In the mid 1970s, a decade or more after Angela Maria Curcio was convinced to return to Italy, she suddenly disappeared. The family was great puzzled and concerned by the sudden absence of their now elderly nonna. Soon, a telegram arrived that solved the mystery. It contained very few words.
“Arrived safely in Canada.”
Angela Maria Curcio had run away to Canada! In the modern age of air travel, she saw a quick and simple way to get back to the place that she dearly missed, and she planned it all on her own. Angela Maria managed to stay with friends in Toronto for the better part of a year and visited her late husband’s grave in Barrie several times before being persuaded to return to Italy one last time.
It has been quite a few years now since the feisty lady passed away. The family in Italy has continued to be fascinated by all things Canadian and were thrilled when one of Antonio and Angela Maria’s great great grandsons immigrated to Canada recently.
Simone Gargano (a grandson of Wanda De SImone), and his Canadian bride, Naomi, have been living in Toronto for a while and thinking about the historical family connections to Barrie, now a place not so far away. After Simone’s parents made plans to visit him in Canada, Simone decided to make a real attempt to find out more about the lives of his ancestors during their time in this country.
Every family needs a family historian and Simone Gargano just might be a natural as it didn’t take him very long to dig up some online genealogy records containing births, baptisms, voters’ lists and passenger records. Eventually, he found the Barrie Historical Archive and me!
As an immigrant myself who also arrived in this country by ship, I was immediately fascinated by this wonderful tale of hope, adventure, challenge and success. Fittingly, the Gargano family and I all agreed to meet on the Canada Day holiday. Our rendezvous point was to be the Midway Diner on Bradford Street, the oldest eatery in Barrie. With over 60 years of serving great food to Barrie customers, it is very possible that the Curcios once dined in this place.
Ahead of our planned meeting, I offered to post some photographs on a very popular local history social media page. This group has some 9,000 eager members, many of whom remember Barrie for decades back and could potentially offer some help. Simone agreed.
Not surprisingly, the response was almost instantaneous. One of the first replies I received was from Cathy Colebatch, a member of the Allandale Neighbourhood Association, and a keen advocate for preserving our past. Cathy immediately recognized one of the houses shown in the photographs because it is right next door to her own home on Cumberland Street!
On July 2, Cathy and her sister joined me at Midway Diner where we met Simone and his wife and parents for a late breakfast. After our meal, we set out on a walking tour of Allandale and stopped at 89 Gowan St. (now replaced by an apartment building), 95 Cumberland St., 15 Burton Ave., the Curcio Block on Essa Road and the restored Allandale train station.
It was a great privilege to see the joy on the faces of the Garganos that day. The family very obviously relished every moment of their short Allandale journey. The men, including an architect and a structural engineer, appreciated the chance to see examples of fine Victorian Canadian architecture up close. The ladies asked about the flowers in the local gardens and, at one point, were pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of a bright red cardinal very close to us.
Simone’s parents had little English but persevered in trying to convey to Cathy and I their appreciation. It was apparent that retracing their ancestors’ footsteps was something they had long wished to do. We were graciously invited to join them for lunch at the Farmhouse Restaurant, the former boarding house where Antonio Curcio likely stayed 116 years ago, another fitting location.
Unfortunately, I could not attend the lunch, but I did have one more short mission with the Garganos. The family was determined to visit St. Mary’s Cemetery and see Antonio’s final resting place. With nearly 4,000 headstones, I was not hopeful that we could find the gravesite very quickly but offered to try to help nevertheless.
The Gargano family headed to the cemetery in their own car and I arrived about five minutes after they did but did not find them in the parking lot. Soon, I discovered their car parked along a laneway half way into the centre of the property. The family was out of the car and I was amazed to find them all gathered around Antonio Curcio’s grave.
How had they discovered his grave so quickly? Apparently, they simply drove around until they felt that it was a good place to stop. Once out of their vehicle, they had walked almost directly to where Mr. Tony rested only a few feet away.
Some cultures believe that the sighting of a red cardinal bird is a message from beyond. Perhaps some kind spirits were leading the way in that sunny and peaceful place that day.
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.