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L'histoire d'immigration de Luigi Antonucci (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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I was born in Vacri, a small hilltop village in Abruzzi. We lived on a farm where my father grew fruits and vegetables for our own consumption as well as to make a little money when there was some left over that he could sell at market. Our house consisted of three rooms. It had a dirt floor, no indoor plumbing or electricity. My mother used to cook everything on the open fire place that dominated the small kitchen.
My father left for Canada in 1952 when I was six years of age, my older brother, a year later. Now, in December of 1954, my mother, sister and I were going to join them.
I was very excited to begin the adventure, more so because we were going to go for a car ride. I had never been inside a car let alone actually gone for a ride in one.
My Uncle Eugenio came with us to Naples because he wanted to make sure that we got there safely.
After what seemed to be an eternity, but was probably ten or fifteen minutes, we got into the car and left.
What began as a thrill of a life time eventually turned into a long and boring drive through roads that twisted and turned along and around the mountains. The four of us and the driver were squeezed into a small car that not only had luggage strapped to the roof, but also had some other pieces inside because there was not enough room on the top of the car. There were actually a few other cars that were going to the same place, so we travelled as a group all the way to Naples.
After a drive that lasted most of the day we eventually reached Naples which was to be our point of departure. You can imagine my excitement as we drove through the city to the docks so that we could board the ship. I had never been anywhere in my whole life except for our tiny hill top village, and here I was in this place covered with huge buildings. The one thing that struck me at the time was that there were no trees to be seen.
When we arrived at the pier and saw the ship, it was a wondrous sight. We were told that it could carry hundreds of people. I, of course, had no clue what that meant, but I knew that it was big.
The name of the ship was the Vulcania.
We checked in and went to our cabin, which by the way had no windows and had what I later came to know as bunk beds.
We had the bags and trunks taken to our cabin and then we went to the dining room to have supper. For some reason, I remember what we had for dinner. I heard my mother say in Italian that we were all going to have steak and salad. I had never eaten steak before and I’m not sure that my mother had either. In retrospect, I don’t think that I actually knew what steak was. I can still remember the taste of it in my mouth. It was juicy and very flavourful.
I can still feel my uncle’s arms squeezing me as we made our tearful goodbyes.
The next day, we set sail from Naples to a place called Genoa. I had no idea where that was, but I was anxiously looking forward to it.
I think that it took about a day to get there. When we went on deck the next morning we were docked. Since we were going to be there all day, we could go ashore, which we did.
Two things happened in Genoa that I remember. The first was that my mother bought me a small wooden chair for me to sit on when we were on the ship. I still have this chair and hope to pass it down to my children who will pass it on to theirs and hopefully it will eventually become part of our family culture
My mother had bought me a mouth organ in Naples. I played that thing constantly for the day or so that I had it. I can still see exactly where I left it when we went ashore in Genoa. It was on a cement retaining wall on a hill overlooking the ocean.
The next day we set sail for Lisbon, but we could not go ashore because we were not going to be there for very long.
That night we set sail for Canada on The Vulcania.
I don’t recall at what point the sea became turbulent, but it did.
At first it was kind of scary and later a bit exciting and somewhat adventuresome. The adults were the first to succumb to the turbulence of the sea. The corridors of the ship quickly became deserted because most people stayed in their cabins. I recall my mother going to the dining room to get food for people that we had met and were not able to fend for themselves. My sister and I would tag along and help her to do that. There reached a point, and I don’t know how much time had elapsed, before my mother became bedridden also. I recall my sister taking out the pail with vomit in it, to the bathroom down the hall.
This reminds me about the first time that I saw the indoor bathroom. I recall going into the bathroom, which was down the hall, just to flush the toilet. I was amazed that such a thing existed.
I recall wandering around the ship with some of the other kids exploring. I went into the dining room and it was completely empty. The tables all had white table cloths on them, but there were no plates or silverware. There were a few waiters dressed in their tuxedos ready to welcome anyone brave enough to try and eat something.
