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interview with Mrs. Rina Spinelli and Teresa (nee Spinelli) Nimis
took place at the home of Mrs. Rina Spinelli in Edmonton's
"Little Italy" on November 25, 2002. The interviewed
was done by Adriana Albi Davies and Cindy Ewanus. The
interview focused on their own experiences and those of Franco (Frank)
Spinelli (husband and father) in Canada as an immigrant, his business enterprises, and his family and community life.
Mrs. Spinelli describes her emigration experience as a young
person looking toward a new life with the man she met and
fell in love with when he returned to his home town in
Teresa, Frank and Rina's daughter, tells her story from the point of view of a second-generation Canadian, and her role in the community and continuing her father's legacy.
Frank Spinelli arrived in Canada in August,
1951 and began work in the mines in the Northwest
Territories. Due to a serious back injury, he was
hospitalized in Edmonton for over a year. After
release from hospital, Frank worked at a number of places:
he served beer at the Ritz Hotel, worked at a driving
school, worked with a partner to bring Italian newspapers
and, later, other Italian products to Edmonton. He,
eventually, succumbed to family pressure from Italy to get
Rina, his bride, came by herself to join him in Edmonton in September, 1960. They worked hard, built a house, had "two beautiful children."
Rina describes Frank as a very ambitious man with a vision. He learned English while he was recovering in the hospital.
He always helped people, whether they repaid him or not.
Rina says she was young and in love when she first came to Canada, and that
she had a very good life with Frank.
Teresa: She notes that she
had a good childhood; life was good. She was raised with a strong work ethic.
Worked alongside the family in the family business.
Even though they worked hard, family came first.
Of her Father, she says that he always gave to the community. She quotes her Father as saying "the more you give, the more you get.
She spoke Italian at home when she
was young, for which she's grateful since she is fluent in Italian.
This was especially important for communicating with her extended family in Italy, with whom she is close as she has had frequent opportunity to visit them over the years.
Except for an aunt, the entire extended family is in Italy.
Her Father worked hard to keep the Italian community united.
To this end, he located a coffee shop near the Italian church,
encouraged Italians to come to "Little Italy," was instrumental in the renaming of
Princess Patricia Park to Giovanni Caboto Park.
She retains her Italian heritage because its importance was instilled in her as a child. It
is how she was raised. She remembers the Italian community
dances, family gatherings, etc.
There is more of a challenge now to retain one's culture, whether Italian or other, because there are so many other things going on in the wider community.
It's "tough," but there are things like the Dante Alighieri School, Italian classes in the Separate School System, and Italian classes that take tours through Little Italy that help maintain
the Italian heritage.
Teresa Spinelli, herself, married a man of Italian background, Mike
Nimis, the grandson
of pioneers Tony and Emilia Nimis. (You can listen to audio excerpts of
Tony Nimis's oral history done for the
Dante Alighieri the Oral History Project ). Teresa recalls amusing stories about Mr. Nimis that were told by her husband's Grandmother,
who recently died.
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