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Making Changes: A Profile of Pietro Scopelliti
By Louise Daniels
Many people know Pietro Scopelliti because of his prominent role in Ottawa’s Italian community throughout the 1970’s and 1980's. Although he is now retired, ever since immigrating to Canada from Italy in 1953 he has been an active member of the local community.
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Pietro Scopelliti in his navy days. He served four years in the Italian Navy.

Scopelliti is well known for his work as the chairman of Italian Week for five consecutive years in the early 1970’s. He’s also recognizable as a member of the Canadian Italian Business Professional Association (CIBPA) for 17 years. Still, more friends have gotten to know him during his 10 years of activity at both the National Congress of Italian Canadians and the Italian Naval Association.

But perhaps Scopelliti is best known for his support of Bob Chiarelli and the Ontario Liberal party.

“Bob Chiarelli was the first one to kick out the Conservative party in Ottawa-West, [in 1987],” Scopelliti says. “The Conservative party was here in Ottawa for 75 years and nobody kicked them out. Bob, he kicked them out.”

After volunteering for two years with the politician, Chiarelli invited Scopelliti to the Mona Lisa restaurant on Preston Street one night. He wanted Scopelliti to work in the provincial government and help injured workers receive compensation.

“I said;‘I don’t have a university degree to stay in the office with you,’" Scopelliti remembers telling Chiarelli. “‘No, no, no,’ he says, ‘you’ve got more than a university degree. You were the president of the union of injured workers [for seven years]’.” Scopelliti agreed and defended injured workers’ rights for another eleven years.

How he got to this point is an interesting story.

Scopelliti was born in Calabria Reggio. He joined the Italian Navy when he was 20 and served for four years. After running out of food, water and gas while at sea, he watched onboard an adjacent ship near La Spezia, Italy, as the German forces bombed the infamous Roma Battleship on September 9th, 1943, the day after Italy declared a truce with the Allies.

When he returned home, Scopelliti found his family with no money, but a lot of hope. They started a business delivering essential goods such as gas and saved up enough money to move to North America. Scopelliti went to the American Embassy in Italy to try to find a way to join his brother, who had already moved to the United States. But his application was refused because he had fought against the Allied Forces and was not welcome in the States.

Pietro Scopelliti receiving the Commemorative Medal from Mayor Bob Chiarelli. The medal reads: “In recognition of significant contribution to compatriots, community and to Canada.”

He eventually made his way to Ottawa and became a baker at Morison Lamonthe Bakery. He even prepared buns for the Queen during one of her visits to Canada. Security was so tight that two police officers were on hand to observe what was being put into the dough.

Later, Scopelliti became a painter and joined the Canadian Italian Business Professional Association. He helped them design parade floats with Italian themes, such as the Duke of Venice and the Trevi Fountain. One year they designed a float with the theme of winemaking. It was all ready to go on the day of the parade. The winemakers were prepared to smash grapes with their feet and the driver was starting the engine. Only one thing was missing – the live donkey that would give it that finishing “Old World” touch wouldn’t climb onto the platform. The only thing Scopelliti could do was call the owner of the donkey to come and help them. As soon as she left though, the donkey tried to leave.

“So,” Scopelliti says. “We dressed her up and put a little bit of make-up on her and she wasn’t bad.”

Pietro Scopelliti and his wife Grazia celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

The floats that Scopelliti worked on won five years in a row until, finally, the judges told him it wouldn’t be fair if his group won again.

Scopelliti continued his work as a professional painter until he broke his ankle on the job. He received compensation from the government, but he also got to know so many people in similar situations that didn’t receive compensation. This motivated him to become more involved in injured worker compensation and it also got him involved in politics.

Today though, we find Scopelliti retired and turning 84 this December. He says he’s taking it easy, exercising every morning and enjoying life with his wife of 53 years.

This article was originally published in the July 2002 issue of Il Postino.
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