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The Immigration Story of The Santori Family (Italian immigrants)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

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Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Date of Arrival: 
December 22 1953
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Story Text: 


As told by Bee Santori

(The Township Troubadours des Cantons)

The year was 1951, when my mom and I saw my Aunt Santina and her four children leave Italia for America, as the Italians called it. It was really Canada. My Uncle Antonio had already been there one year, and he now made arrangements for his family to join him.

I was only five years old then. My Mom, my Dad, and I lived in a little town called San Giovanni Paganica in the community of Montereale, l' Aquila, Italy.

The house we lived in was very small. There were two small rooms on the main floor, and three bedrooms on the second. There were eight of us in that house. My parents and I, my Grandmother, two aunts, an uncle, and a great uncle, who was blind. Heating was with a fireplace. There was no running water, nor toileting facilities in the house.

Our family was not well off. We had just enough to survive. We had a large vegetable garden, and on one parcel of land my dad planted potatoes, some of which he sold. We also had some animals, sheep, chickens, and a pig.

My dad hunted to put food on the table. Whenever possible he took on odd jobs, and during the harvest, he and my uncle went about with their thresh mill, supplying a service for the farmers in the area.

Those were difficult times. My dad had dreams of a better life for his family.

In 1953, I was 7 then, we received word from my Uncle and Aunt in Canada, saying that it had been accepted for them to sponsor us, and that we could begin making arrangements to travel to Canada as soon as possible.

My Mom packed a couple of suitcases and a big wooden chest with all of our belongings. My Dad borrowed some money, and with that arrangements to travel by ship to the new land.

We left our town on December 13, 1953, traveled by bus, and arrived in Napoli late afternoon. We stayed in a hotel in Napoli overnight, then on the 14 of December, we embarked on the ship, La Conte Bianca Mano, and soon we were off to America.

I remember a few things from the trip: We had to pass by the Rock of Gilbralter, near Spain, where the ship stopped for a while, then we were off again.

We were at sea a total of 8 days. I never got seasick. I remember eating in the dining room. There was all kinds of food that I had never seen before. I was really impressed by the paninis ( little breads) . During the trip, we had a safety drill, where all the passengers and crew had to go to the top deck of the ship, and put on life jackets.

December 22 we finally arrived at Halifax. The ship docked at pier 21, and soon we were walking across a wooden plank onto land. The customs officer was very nice. I remember him giving me a little plastic truck as a gift. ( I have a similar one that I keep as a souvenir). I'm sure he must have said, " welcome to Canada" , but I didn't understand a thing. I only spoke Italian.

As our wooden trunk was being taken off the ship it fell, and some of the boards at the base split. I still own that trunk.

Next, we were on a train heading for Montreal. On the way, there was a big snow storm, and the train stopped. The men had to get out to help clear the tracks before the train could continue.

A little girl, in our car, I remember kept on going back and forth to fill a bottle with water until there was no more water. The train trip seemed to be very long.

We finally arrived in Montreal at central station on December 23. My Uncle and the kids were there to greet us. The station was all decorated for Christmas. There, I saw a large cardboard cutout of a fat man dressed in red. I later found out that that was Babbo Natale, Santa Claus. You see, in Italy we had the Befana, an old lady who delivers Christmas gifts, on the 6th of January. Another recollection: there at one end of the station, on a raised platform, was a model train going round and round. I was really intrigued by that. In later years I returned to central station, and that train was still there. It brought back lots of memories.

My family came to Canada in December 1953. My parents worked hard to make ends meet. The country offered us security, freedom, and lots of happy times.

My Dad, with only a 5th grade education, learned to speak both English and French, and ended up owning a restaurant.

My Mom, with only a 4th grade education, also learned to speak both English and French. She became a seamstress, and in her spare time she volunteered at the church.

I attended school, learned both English and French, and I graduated from University with a degree in Modern Languages, and a certificate in Special Care Counseling from College.

Canada opened its arms to my family and I, and since 1968 when I became a Canadian Citizen, I have always held Canada as my home. I love Canada, and I am very proud to be a Canadian.

Several years ago, my cousin and I returned to Pier 21 to visit the museum. It was still under construction, but what we saw brought back many memories. The short film in the auditorium, the customs officer telling his story, brought tears to my eyes. The idea of Pier 21 as a museum is an excellent one. I tell everyone about it.

My name is Egidio Santori, everyone calls me Bee, the story I just told you is my personal story.

As a tribute to the Pier 21 museum, and in recognition of the beautiful land, Canada, that received me and the other immigrants, we the Township Troubadours des Cantons, have traveled here from the province of Quebec, to tell our stories. We dedicate these stories to our beautiful country of Canada, thank-you.