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Daniel Zanella





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Daniel Zanella: A Modern Renaissance Man
By Oliviana Mingarelli

Daniel Zanella entered the construction workforce at a very young age. His father taught him all he could and the rest he learned through correspondence.

At 21, Daniel Zanella was one of the youngest builders in Italy. Having obtained certification by the Italian government in this field, Zanella’s talents were in demand. In fact, he was so well respected in his field that he helped to construct the 1955 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina. During this time a group of professional artists chose to include some of Zanella’s artwork in an exhibition they were having.

Daniel Zanella at home with one of his many paintings.

Zanella always loved the arts but up until this point had maintained a clear distinction between his passion (art) and his work. Now he gladly accepted the honour and submitted one of his pieces for viewing in the great city of Venice. Since northern Italy has a large market for quality artwork, his artwork found a very important niche and was well embraced.

Excerpt from “Mute Guitar”

You have to send me soon though,
Oh predilected son of mine
Through magic waves or comets,
A list of Heavenly prayers
I want to know how
The way you pray up there
And strive and earn
Perhaps the only way

Through which to join you all up there.
With me I promise! I’ll carry your guitar,
No more with dust upon it
And vibrant strings again.
I’ll hug and tightly hold you, within these tired arms
And never let you go
Forever and ever again.

(Daniel Zanella, March 10/88)

Though Zanella loved his artwork, his career was in construction—eventually leading him to Canada. It is here that many of us can recognize his extraordinary work. Not only has he built anywhere between 40 and 50 houses across the country, but he also played a crucial role in the rebuilding of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and in the renovation of the Rideau Locks. During the two year reconstruction of the Peace Tower, Zanella (working closely with the architect and engineers) had to keep track of the removal and numbering of every brick that was taken off of the Peace Tower.

Another very public building he helped to build is that of the Italian Embassy Residence. Paolo Fulci, a former ambassador of Italy, asked Zanella to draw up plans in order to restore the historic building. There were three estimates drawn up for the restoration: one by Zanella, another by Carleton University and the last by the same contractors who built the Skydome. Though Zanella’s competitors were more widely known, Fulci believed that Zanella’s proposal “made sense.”


By special ordering only the best products available (such as custom-cut marble) and with the help of a small but very trusted team of workers, Zanella was able to complete the contract to the utmost satisfaction of the Ambassador. In fact, the Ambassador was so pleased with Zanella’s work that he attempted to bestow him with the title of Cavalierato di Lavoro (one of the highest honours that can be bestowed upon an Italian citizen). However, the Italian government denied Zanella this honour due to a technicality. At the time, Italy did not recognize dual citizenship. When Zanella moved to Canada and obtained a Canadian passport, he was no longer considered a citizen of Italy, thereby disqualifying him from the award.


The doors to Zanella’s home, designed by him, represent the towers of his two hometowns in Italy: Cadore and Ampezzano.


Although his talents in the field of stonework and construction are obvious, Zanella’s truest love has always been for the arts. Always having loved painting and poetry, the death of his sixteen-year-old son deeply affected these talents. Zanella wrote poetry in both English and Italian, and dedicated one special poem entitled “Mute Guitar” to the memory of his son.

“Nothing compares to the loss of a son,” he says and continues to explain that his son is always alive within his memory and heart.

Zanella, with his many talents that range from industrial to artistic, has achieved a very difficult task – he has made himself a success in a country not entirely his own, while still remaining true to his heritage. His ability to combine his Italian heritage with a new Canadian one and apply it to his various skills has made Daniel Zanella much like a modern Renaissance man. And earned him the respect and praise of his peers and countrymen.


One of the 40-50 homes that Zanella has designed and built.

This article was originally published in the January 2002 edition of Il Postino.

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