Grazia Petitti's Journey to Brantford
The Immigration Story of Grazia Petitti
by Grazia Petitti (Bolognone)
November 04, 1963, I came to Canada from a small Italian town in southern Italy. I arrived in Halifax on November 04, 1963, on the Queen Federica. My sister wrote an application for me to come to Canada so I could have a better life. I left from Naples, Italy and for me, my trip was very dramatic. I left my hometown, Celle S. Vito, with mixed feelings because I was leaving my parents and all my friends and didn't know what I was going to find in Canada. I went to Naples the day before my departure. We stayed overnight at a hotel and in the morning, went to the port. The day I boarded the ship was October 27, 1963. When it was time for me to board, everybody was crying. At age 19 I had never been separated from my parents and I had the feeling that I was never going to see them again. The worst part for me was leaving my parents, my brother and my friends that had come to see me off in Naples. I boarded the ship and went to my cabin that I was to share with three other girls.
I was in the third class because I could not afford better accommodation. After I had settled in, I went up on deck and waved goodbye to my family and friends. I couldn't see them because they were too far away and that made me sad.
We stopped at the Strait of Gibraltar in the middle of the ocean and small boats came close to the ship selling scarves, belts and souvenirs. I met a gentleman on deck who had done previous trips from Italy to Canada and vice versa, and he told me that tomorrow morning nobody will get up because everyone will be seasick, and that is exactly what happened.
During the trip, four of us stayed in bed, as we didn't have the strength to get up. We had a nice Greek waiter that brought us water and food. The food was good, but we just couldn't keep it down. He kept telling us to go and eat in the dining room, but we were too sick to get up.
The few times I tried to get up and go up on deck for fresh air, I was told that I was not allowed to go up on deck because I was a third-class passenger. The day before I arrived in Halifax, I was able to get up and go eat in the dining room because I felt better.
The day I landed, all the passengers were led onto Pier 21. I remember the floor in the reception hall was a mess. There were beans, chickpeas and food all over the floor. Everything seemed so different and outside looked cold. Everybody was very nice and helped me find my luggage. When I identified the luggage, one of the workers made a cross with white chalk on it.
Then I went to buy some food for the train trip to Toronto. The food didn't look anything like the food I ate in Italy, but I had to get it because it was a long trip, two nights and three days. I bought very soft bread, pickled cauliflower, canned meat and sweet pickles which l ended up throwing away because I didn't like them. I didn't know how much I was supposed to pay, but I put $10 on the counter and the girl at the cash register took what was necessary and gave me the change. I thought people here are very honest.
When I boarded the train in Halifax, the train had wooden seat and was so uncomfortable to sit or sleep on. Also, it ran on coals and when I woke up in the morning, my face was black. In Montreal, I had to change trains to go to Toronto. That train was a little better. During the train ride, I saw no cities or towns go by. It seemed that I was travelling through the woods and snow.
Finally, I arrived in Toronto and my sister was waiting for me at the train station to take me to my new home. When she told me that we had to take another train for 1 and 1/2 hours to get to Brantford, I was disappointed. I thought once I had arrived in Toronto it was over. During my train ride and based on what I had seen of Canada thus far, I was started thinking that if I had the money to buy a return ticket, I would have gone back to Italy in a heartbeat.
Now after 50 years being in Canada and living in Brantford, Ontario, I visited Pier 21 with my daughter. All the memories started coming back and I'm happy that I stayed in Canada. Everything seemed the same and I recognized the train outside the museum. It is the same train with wooden seats.
I got married a couple of years after I arrived in Canada and had three children. They all have a good education and jobs, and I worked 38 years at Levis Strauss and am now retired.
I thank Pier 21 and all the people that worked there at that time and helped me with my luggage and getting me on the train.
I went back to Italy a few times, but I always want to come back to Canada. Canada is my home and my country.
I'm proud to be a Canadian and happy to be able to visit Pier 21 again.