Italians boast a rich heritage

We can count Christopher Columbus, Julius Caesar, Caruso the great singer, Marconi, who invented the overseas radio, and even Al Capone, who once ruled Chicago, among our forebears.
While only half-way Italian myself, I say our old heroes had to be acknowledged world-wide—and sometimes when “the grapa she’s a-flowing good,” just don’t try to stop us.
Fortunately, that doesn’t come up every day, but the sons of those legends can claim real pride. Never mind that Al Capone, while famous, could not claim respectability, but those other names will always live on!
So, what have Fort Frances Italians done to preserve that rich heritage?
Our oldtimers toiled with their language barrier to produce fine results in many cases. Although scattered much thinner across this community than the numerous Swedes and Ukrainians discussed earlier, having only about two dozen families here, their varied talents have long been respected.
The Belluz, Bernardi, and Brunetta families are recognized for a variety of businesses which have stood up strongly here for generations. Masons, storekeepers, and other tradesmen, and don’t forget their music on accordians, they established themselves as industrious and trustworthy people.
Perhaps among the busiest today is Camileo Belluz in the north end with his yardful of cement bricks and blocks in the true Italian tradition.
I keep remembering Cam as a boy winning a holiday bike race aboard the bike he had just brought from Italy and defeating Tony Bolzan that day after Tony had won for years.
Tony’s family, better known locally for hockey despite their warm weather background, included his brother, Joe, who coached our Allan Cup champions and a half-brother, Willy Toninato, among its stars.
Over a half-century ago, these fellows helped our town gain national fame after working hard at it for years (I I had returned after college to help publicize their efforts and join their trips around the country).
Italians we knew around here usually were resourceful people, nimble at adopting many occupations—be it in the paper mill or even the gold mines where my father, for instance, handled dynamite, drills, and a sledgehammer before he used a jackhammer for years and trowelled cement by the ton for unbelieveable hours.
From him, I learned about his boyhood in the mountains back in Italy: which mushrooms to pick and how to kill a porcupine to flavour his spaghetti. I also saw him knock partridge out of trees with a thrown stick (he never owned a firearm).
Spaghetti and homemade pasta were frequent Sunday dishes and, believe it or not, dandelion blossoms made quite strong wine. Dad would put us kids to picking the blossoms. And also before dandelions bloomed, we dug out the plants to make a great salad with the white bulbs and young leaves in olive oil and vinegar.
My dad, having a Canadian-born wife, did not socialize much with the other Italian families, although I found them all friendly to us whenever we met.
As for our connection with Al Capone, the Chicago gangster who sometimes visited around nearby Lake of the Woods, I can’t tell much on that subject.
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The name of Gordon Baldwin comes up because a Dial-a-Ride driver is his nephew.
There rarely was a busier town worker than Gordon, who represented our old O-M paper mill company in whatever was going on, such as Chamber of Commerce activities or the senior hockey Canadians’ committee in going after the Allan Cup.
Gordon spent his days assisting Marsha Bolton in the mill employment office and his evenings helping put some public activity together because our Chamber was everywhere in his day, about half-a-century ago.
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Housing contractors and carpenters are all distressed over new government regulations which demand fees in return for approval of their housing plans, whereas their efforts were never so closely scrutinized before.
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I am surprised at the lack of fenders on bicycles being sold today because the fenders used to be considered a safety feature.
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That four-hour power interruption across town scheduled for June 26 is probably well-timed with half the town either up the lake or on vacation trips at that date.
But let’s hope storms have not been causing blackouts on too many other dates around then, also.
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On the bright side, it’s great to hear and see Gene Autry on TV’s Lonestar channel. His records and music over 50 years ago influenced many of us to take guitar lessons and the town seemed full of pickers for years, while here and there you might find some surprising singers of his cowboy ballads.
Gene brought back “The Red River Valley” for us.
• • •
Lorraine Bannon reports her duties as representative of Veterans Affairs now include all retired service personnel and not merely veterans of the war years.
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Rosemary Fava, who comes from Sudbury, has been here attending sociably to older residents on behalf of ComCare, formerly the Victorian Order of Nurses.
Although Fava is the Italian name of her husband, she is of Irish descent and grew up in Sudbury—famed for its nickel mines.
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Hector Gaune is very much in business with his lawn mower and ready to assist busy residents. Hector, formerly with Modern Plumbers downtown for years, has been steady with me for two summers and also clears away our snow in winter.
Considering everything, Hector’s rates are reasonable.
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Ross Kellett is riding a bicycle himself this summer after assembling more than a hundred handsome two-wheelers for Wal-Mart, where his wife, Cindy, is manager.
My old double-framed bike was left behind on the farm after about 50 years of service. It was a used model bought for $25 and well worth it in the days when a CCM was king of the road.
• • •
Irene Haver lost three chickens from her farmyard in Crozier and blames eagles for stealing them.
• • •
Dave Marsh, with his busy memory, was wondering whatever happened to colourful Jerry Sawicki, who kept his pet parrot riding around on his motorcycle handlebars a few summers ago.
I believe Jerry went to B.C. while stories about him will always continue.

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