share a cabin with three other women below deck. Mom always shivers whenever she explains that her bunk bed was right next to the porthole and that she could see the waters swishing against the glass.

Accepting their fate, they spent their nights apart for the duration of the journey.

The ship first port of call was Malaga. A four hour stop meant passengers could leave the ship, as did our parents, but all were ordered to be back on time as the ship would not wait for anyone. Encouraged is what our parents were feeling at this point so we are told.

Her second stop was at Gibraltar and passengers were able to buy food goods without having to leave the ship. Baskets were hoisted up to the passengers, who would place their money in these baskets and in turn, lower the baskets back to the vendors. Requested food was placed into these and hoisted back up again. It was a lively couple of hours again we are told.

The Queen Frederica set sail once again and a few miles into the Atlantic, meant that mom would hardly ever leave her cabin as the ocean was playing havoc with her stomach and then there was that other little detail: she was with child. Seasickness did hit her hard, but she soldiered on: on her own during the night in the company of three ladies, and come morning dad would go get her and guide her on deck for fresh air.

This was pretty much the routine for the next 8 days until The Queen Frederica finally arrived in Halifax on September 10th, 1956, where it docked. Everyone disembarked and each proceeded to passport check. Once procedure completed, our parents too made their way to the train station, which was only feet away where they too climbed onto the train, (apparently this too was also a train for immigrants), that would take them to Windsor station in Montreal. The journey was “ONE DAY AND ONE NIGHT LONG” our father confirms when we asked how long it took to get from Halifax to Montreal.

Coal trains were not the most comfortable nor did they promise a clean free journey: Firstly, the folding seats were made of wood. At night they served as beds, and during the day into seats. By the time one arrived at destination, Montreal, the soot from the burnt coal would have travelled onto one’s clothes and onto one’s skin, making one unrecognizable. Our mother had on a white blouse apparently!
As the train pulled into Windsor Station, our parents spotted the relatives. Relieved to see the familiar faces of those who journeyed before them, did not stop our parents from the dread of uncertainty. Language would be a barrier and finding work was of the utmost importance of course…first and foremost. Our parents were to share a house with our Mom’s two sisters and their husbands from that very evening and for a few years that followed. Our parents both found work within a week…and have continued to work until they retired. It was mostly factory work for both, and they always tried to better themselves in their area of expertise. They are now 82 and 83 years old respectively. They are parents to three daughters, grandparents to five grandchildren and great grandparents to our newest addition to the family…a great granddaughter. far! Admiration for these two is immeasurable because love for the family has always been their priority, and because of it, we have flourished in our own lives. We have had the necessary tools right from the start. We often hear of the challenges our parents have had to overcome from the moment they stepped onto Canadian soil… from settling in to new surroundings, to breaking the language barrier. “How did you do it?” we often ask and the answer is always the same. “You do what you gotta do! AND now we are exactly where we are meant to be in our life!” They never had any regrets for that life changing decision taken many years ago and they have appreciated all the good things that Canada has had to offer. This, and with the carrying on of some of their traditions has sustained them all these years creating a good balance. Many immigrants have contributed to that fabric that is Canada, and it is comforting to know that our parents too are part of that fabric.
A number of years ago, both our parents arrived at the conclusion that since they had lived in Canada longer than they had their native land that is Italy, becoming a Canadian Citizen would be just the ticket. And so they did!
On Sept 14th, 2018, sixty-two years ago almost to the day, we three daughters will journey with our parents to Pier 21, Halifax and share an unforgettable experience with them. To be witnesses to where it all began.

Mena D’Asti-Treta
Residing in Scotland, United Kingdom