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


Home > People > Vito Ciliberto
Vito Ciliberto: A Man of Independent Spirit

By Tessa Derksen

Photos courtesy of Vito Ciliberto

In April of 1957, Vito Ciliberto arrived in Canada with nothing. The 21-year-old Italian had little training in any one particular profession, no job, and spoke no English. Soon after arriving he got a job as a general labourer and in a short time had saved enough money to send for his wife. The two had been engaged before he left Italy and had gotten married “through letters.”
Vito Ciliberto in front of the store he successfully ran for 22 years. The store is still there and is now managed by the father of the young man pictured with Vito.

Vito and Victoria Ciliberto have since enjoyed 45 years of marriage.

Mr. Ciliberto continued his hard work and in 1963 purchased a variety store, Preston Food Market, on Preston Street. When I remark that it was quite an amazing feat for him to go from having no money to owning a business in just six short years, Mr. Ciliberto simply shrugs.

“I worked hard,” he says matter-of-factly.

“And he worked seven days a week in the store,” points out his wife Victoria. “It was open seven to 11 every day.”

Vito Ciliberto’s hard work paid off. He and Victoria successfully ran the store on 71 Preston Street for 22 years. For five years they lived on 67 Preston Street, which was across the street from the store.

“We raised our kids in the store,” says Mrs. Ciliberto, referring to their three children: Ivana, Greg and Frank. “You know, there were relatives to look after them but sometimes we had to bring them to work with us.”

Vito Ciliberto’s journey to become a successful Canadian businessman began in the small Italian town of Jacurso where he and Victoria grew up. Vito left the farming community and journeyed to Switzerland, where he immediately got work as a farm labourer and began building a life similar to what his ancestors had sought in Italy. He dreamed of some day owning land of his own and running his own farm. Then, suddenly, Vito changed his mind.

“I wanted some adventure,” he explains. “I wanted something different.”

Not knowing where he would begin his new life, just that he had to follow his adventurous spirit, Vito began walking down the street in Switzerland in search of an embassy.

“The first embassy he got to was the Canadian one,” explains Victoria Ciliberto.

Vito Ciliberto entered the embassy and explained to the official there that he was hard-working, would never be a burden to the Canadian government, and could make his own way. A short while later he was granted a visa.

Mr. Ciliberto admits that when he walked into the Canadian embassy, he knew nothing about Canada and had in fact been contemplating immigrating to Australia.

“But I never regretted my decision, not once,” he says emphatically. “From the time I arrived in Canada, I have been a Canadian citizen.”

Not even the bitter cold winters of Ottawa bother him.

“He likes the cold!” cries Victoria Ciliberto. “He does better in the cold than heat.

Victoria Ciliberto with two of their children: Ivana and Greg.
Proud proprietor of Preston Food Market, Vito Ciliberto.

But Mr. Ciliberto may yet brave the heat of Australia – it’s the next country on the couple’s list of “to visit.” The Cilibertos have travelled to Europe (including of course Italy), South America and Alaska.

Mr. Ciliberto has been retired now for 11 years, but he still remembers with fondness the customers he served over the years. The family run store catered to families of different nationalities within the community.

“There was a mix: Italians, of course, but also French-Canadian, Polish. And I got along with everybody,” he says. “There was one family who had 21 children!”

The Ciliberto family is modest in comparison. They had three children and now have three grandchildren. All of their children still live in Ottawa and every Sunday the family gathers for dinner.

“Yes, family is very important,” agrees Mr. Ciliberto.

Once Vito and Victoria had settled in Ottawa, they sponsored their families to come and join them.

“We brought everybody over,” says Mr. Ciliberto. “My 93-year-old father is just upstairs,” he says, in reference to Gladstone Terrace, a seniors housing complex.

Now that he’s no longer busy with running a business, Mr. Ciliberto fills much of his days with family and bingo. He works several evenings a week helping to run St. Anthony’s bingo nights.

“I guess you could call bingo my hobby now,” he says. “Some people they paint for a hobby. For me, it’s working at bingo.”

Mr. Ciliberto says he enjoys bingo because he likes being around people. It was interacting with different people that also made running his store enjoyable.

“You have to meet different people, talk to different people because this is how you learn things,” he explains.

It was this adventurous and independent spirit that drove Vito Ciliberto to seek his fortune in Canada. And, like other Italian immigrants before him and after, he worked hard to achieve the life he wanted for himself and his family.

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