Back to Home




Della Valle






This digital collection was produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital Collections Initiative, Industry Canada.


Home > Heritage > Della Valle
The Della Valle Family: Carrying on Traditions
Story and photos by Ariella Hostetter
The tomatoes and pole beans that used to reach up to the second-story windows no longer grow in the small yard of the house at the corner of Preston and Norman.
(Photo Courtesy of the Della Valle family) The Della Valle family. From left to right: Antonio (with Tony), Valerie, Rossana and Laura (with Marisa).


Marisa (Della Valle) Butko remembers her mother’s broad smile when gathering the huge red tomatoes that she planted every year. Holding them in her hands, Laura Della Valle would ask, “See how beautiful they are?”

The Della Valle family lived on Preston Street for over 30 years. Laura and Lorenzo raised four children: three daughters, Valerie, Rossana and Marisa, and a son, Tony. The family has since moved to other parts of Ottawa and Ontario, but their memories remain of the family home on Preston Street.

While Laura Della Valle devoted herself to taking care of their home and children, Lorenzo worked as a finishing carpenter for large residential construction companies, such as Campeau and Minto. Lorenzo specialized in kitchen cabinets and in installing molding and finishing details.


During his spare time, Lorenzo would retreat to his garage where he had set-up a woodworking shop. His talented hands turned out furniture for each of his three daughters, as well as trays, pen holders and trivets (a small stand used to protect the table from a hot dish). Even at the age of 85, Lorenzo could still be found making finely inlaid trays.

In Rapino, in the Abruzzo region of Italy, Lorenzo was the only one of his brothers to become an apprentice and be formally trained as a cabinetmaker. Just as Lorenzo finished his military service, the Second World War arrived and like many others he was re-drafted into the Italian Army. He served another six years, two of which were spent in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. He was thirty years old by the time the war was over. After establishing himself with a small shop, Lorenzo married Laura, who was two years his junior. The two had known each other since childhood.
dellavalle02 copy.jpg
A sheet from Laura Della Valle’s trousseau. Laura made all of the material in her “hope chest” out of hand-woven hemp and embroidered it in classic Italian cut work.

Laura was the oldest child of a well-to-do meat wholesaler. As she was the eldest daughter with several younger brothers, she had to take on the task of helping her mother with household chores. There was always something to do: washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, canning, making cheese, and sewing. When Laura was old enough she was taught to weave. She wove, sewed and embroidered a trunk full of handmade textiles: sets of sheets, nightgowns, pillow cases, table cloths and special cloth for swaddling babies. Everything was made out of hand-woven hemp and embroidered in classic Italian cut work, with white thread on white cloth. As was customary, Laura had to have a proper collection for her trousseau; she would then bring this “hope chest” with her when she got married. The trousseau often reflected the wealth of the bride’s family and as the daughter of a fairly well-off family Laura’s trousseau consisted of a full steamer trunk.

This steamer trunk travelled with Laura across the seas from Italy when she journeyed to Canada in 1955. She had to travel alone with her three young daughters, as Lorenzo had immigrated earlier. At the time, it was common for men to immigrate first and then send for their families once they were established. Laura and the three girls landed in Halifax and then endured a long train ride to Ottawa. The trunk remained unopened in the dining room of the Della Valle home for over 30 years. None of the children remember their mother explaining what it contained. The trunk was opened only after Laura went to live in Villa Marconi, a nursing home.

Formally trained as a cabinetmaker, Lorenzo used his talent in his spare time to craft beautiful woodwork, like this inlaid tray.
This laundry washboard made by Lorenzo was an important part of Laura’s and the Della Valle girls’ domestic routine, until they got a much-celebrated wringer washer.
dellavalle05 copy.jpg
The Della Valle family used this grape stomping vat, another household tool fashioned by Lorenzo, to make their own wine.

The Della Valle’s first home was at the corner of Preston and Anthony, where the Fish Market now is. In the 1950’s what is now a major highway – the Queensway – was then a railway line. This railway line ran past the house. The Della Valle girls remember spending winter days climbing up the slope leading to the railway and sliding down.

Some time later the family moved to a new home on Preston Street, on the corner of Norman Street, where they were surrounded by many relatives, friends and local businesses. The sisters could go next door to visit friends, but were forbidden to enter the Prescott Hotel, located two doors down. The hotel, with its dubious male lodgers lurking around, was no place for girls (or women for that matter). Yet every once in a while the sisters would go to the back door with their friend (the owner’s granddaughter) where they would be given a treat of French fries.

The Della Valle sisters had to work at home just like their mother before them. Domestic work was carried out the old-fashioned way. Laundry was done by hand in the basement laundry tubs and clothes were scrubbed on a wooden laundry board made by Lorenzo. There was a precise order in which the laundry was to be washed: sheets first, then pillowcases, followed by tea towels. The washing was then hung out to dry on an outdoor laundry line. The girls celebrated when a wringer washer finally appeared in the home.

Marisa (Della Valle) Butko’s pastel portrait of her father Lorenzo.
Homeland, Marisa (Della Valle) Butko’s pastel painting of the Della Valle family farm in Italy.

The sisters and Laura weren’t the only ones who worked around the home. There was plenty of work for everybody. In the fall, it was winemaking time. Using Lorenzo’s homemade grape stomping vat and his wine press, every family member (including the youngest Tony) would take a turn donning clean black galoshes to stomp the grapes prior to fermentation. This activity would appeal to any child for a few minutes, but it was not looked upon with eagerness by the Della Valle children when they discovered that the grapes had to be crushed for twenty minutes at a time. And besides, they wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labour!

Throughout the year, Laura made fresh pasta for her family. From her skilled hands flowed thin precise cut noodles, ravioli and lasagne, topped with fresh tomato sauce. The Della Valle family rarely ate dried store-bought pasta or white bakery bread. Laura set a high standard of quality for the family’s day-to-day life.

Growing up in the Preston Street Village in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s was rich in experience and familial warmth. The house at 411 Preston Street is now home to a new generation of people and the Della Valle children, now long grown-up, return to a place of warm happy memories.

back to the top

Community | Heritage | People | Traditions | Future | Neighbours | Site Map | Credits