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From Winnipeg with Love: Tarcisio Filippelli Celebrates 50 Years in Canada

I first met and became friends with Tarcisio Filippelli in 2002 when he visited Pier 21 from Winnipeg. Hundreds of emails and many years later he visited us again, this time bringing with him his story (see below) and his family photo album.

Tarcisio writes, “A few years ago, I began contemplating going back to Halifax to celebrate my family’s 50th anniversary of arrival to Canada. I encouraged my sister and mother to come along but I ended up going alone.

“It was both eerie and emotional when I came to Pier 21 for the second time to honour my family’s arrival to Canada from Napoli, Italia, via the Vulcania. We immigrated to Canada on January 30, 1960, and now 50 years later; on October 8, 2010, here I stood again.

“I had purchased memorial bricks in honour of my grandparents, parents, sister and me and when I saw our names imprinted on the bricks on the wall, I was tearful and felt very nostalgic. I thought of my father, now deceased, and how brave he was for leaving his family in Italia to make the journey to Canada.


Left to right: Maria Almeida, Donor Relations Manager, Tarcisio Filippelli, Carrie-Ann Smith, Chief, Audience Engagement, and Marie Chapman, COO in the Scotiabank Family History Centre.

“I was so glad I made the trip to Halifax to partake in my family’s 50th anniversary of arrival to Canada through Pier 21. It just solidified the significance of that day for me and my family and it felt good to know that my father’s dream of a better life for his family was realized.”

We had a wonderful day with Tarcisio and cannot wait to see him again on the 55th anniversary of his arrival.

If you would like to plan a special visit to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, to book an oral history interview or to simply ask a question please email Carrie-Ann Smith at library@pier21.ca or call 902-425-0071.

Tarcisio’s Story

I was actually born on December 31, 1953, but my birth certificate reads January 1, 1954, in Mendicino in the province of Cosenza, Italia. While searching for a better life for his family, my grandfather, Antonio Conte (my mother’s father), worked and travelled to various countries before immigrating to Canada in 1951. He was very much a pioneer because his move fostered the immigration of other family members including my grandmother, Maria (Greco) Conte, to Canada. My father Giuseppe (aged 30), mother Teresina (aged 29), sister Tonina (aged 2), and me (aged 6), were the last to make the crossing aboard the Vulcania in 1960.

The trip began with an evening train ride from Mendicino to the Porto of Napoli. My great uncle, Vincenzo Madrigrano (my grandfather Antonio’s brother) accompanied us during this initial part of our journey and stayed throughout the day until we familiarized ourselves with the Porto. That evening after we boarded the Vulcania, we said our good-byes.

The size of the ship was so daunting to me because I was seeing it through the eyes of a young child. As we entered the ship through the connecting drawbridge, I was taken by the ship’s presence as it seemed so grand in size.

Within the ship’s doors, all the passengers lined up to present their passports and documents for inspection. Prior to departing my family went up on deck to see if we could catch a glimpse of my great uncle in the crowd below. I remembered being so intrigued by the crewmen as they worked to raise the anchor in preparation of the departure.

Although the 11 days voyage took its toll on my family’s health, it did not spoil my first glimpse of Canada. We were given emergency response training with a life jacket. For the most part, meals were limited with the exception of one visit above deck where my family was treated to a more satisfying dinner. On one occasion, I recall being fascinated with powerful waves the boat created in its wake. At times, the bow was showered with its magnificence. Other than a few portal stops, the Vulcania sailed steadily to Halifax after its departure. On one particular stop, in the darkness of the night, my father and I briefly de-boarded before carrying on our way.

On January 30th, 1960, it was a bright and sunny day and snow covered the ground. As the ship neared Canada and land could be sighted, my father lifted me in his arms so that I too could see the land mass. I was immediately taken by the blanket of white that coated everything I saw. It wasn’t until later that I learned that what I saw was called snow. It was a momentous discovery that this vast land of whiteness had a name. Back home in Mendicino, it was so rare to see snow this thick and white and cold. It seemed so odd to be seeing snow in Canada because when my family left Mendicino, 11 days prior, there had been no snow at all.

As we decked and the passengers began to disembark, the Captain wished us well. Once again, we were inspected for proper documents and then granted LANDED IMMIGRANT STATUS. Next to the receiving area, there was a train station where we would find the transportation we needed to take us west.

The train ride consisted of travelling to Montreal where we stopped to change trains and departed to our destination. As we neared Sioux Lookout, I recall seeing my father view the landscape, probably deep in thought about the new life that awaited him and his family. As the train entered the station, I could see my mother’s family standing on the platform in the bitter cold of February, waiting to greet us.

It was these family members who took us into their home so that we had a place to live. They had come to Canada before us and settled in the northern Ontario. Luckily their house was big because it needed to accommodate seven adults and two children.

One of my first cultural teachings included learning about the popularity of ice skating. Just one day after I arrived, my uncle took me aside to show me what ice skates looked like. He gestured to me, indicating that I could learn to skate when I got older. I realized at that moment, that my roots for soccer, the lifeblood sport of Italia, had yet to be discovered. This being Canada, hockey was what I was introduced to and the culture surrounding it.

In September 1960, I had to leave my family to go to the Ontario School for the Deaf in Belleville, Ontario. My parents’ desire for me to receive an education had been a large part of the motivation for our immigration.

In 1964, my family decided to move to Toronto because of its proximity to Belleville. I often visited my family during my holidays from the deaf school for quite a few years until my family decided to move to Winnipeg in June, 1968, in order to be close to my mother’s family. There I went on to complete my education at the Manitoba School for the Deaf. All of the families that had shared a house in Sioux Lookout now had their own homes in Winnipeg and everyone was happy; although we all missed Italia and longed to visit. Since our move to Canada, I have been back to Italia eight times, my mother three times and my father has made the trip back to Italia four times. I have lots of family and friends in Italia. I think that it is true that many immigrants have their hearts in two worlds.

My parents wanted a better life for their children, I think that they were happy with their decision but I know their hearts are still in Italia. I also still have my strong bond with Mendicino, Cosenza, Italia.

I am so proud to be a member of Pier 21 Alumni. I had purchased four bricks of the Sobey Wall of Honour to pay tribute not only to me (Tarcisio Filippelli), but also my parents (Giuseppe and Teresa Filippelli), my grandparents (Antonio and Maria Conte) and my sister (Tonina Filippelli Fiorentino).

I will never forget a guest speaker who presented at the Opening Ceremony for the new Centro Caboto Centre in Winnipeg in 1998. He said, and I fully agree with him, that we the children of the generations before us should thank and respect these pioneers for coming to Canada to enrich their lives and the lives of those to follow.