Maria Antonietta Chiaradia (née Ros) was born on June 13th, 1935 at home in Bannia di Fiume Veneto, Pordenone, Italy. In 1956 at the tender age of 20, Maria immigrated to Canada to marry her childhood sweetheart.
Maria’s journey began like that of many postwar Italian immigrant women, with paperwork to complete and a train ride (often three to four hours in length) to a port of departure, in Maria’s case, Genova.
The paperwork typically had to be completed in Rome. Stay restrictions were often imposed. There needed to be a sponsor, concrete work, and an impending marriage in place, often within six months of arriving in Canada. Marriages would commonly be planned in advance, and church weddings performed within one month of arrival in Canada.
Maria arrived in Genova on November 15, 1956 and after two days of waiting, on the morning of November 17, boarded the SS Constitution bound for New York City. Maria’s mother and her sisters were loath to say goodbye to the youngest of their family, and cried profusely on taking their leave of her. Looking back on the episode, Maria reflected that Quando sei giovane non pensi tante cose (When you’re young, you don’t think of such things too deeply).
Alone and forlorn, Maria relinquished both her piece of luggage and the trunk carrying her “corredo”. The horn blew, the gates were shut and I cried. I would have stepped off the ship if I could have. Maria wasn’t afraid of the voyage; as a solo voyager whose contact with others was minimal, she was simply sad and lonely. As Maria put it, c’erano altre ragazze che non volevano che io stessi insieme a loro (there were other girls who didn’t want me to be with them).
After a turbulent, seasickness-inducing transatlantic passage, in the early morning hours of November 28, 1956, Maria arrived in New York City with her documentation and promissory note of marriage in hand.
Being accompanied and chaperoned was protocol for unmarried women landing in North America. Maria and the other single women were escorted to what Maria described as a “special train” because it held only those immigrants destined for Toronto. The train departed at 8pm, arriving at Union Station at 7am the next day.
On December 22, 1956 – within one month of arriving in Canada – Maria was married to her betrothed, Diano (Mario) Chiaradia. Women immigrating to Canada from Italy in those years typically did so for two reasons: to find work or to fulfill the promise of marriage. Maria had achieved the latter.
Da sempre ho conosciuto Diano (I have always known Diano). Maria was one to say that Diano loved her more than she loved him, yet theirs was a marriage of 62 years that produced a son (Renato), a daughter-in-law (Paola) and two deeply-loved grandchildren (Siena and Stefan).
Over the years Maria developed a strong circle of Italian friends and family. However, she missed “her people”, and every letter received from Italy was accompanied by a bout of crying.
Unlike some of her fellow immigrants, Maria quickly adapted to the Canadian grocery-shopping experience and neither complained about it not compared it unfavourably to that of Italy. She first shopped at the original Longo’s location at Yonge and Castlefield, where a chicken for soup stock could be purchased for 25 cents.
Within five months of arriving – in early May 1957 – Maria found work. She was variously employed as a clerk at a dry cleaner, on an assembly line at a toy factory, at a wool factory that in her experience was less welcoming to Italians, and at a Canadian Tire store.
For her first five years in Canada, letters were Maria’s only means of correspondence. Then, for the first time, she was able to return home to Italy.
Allora la vita scorre più facile, non hai pensieri; più serena; fatto cosi tante ragazze. (As life became easier, I worried less about everything. I made lots of friends).
While Maria embraced a new land, a new home, a new name and a new language, her longing for her homeland never abated: Desideravo sempre ritornare in Italia.