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Ada DiNardo: One Woman’s Journey to Canada
By Fiona Story
Ada DiNardo never expected to come to Canada. Ada grew up on a farm in the tiny town of Roccamontepiano, in the province of Chieti, with her two younger brothers Rocco and Ettore and younger sister Maria. Her parents planned for her to marry, stay in Italy and raise a family of her own.

In 1939, she followed that plan and, at the age of 20, she married Palmerino DiNardo, a man living in the same village. One year after their marriage he went off to fight in the Second World War and never came back. He was proclaimed missing in action.

Sixty-one years later, sitting at her son’s dining room table with her feet barely touching the ground, Ada says she decided to move to Canada due to the conditions of life offered by post-war Italy.

“I wanted something better, a better life,” she shrugs.

So Ada changed her parents’ plan. She turned down an offer of marriage from Rocco DiNardo, another soldier in the war from her village. And in 1949, Ada wrote to Palmerino’s cousin, Rosa Tiezzi, in Canada. Rosa applied for Ada to immigrate and work as a maid in her house, even though there was no room for Ada.

“In those days the immigration bureau would go and inspect the house where you’d be staying,” says Ada. “Rosa showed them her mother-in-law’s room and made excuses and said it would be my room.”

Despite her parents’ protests, Ada packed and left for Canada. Using the money she had received from the Italian government in compensation for the loss of her husband, Ada paid the 400 lira needed for the passage to Canada.

Ada DiNardo (second from right) with her parents (sitting) and siblings.

“The boat trip took ten days and I was sick by the second day,” she says.

It was on this tiny boat, “Brazil,” that Ada first met her good friend Rosina Talarico, who was coming to Canada to get married, as Ada found out in later years. Marriage was a common method of immigration to Canada and one of the easier ways. Ada went the hard route.

“Tell her about the captain on the boat,” her son George prods from across the table.

Ada shakes her head and shushes him with her hand, proclaiming that it is not an interesting story. She waits a moment and tells it anyway. Ada had landed her own room on the very tiny boat, courtesy of the captain who developed quite the crush on her. By the second night, the captain came to Ada’s room and asked her to marry him, stating that he hated his job and wanted to settle down with someone.

“I told him to leave or I’d scream,” she says, adding that she avoided him for the rest of the trip.

The boat docked in Halifax and Ada had to take a 24-hour train ride to Montreal. When she finally arrived in Ottawa, Rosa Tiezzi brought her to stay at Franco DiNardo’s home, the uncle of her late husband.

Ada’s first job was working in a laundry on Rochester Street. Three months later, she moved on to the Ottawa Civic Hospital where she steam-pressed laundry. Ada worked eight-hour days, five days a week and on Saturdays until one in the afternoon for $18 a week. It was good pay at the time.

“You have to work some place,” she says. “I liked it. I was happy.”

Ada and her husband Rocco.

One year later, she applied for her sister to immigrate to Canada and Maria eventually came to work at the Civic Hospital too. Some time after 1953, brother Rocco joined the sisters and the parish priest, Father Ferraro, helped him get a job shoveling snow at the train station. Ada’s second brother, Ettore, became a Roman Catholic priest and is currently serving as the parish priest for an Italian community in New Jersey.

Ada did not know any English upon her arrival in Canada and picked it up one word at a time.

“One word here, one there. I learned one a day, one tomorrow,” she says.

She attended English classes in the evenings at St. Anthony’s School, however, a man she didn’t know asked her out one night and this scared her so much that she never went back.

Ada admits her lack of English impeded her in the workplace when she was starting out. She was so timid about using the language that she continued her work without bathroom breaks because she did not want to ask someone to take her place. After she developed a bladder infection, she began to use English and even started to act as a translator between the Italian patients and the medical staff.

Meanwhile, the Rocco DiNardo from her past had been released from a prisoner of war camp four years earlier and had made his way back to Italy. He had gone to Ada’s parents’ house to ask for her hand in marriage. Again.

“My parents wrote me and told me,” she says smiling. “I kinda liked him, you know.”

Rocco’s entrance into Canada was delayed by two years because Ada’s former husband had not been declared dead and a marriage to an immigrant only had a 90-day window. Ada credits Father Ferraro with helping her to get a death certificate.

In 1954, Father Ferraro married a newly immigrated Rocco DiNardo and Ada DiNardo at St. Anthony’s Church.

Ada laughs, remarking how although she married twice, she has never had to change her name. George, her eldest son, speculates that DiNardo is as common a name in Italy as Smith is in Canada.

Rocco and Ada have been married for 47 years and have four sons: Giorgio, Giuliano, Italo and Elio. With the exception of Giuliano, who studied accounting and works at London Life, all are employed in computer and software-related fields. Ada quit work to raise her children. Four boys were a handful. Her sons still remember fondly the door they broke fighting each other, which remains broken today, and the brand new couch they busted almost immediately after its arrival.

“What can you do?” Ada shrugs. “Take a stick to them?”

Ada returned to Italy only once after her arrival in Canada. Twenty-seven years after she left, Ada took her boys for a visit but said that Italy had changed and was not as she remembered it. She currently holds no desire to go back.

“I’m happy. I have my boys,” she says. “When I was young I suffered but now I’m here. I’m proud of myself.”

Ada has eight grandchildren and they flock around her like bees to a flower, eager to hear her stories. Even in their forties, her sons still listen intently as she speaks of her life.

Ada isn’t the only one proud of what she’s accomplished.

This article was originally published in the May 2001 edition of Il Postino.
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