In droves they came
to the new country. By the outbreak of the First World War, more
than 2.5 million new immigrants had arrived. In the 1920s the
trend continued with an average of 123,000 arriving annually.
They called them The Immigrants.
The year is 1900. The place is Podargoni, Italy, a small village
20 kilometres outside Reggio, the capital of Calabria, Italy’s
The sun is setting over the rolling hills abundant with chestnut
trees and olive groves. Inside their family home identical twin
brothers Frank and Stephen De Marco, age 22, pour over
a leaflet promoting Canada. They decide they will go to
the young land. Frank will be the first to depart. In a few months
he will send for his
It was a 30-day voyage from Naples that brought them. After
disembarking they took the train to North Bay. They worked 12 hours a day laying
tracks for the Grand Trunk, making eight cents an hour.
Once a year they returned to Podargoni.
During that time Frank married Carmela Scappatura and Stephen
married Anna Calarco. And children began arriving.
While in Canada the brothers worked at many jobs, finally
establishing a store in North Bay. Frank stayed with the store
and it prospered. Stephen worked in cement finishing in Detroit,
then came to Windsor in 1926 where he started a grocery
Then they sent for their families. The work of clearing the way
was done. Tony De Marco, Stephen’s eldest son, came first
to help at the store. Then the others came en masse.
In August 1927, Carmela and Anna De Marco gathered up their
belongings and their children and boarded the 25,000-ton ship
Duilio at Naples.
“Faintly I remember the voyage. Everybody was sick but
me,” said Dr. Frank G. De Marco, M.D., a physician in Windsor
and the fourth of Stephen and Anna’s six children. At the
time of the voyage he was eight years old. An impressionable
boy, he was filled with the adventure of the trek.
When Dad wrote we were going to come to America (North America)
I envisioned a land of milk and honey with gold in the streets,” he
The group landed in New York where they were met by the tearful
husbands and fathers. “That was the first time he (his
father) was seeing my brother Joe,” he added. The
families stayed in a hotel that night and then took the train
in the morning.
Frank and his family went to North Bay while Stephen and his
wife and children came to Windsor. They settled in the core area
of the city in a working-class neighbourhood.
“We all started school in the fall. All the children were
put into Grade 4. I had been in Grade 3 in Italy so that was OK
for me,” said
Dr. De Marco. “But there were lots of toughies
and you had to fight your way to school. We were made
fun of by the other kids – being
immigrants and me wearing those short, homemade pants Italian
schoolboys wear.” The children picked up English
with incredible speed. Within a few months they conversed fluently
in the new language.
Tony discontinued school in order to work in the store
full-time. The other children worked
in the store after school and on Saturdays. The store was the only one in the area to survive the Depression. “Some
days we’d take in $15 a day - let alone profit,” said
Dr. De Marco.
During those years the family lived contentedly in the Canadian
collage of heritages – retaining in its home life a distinct
“Mother was cooking all the time and was never happier than
when she had a full table set out with cold cuts and cheese, soup
and spaghetti and we’d bring friends,” said Tony,
owner of the Elsmere Market.
During that time the youngest of Stephen and Anna’s children was born: Gordon
C. De Marco, who became a Windsor lawyer. Eva Chambers,
who lived next door to the family’s McDougall home, was
brought into the home to assist at the birth.
The years passed and the children grew. Soon most of them were
students at Patterson Secondary School. Tony started working
fulltime at the store. Joe entered the business world. Connie
and Kay worked in the family store. Gordon went to Osgoode Hall.
Frank attended Assumption College, from which he graduated in
1938, and the University of Western Ontario, from which he received
his M.D. in 1943.
Putting Frank through for a doctor was and still is a
big source of family pride. To save money they had him send his laundry
home on a truck owned by the family of his roommate Bruce Thibodeau.
When another truck returned the clean laundry, tucked inside
the parcel were cookies, candy and jars of homemade spaghetti
sauce from Mamma.
Dr. De Marco interned at Hotel Dieu Hospital, married a nurse
who was French Canadian in background and became the father of
nine of his 87-year-old mother’s 25 grandchildren. Among
the grandchildren are four university graduates, two university
and three about to enter university.
Of the married children, only two married those of Italian background.
The others were of French Canadian or Irish descent. Connie married
J. J. Commisso, a former inspector with the Windsor Fire Department.
Of the North Bay De Marcos only one – Dr. Frank
A. De Marco – settled
in Windsor. He is the vice-president of the University of Windsor
and the father of 12. In 1958 Stephen died. His twin Frank died
in 1966. Family unity remained but strong links in the chain
of generations were gone.
Dr. Frank G. De Marco hesitates to use the term “matriarch” to
describe his mother. “That denotes a dominating, powerful
person which she isn’t. The power she has is that of love,” he
said. Nevertheless, she is a strong source of cohesion in the
All the De Marcos are Canadian citizens now. Their
feeling and allegiance is for Canada. Those who have been back
to visit Podargoni
remark it is almost a ghost-town. According to Tony, the young
people have all emigrated to Canada and the U.S. or have run
off to Milan to work in the factories. There are maybe 300 left
there – all of them very old. “Nobody wants to work
the land,” he said. “Podargoni seems like a dream
to me now,” said Kay.
Anna De Marco, owner of De Marco’s Groceries (located in
the City Market for several decades now), sums up the feeling
with intense sincerity while rocking in her chair at the store: “Italy
- that was my country. But this - Canada – this is my country