As written by her daughter Agnes Catenacci
She was 25 years of age when all her papers for immigration to Canada were complete and approved in Rome. It was July 24, 1953 where she had to make the trip from Coreleone, Sicily to Rome to pick up those stamped papers so she could soon depart to the unknown land of Canada. It was August 25, 1953 when she left her small village to embark on that ship in Palermo. It was difficult to say “Ciao per adesso” to her family and “Ti voglio tanto bene” to her mother. Poor thing, she didn’t realize that she would never see her mother or hear her voice ever again. Benedetta spoke very little of this experience. Her emotions ran too deep to even talk about what she felt. She was leaving everything behind including her fiance Lorenzo. They wanted to be married but the papers came so quickly that there was no time to have a wedding. So they vowed to get married by proxy once she settled in Canada. Benedetta was pensive. Will he marry me once I am gone? Lorenzo kept his promise of marriage to her. Of course he did. After all, Benedetta was his only pass to the new world. He surprised her by showing up at the port of Palermo on that day of departure. He expressed his special farewell by having arranged a photo to be taken of the two of them together. This was at a studio that was set up at the port for people to take last minute pictures. It was a beautiful photo that she treasured all her life.
Benedetta arrived on September 5, 1953 in Halifax. Her voyage on the ship was long and she was very ill for the duration of the voyage. She was travelling with no one. An elderly woman named Maria Rita had empathy for her. She took care of her and comforted her especially the times she couldn’t even lift her head off the pillow. Finally the ship arrived in Halifax. Most of the people boarded the train that was headed for Toronto. At one of the stops, Maria Rita bid farewell to Benedetta and wished her a good life. Benedetta had only to travel one more day before she arrived at Union Station in Toronto. There to greet her with open arms and an open heart was her older sister, Ignazia. She melted into her sister’s arms and cried. She cried tears of relief.
It was two days later when Benedetta started working in a Laundry factory. The job was already set up for her ready for her to start her long life of working. She pressed shirts for one cent per shirt, piece work they called it. She wilted away everyday in front of those steamy hot presses. It was hard work but she loved the money. October 21, 1953 was the date of her marriage by proxy to Lorenzo. She was in St. Michael’s church in Toronto with her brother in law representing her husband to be. Meanwhile in Coreleone, her mother was in St. Elena’s church representing her daughter, Benedetta. She was so happy to be married to her Lorenzo, now she could get rid of all those young men that kept coming around asking for her hand in marriage. She was a married woman now. It took over a year for her husband to finally join her and start their life together. Lorenzo finally arrived in Halifax December 9, 1954. They had a little celebration of their marriage. They went to St. Michael’s church and had a wedding ceremony. Benedetta looked beautiful in her North American white wedding dress with a crown and veil that her aunt in Chicago had sent her. Ignazia, who so proudly played the part of the bride’s mother, hosted a small gathering in her small kitchen. The excited couple went off to a hotel to have their first wedding night together. It was a fairy tale event.
It was on December 21, 1955 that Lorenzo and Benedetta had their first born child, a girl. They named me Ignazia after my grandmother and my aunt, because she was the one who brought my mother and eventually my father to the new world, Canada! My name is Agnes. On my first day of school my father said, “As of today you are no longer Ignazia. We are in Canada and your Canadian name is Agnes”.
My mother, Benedetta, went on to have my sisters, Mary and Josie. She worked all her life. She was never the domestic. She stayed home after every birth but only for 2 months. We basically were raised by neighbourly babysitters. Her love of money never failed. She pinched every penny and was frugle in every aspect of her life. From the laundry factory she moved on to work in a couple of other factories. She finished her work life in a tennis club as the cleaning lady. She loved that. She met many fine people. She was very social and looked forward to going to work everyday. She finally retired at the age of 61. It was at the age of 76 that she passed away. She was content with her simple accomplishments and most of all was grateful for all that the country of Canada gave her. She was a proud Canadian, but, never forgot where she came from and kept her traditions and culture alive. She passed those italian roots on to us and to this day all three of us keep her spirit alive by holding on to the culture and traditions that our Mom valued.