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Monday, October 2, 2023
The Stephen De Marco family portrait in Windsor
  From Italy to Windsor and Success: The saga of an immigrant family in Canada

(An article in The Windsor Star, By Susan Van Kuren, Thursday August 28th 1975)

With the dawning of the 20th century in 1900 came the resounding cry throughout Continental European and the British Isles: Come to Canada – Land of Opportunity!

The Stephen De Marco family portrait in Windsor. Back row from left: Frank, Connie, Catherine and Anthony. Front row from left: Stephen, Gordon, Anna (wife of Stephen) and Joseph.
  The vigorous immigration policy inaugurated by Sir Clifford Sifton, Minister of Immigration in Sir Wilfred Laurier’s government, was designed to attract able workers for the expanding railways and to populate the prairies and small towns and settlements.

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 southern province.

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 brother.

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 store.

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 said. 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 Italian flavour.

“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 students 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 closely-knit family.

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 now!”

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The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.


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