Raffaele Spera Big R Express Ltd.

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“You need to have the heart for it!”

“I didn’t want to get on the ship,” recalls Raffaele Spera, owner of a small transportation company, Big R Express Ltd. With his mother and father in the infirmary on the S.S. Queen Frederica, Raffaele and his sister Maria were left to fend for themselves aboard the ship until they reached Halifax. There, their uncle affectionately greeted them and flew with them to Montreal while their mother recovered and joined them with their father in Montreal a few days later. With their land crops lost to bad weather, it was normal for Francesco and Rachela to consider Canada their country of immigration. Like hundreds of thousands of other Italian families whose immigration to Canada was sponsored by kin, Francesco and Rachela were granted the right to settle onto Canadian soil with the support of Francesco’s brother Alfonso Spera who had arrived in the early 1950s.

St. Leonard in 1961

The family immediately settled in the city that would become Ville de St. Léonard in 1962. As Raffaele recalls, only a handful of houses punctuated the wooded street of his childhood. In fact, the city of Montreal records a housing construction boom beginning just five years earlier in 1956 with a population soaring from 925 to 52,040 in 1971. To meet the educational needs of growing families, English-language elementary classes were held in the basements of private homes. Raffaele’s parents kept busy making ends meet. His mother Rachela worked long hours folding newspapers at the offices of the Corriere Italiano. His father worked in different labour sectors before landing a job in maintenance at the English Montreal School Board.

Delivering goods was a passion that Raffaele cultivated from the age of nine. He began by transporting groceries on a bicycle, and at sixteen years old he regularly drove a grocery store’s to Montreal’s Central Market for the delivery of freshly arrived produce. Raffaele’s dream to drive large trucks was not abated however. He moved ahead to chart a life course that encompassed driving tractor-trailers.

Trucking for Life

In 1977, four years after becoming a full-time truck driver, Raffaele met his wife Shirley and together they purchased their first tractor-trailer. The husband-and-wife team travelled across Canada and the United States, and in 1979 they proceeded to purchasing their second tractor-trailer. Their transportation company, Big R Express specializing in refrigerated and dry goods was founded shortly after in 1982. Since then, Raffaele, Shirley and their sons, Francesco and Raffaele Jr. have been operating thirty-five tractor tractor-trailers from their warehouse in St. Jean sur Richelieu.

For Raffaele Spera, driving trucks is a life’s work that exudes passion and freedom. “You need to have the heart for it,” he confides. For Raffaele and his family, the freedom to travel across vast geographies in North America is extraordinary, as the constellation of cultural and topographic marvels experienced by them and other truck drivers remains an indelible marker of their personal and professional lives.