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Giovanni Guglietti

Click below to watch Giovanni's immigration story:


Narrator (N): At an early age, Giovanni knew that he wanted more from his life. He knew one day he would have to leave the only place he’d ever known.

Giovanni Guglietti (GG): The biggest problem was that I, I was the oldest. And I was pushing like crazy. We had to get out of Italy.

N: At the early age of sixteen, Giovanni kissed his mother goodbye, boarded a bus that took him to the sea, to make the courageous journey to Canada.

GG: –My father because I wanted to get out of Italy.

But I, being the oldest in a family, [I was] always looking out. There’s no way to survive here. And at the time, Italy was not that you could find a job or anything. There was no work. Plus, because we were not in the city, we were outside the city, we were treated a little bit, more—Even if you go to school, if you were the son of a lawyer, or you were the son of a—maybe a better chance to get ahead. But where we were, it didn’t matter who you were, there was no way you would get— even if you were in a good school –you would never be able to be a lawyer. Because, that’s the way it was.

GG: So, very young, you already see that. If you were a little bit smart, you see. So, I was pushing my father like crazy. And then the only way we could get out of Italy was if my father could go first because you needed a relationship to come to Canada. You have to have a related person. My father, we found one of the aunts he had here.

GG: Talking with some of the people which were there before, I thought it was a good place. And I pushed my father. I said, “You go. Go only for six months, you don’t have to stay there long.” He called me, and then he came back with us. My father (unintelligible) —he was close to fifty years old, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He was okay where he was. But, I pushed. Eventually, we got into Canada. As soon as he arrived here, the first chance he had, he made an application to get one of us, to get me here. But we didn’t have no money. The fare was very expensive. We sold some cows.

GG: My mother, Eslira Varano (??) took all the resources, whatever we had then, and she was able to pay the fare to Canada. I had twenty lira, very few lira left in my pocket. But inside the boat, I used to go up to first-class because down there, I couldn’t breathe. So I found a way around. (laughs) They don’t let you through, but I found a way to sneak in. I went to first-class, at the bar. But sometimes, some girls, a few but not many, once in a while, they paid too. But I spent those few dollars I had, the few lira I had in my pocket. When I got to Halifax, there was nothing left.

N: Upon arriving in Halifax, during a harsh winter, Giovanni had his first glimpse of life in Canada.

GG: They looked at my thing, and the train wasn’t paid. So what do I do now? Because the train has got ten minutes left to go. The train’s going to leave. So everybody else was leaving. We were sitting in the room and people started to go in. I didn’t have the fare paid. There was a priest there and somehow I—I think he felt sorry for me. I didn’t speak English, didn’t know nothing. And he gave me ten dollars. And he paid it, it was eight dollars, the fare [from] Halifax to Toronto. And so I was able to get inside the train. They had this bread, because in Italy we had heavy bread. The bread was made with wheat and a little bit of corn. It was very strong bread. But inside the train they had this bread, and you go like this (claps hands together, crushing the “bread”) And I said, “How are we going to survive here?”

GG: — And my father was working and he came to pick me up. When I told him that I had to do what I did, he took the money, “Give it to me.” He gave it back to the priest. The priest gave me back two dollars. I never gave the money to my uncle. I don’t remember, maybe I did after. I don’t know.

GG: Oh, there’s future here. It was our future here. It doesn’t matter, you could see it either way. Really early they knew, because we talked about other people. We were looking for something. We knew that there were opportunities here because even in Italy when I was six years old, I used to talk to some of the people which were here before and then they came back to Italy and they were living there. And they used to talk about it. They used to say what kind of life there was here, what kind of chance you had here. If you wanted to get ahead, you had the road to get ahead. In Italy there was nothing there. The wars then, ending in ’38 and finished in 1945. The time that I grew up—Me, like other guys – my brother-in-law Fred – there were five other people (??). We didn’t grow up in a bad time.