Maria Barbato D’Iorio
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« Oh my goodness, dove ci hanno portati!? »
They arrived on the S.S. Homeric on December 17, 1957. On the way from Halifax to Montreal, a blanket of snow reflected back onto the family’s gaze, each member eyeing carefully the white barren landscape with a mix of trepidation and awe. « Where were they being taken? », wondered a ten-year old Maria Barbato. Where was the Canada that everyone talked about, a land that promised mountains of work, rivers of joy, and fields of prosperity?
Sponsored by the husband of Maria’s elder sister’s husband, Giovanni Colatruglio, Maria and her parents left their native San Bartolomeo in Galdo (province of Benevento) to settle in Canada. Instead of heeding the call of fellow countrymen in Brazil and Argentina, her family was confident that Canada was their best choice. Before long, all four sisters—Licia, Michelina, Clotilde, and Maria—their families, and their parents had firmly settled in Montreal. Only one of the daughters, Michelina would move away eventually to New Jersey.
Migration: A Family Tradition
Maria’s father, Antonio Barbato first travelled around 1910 to New York where he found work with fellow paesani. The advent of World War I required Antonio’s immediate return home in San Bartolomeo in Galdo and his participation in the trenches. Once the War was over, he returned to the United States to work in the hotel industry, this time in New York, Philadelphia and the state of New Jersey. Prior to the eruption of World War II, Antonio presciently decided to return home to his aging parents. It would not be long, however, before he would be drafted once again into a World War. Living just a few minutes away in another household of San Bartolomeo in Galdo, Maria’s mother Caterina Circelli had been widowed at just 25 years of age; she had been left to take care of herself and her two young children. In 1945, the War was over, Antonio Barbato returned to San Bartolomeo, and the couple met. They married shortly after their first meeting, and ten years later, with two additional children of their own, they boarded the S. S. Homeric and headed to Canada.
A New Language, A New Life
Upon arriving in Montreal, Maria Barbato quickly learned English at school and French with the help of her neighbourhood friends. Throughout these formative years, Maria nurtured the dream to return to Italy. At eighteen years old, Maria initiated plans to advance her studies in Turin; however, without the encouragement of her mother and friends in Turin, the plans soon fell apart. Nonetheless, Maria forged ahead with her dream to keep learning and travelling. Married life and motherhood didn’t stop her from advancing a career at The Hudson Bay’s Department Store in Montreal’s Place Versailles, where this year she completed 29 years of service. In addition, for numerous years Maria organized home parties selling products for the company Coppercraft. Since the mid-1960s, Maria has also played a vital role in the administration of the Italian Church, Missione San Domenico Savio in Montreal.
Maria Barbato’s and Mario D’Iorio’s own love story began in 1968 while they were both employed in the garment industry on St. Urbain and Ste. Catherine in Montreal. « We married for love, » she confides. Since then, the family has grown exponentially, first with the birth of their children, Claudia and Luciano, and later, with the birth of their grandchildren.
As a young girl, Maria never imagined living in Canada. As she recalls, « When my mother told me we were leaving for Canada, I cried every time, even though everyone around me was reiterating the same words: you’re crazy Maria, you can have a better life there. You can go to school. Canada, wow! »