It was either that day or the next day when I went up to the top level and noticed that the exits to the deck had all been locked so that nobody could go outside. I managed to take a look through the port hole and saw the bow of the ship heaving up and down. When it went down, the bow completely disappeared below the waves. That frightened me and I ran back to our cabin to be close to my mother.
Shortly after I returned to our cabin I also stared to throw up. So there we were, the three of us, in bed and throwing up.
The storm subsided and a few days later we made our way into Halifax harbour.
While we were docking in Halifax, we went on deck and looked around. The only thing that I really remember is that it was bitterly cold.
It was December 13th and we were in Canada. At least that was the explanation that my mother gave us. I don’t remember disembarking, but we obviously did because the next vivid memory that I have is of being in a huge building with a lot of other people. And, yes it was cold in there. It was loud and very confusing. I couldn’t understand why we had to sit in there for so long. At one point, I remember being examined by a doctor. I couldn’t understand why the doctor was looking down my throat since I wasn’t sick anymore.
I don’t remember the coat that I had on, but I do remember the bitter cold that I felt. Even after almost sixty years, I can still feel the chill running through my body.
After what seemed a life time, we found ourselves on a train headed, as I found out later, to a place called Montreal. I had no idea what or where Montreal was, and I didn’t really care. I just wanted to be warm and go to sleep.
Before I go too much further, I need to pay homage to my mother. In retrospect, she was amazing. Here was a woman who had never been more than a few kilometres from our small village and she got us safely half way around the world. Keep in mind that she couldn’t speak the language nor could she read or write.
My mother was probably one of the smartest people that I have ever known. Her source of intelligence was her ability to be observant and resourceful.
She often would tell us the story why she was forced to quit school in grade 2. The school was the same one room school that I went to before we came to Canada. It was a one room, multi grade school. As a result her brothers and sisters were in the same room. When my mother was in grade two, her older sister failed grade three. Her parents decided that it would be disgraceful to have them both in the same grade so, instead of taking out the older sister who had failed; they took them both out of school. My mother’s formal education ended early due to her sister failing. I know, I do not understand it either.
I recall the train ride from Halifax to Montreal as being long, boring and cold.
The train was heated by a coal stove at the end of our car into which a man kept shovelling coal.
We sat on high backed benches that were bolted to the floor. The benches had little or no padding and were very uncomfortable.
We ate food that my mother bought on board the train. I have no idea where she got money to buy anything, but she did. I recall looking outside through the window and seeing snow everywhere.
We arrived in Montreal and got off the train with our luggage, which contained everything that we owned.
I recall my mother telling us that my father and brother were going to meet us in Montreal. And suddenly there they were. I had not seen my father for 3 1/2 years and didn’t really remember what he looked like. I knew that the man in front of us was him because my mother started to cry and they hugged. She then hugged and kissed my brother.
Shortly afterwards, we got on to another train that was going to a place called Ottawa. I don’t remember the trip to Ottawa from Montreal, nor when we arrived at our house in Ottawa. The next vivid memory is of the following morning when I got up.
I recall coming down stairs and standing in the front room of the house and thinking what a wondrous house it was. In the span of about a week, we had come several thousand kilometres from a semi tropical climate to one where the ground is covered with snow for half a year and from a house with no indoor conveniences to one that had everything including heat and an indoor bathroom.
To add to all of these changes was the fact that Christmas was less than two weeks away. Not that we had a lot of extras for Christmas in Italy, but it was still exciting for a child. Christmas gifts for us had been fruit and candy. I can still taste some of the hard candy that I used to receive. It was so delicious.
My favourite was a candy called gombetti. It was a hard sugar candy with an almond on the inside. Historically, these use to be thrown at Italian weddings. I can recall several weddings that I attended with my family as a small boy where the children would try to hit each other with gombetti. They hurt when you got nailed with one of these.
Thus my life began in Canada.
My father had left everything and everybody that he knew to give his family an opportunity at a better life. It worked.
Thanks, Papa.