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


Home > People > Joe and Tony Ierullo
The Story of Joe and Tony Ierullo: “Helping People Make a Connection”
By Oliviana Mingarelli
The Ierullo family is one of Preston Street’s oldest and most loved families.   
Joe Ierullo was the first member of his family to immigrate to Canada from Vallalonga, Calabria in 1928. Upon arriving in Canada, Joe was sent to work in the mines in Timmins, Ontario. However, he soon found himself joining a crew of workers to help build Canada’s railroad. When he arrived in Ottawa with his crew, Joe came to an important decision: he would quit the railroad and stay here. Though he remained in construction for some more time, his decision allowed him to meet his future wife Vittoria Maviglia.

“The story of Joe and Vittoria was a wonderful love affair,” says his sister-in-law Marie.  

Joe did not wish to spend his life within construction. So, with the help of some good friends, he mastered the art of barbering. In 1936 he bought a house on Preston Street and converted the front into a barbershop and the back into a home for his quickly growing family. His first and only son, Tony, was born in 1934, followed by three sisters (Theresa, Rosa and Silvia) all only one year apart.

Joe, proud owner and founder of Joe Ierullo’s Barbershop.

Little did Joe know what an impact his barbershop would have on the Italian community. The barbershop, which remains one of Ottawa’s oldest businesses, became (and still is) a hub for gathering and interesting conversation.

Tony began helping his father at a young age.

“We could always see people coming and going” says his eldest daughter Theresa. “I remember as a child when sitting around the supper table my father would recount many stories dealing with health, politics, history or whatever else he felt was good for us to know. It made me feel proud to see how knowledgeable he was.”

Silvia, the youngest of the family, recalls busy Saturdays and how her mother used to make zambaglion with cognac and how she, having the least amount of housework, would stay behind the shop door holding the food until her father had a minute to gulp it down.

The existence of a place like the barbershop was very important to the community.

“It was a form of communication,” explains Theresa. “This took the form of Il Postino, The Ottawa Cititzen or CJOH for an earlier time. In the winter people would come by simply to talk, nothing else.”

However, even though business was an important part of his life, Joe never worked on Sundays and would often bring his family to Constance Bay where they would enjoy an afternoon of fishing and swimming. The Ierullo house acted on Sundays much as the barbershop did during the week.

“Sunday was a day to receive friends and family” says Theresa. “My dad always had to have his music so after our family lunch people would drop by throughout the day. My dad loved to dance.”

Being a very proud and family centered man, Joe wanted his son Tony to follow in his footsteps and work at the barbershop, with the intention of eventually leaving Tony the business. Though Tony struggled with this for a few years (preferring to go into construction or following his leather-working hobby), he did eventually agree to pursue the barbering trade.

“Legacy is very important to Italian families,” says Silvia. Tony following in his father’s footsteps meant the world to Joe. Joe and Tony became a true father and son team, both bringing unique qualities to their trade. Tony grew to love his trade as much or perhaps more than his father.

The original barbershop on Preston Street, still operating after almost a century.
 His wife Gail explains: “people would come in to talk about anything, sports, children etc. At 5:30 one of his friends used to come in after work, get his haircut and sit there and chat and chat with Tony. I would have to go to the door and knock to say ‘dinner’s on the table dear,’ but he still wouldn’t leave. He would say ‘just a minute, just a minute.’ He couldn’t turn anyone away.”

Tony really loved not only his job, but the people as well. He took pride in his work and believed that as an entrepreneur he also had a responsibility to the community. Therefore, like his father before him, he attempted to give to the community as much as it had given him. Joe wanted other people to be able to come to Canada, establish themselves and then send for their families (much as he had). Joe and Vittoria helped many people find jobs, houses, whatever they needed. This tradition was passed on to their son Tony. Tony’s daughter Gina remembers that he would sometimes pull out money, without any expectation of ever seeing it again, and give it to a friend or person in need. He knew how hard life could be and was thankful to have been able to do so well for himself.
ierullo4.jpg   ierullo5.jpg
Tony and his wife Gail.   Back: Daughters Theresa, Rosa and Silvia; Front: Vittoria and son Tony.

“Joe and Tony helped people make a connection,” says Joe’s sister-in-law Marie.

The barbershop on Preston Street was a place where everyone knew your name. People felt like family and this created a bond that is stronger than any brick and will therefore exist forever. Gail says that the family has no intention of selling the business any time soon. For now, due to Tony’s declining health, his children are looking after the business. However, even if one day they do sell the barbershop, the connections they made in the community within those walls will never fade. The respect this family has earned for their prominent role within the Italian community will live on from one generation to the next.

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