Just before the outbreak of the Great War, Canada had the strongest economy in the world. Everything was booming. Construction was constant everywhere, lands were being cleared, railways were expanding in every direction and mines and lumber camps were crying out for workers.
Meanwhile, an economic depression was taking hold in many European countries. In Canada, the government began to change the country’s immigration laws to allow more labourers and skilled workers to come and fill Canada’s huge employment gaps.
As a result of this more or less ‘open doors’ immigration policy, large employers embarked upon labour recruitment campaigns across Europe. Agents opened up offices and posters promoting the joys of life in Canada were tacked up on shop walls.
Very likely, this is how Mr. Tony first learned about job opportunities in Canada, and found his way to Allandale.
He was born Antonio Curcio (pronounced coor-chee-oh) in 1878 in the small southern Italian village of Bisaccia. In 1902, Antonio was 24 years old, married to Angela Maria Solimine, and the father of a young son. He must have believed that the best way to improve the lives of his family members was to sail away to Canada.
Likely, Antonio would have preferred to have brought his wife and child to Canada as well but several barriers stood in the way. Newly arrived working men would have been housed in rooms at local boarding houses until they could establish themselves in this country, leaving the acquisition of some sort of family dwelling to a later date. Uneducated persons without skills, like Antonio’s wife, were excluded from immigrating at that time.
So, Antonio got to work. He found employment with the Grand Trunk Railway and began his Canadian life as a labourer on the grounds of the Allandale Railway Station. After 11 years, Antonio had saved enough money for a three-month visit home to Italy.
On his return, Antonio arrived in Quebec City in June of 1913 aboard the Polonia and made his way back to Ontario along the Grand Trunk Railway system. He was carrying $50. Angela Maria was not with him.
The next barrier that presented itself was the Great War. Civilian transatlantic travel came to a halt after war broke out in 1914. That situation did not change until 1919. Within a few years, Italy itself amended its own laws and began severely limiting emigration. This further reduced Angela Maria Curcio’s chances of reuniting with her husband in Canada.
In 1923, Antonio, or Mr. Tony as his neighbours liked to call him, applied to become a naturalised Canadian citizen. He loved his adopted country and desperately wanted to make it his permanent home and somehow find a way to bring his family to Allandale to join him. Twenty-one years is a long time to be apart.
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.