June 19th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 25
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
A Long Journey to Happiness - Part II
Looking Back
courtesy Jillian Uloth
Donna, Russell and family during the war years
A Long Journey to Happiness - Part I

So recapping where we left off last week we find to that the five abandoned Mancini boys were made wards of the province and sent off to orphanages and in the summer were shipped out to work as farm hands. Marietta: “was old enough to be assigned as a domestic for a nearby family and was sent away to work for her room and board.” She prudently declined the offer by her father after he returned from Italy to rejoin the family with his new bride.

I found the May 22nd ad in the Blairmore Enterprise where Pietro advertised his house in 1919 before leaving for Italy. “Worth $1800. Will be sold for $1400 cash.” As we know from part one of the story Pietro and Josephine returned from Italy shortly after and left Blairmore that September basically abandoning the family.

The 1922 demand of the Town of Blairmore for $3932.85 by the Attorney General’s office for maintenance of the Mancini children must have come as somewhat of a surprise. A tidy sum that would have definitely stressed their budget at the time. Jillian Uloth goes on to say: “Legal action was then threatened. In today’s dollars, this amount would be approximately $57,000. Blairmore’s town council believed the claim to be unfair due to the fact that it had not been consulted when the province of Alberta took over the handling of the Mancini children and deemed them wards of the province. This transfer of control also meant that the Mancini family home and other assets were no longer held as a property bond by the town, value which could have provided for the children. By that November, Chief Justice Horace Harvey decided that the town of Blairmore would no longer be considered accountable for the sum. After the Supreme Court of Alberta’s ruling, a newspaper article was printed in the local paper, cheerfully proclaiming “Town Wins Big Case.”
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Blairmore was essentially off the hook and while the town may have ‘won big,’ the Mancini children lost everything, including their parents, each other and everything safe and familiar during their short lives. Victims of their father’s lack of love and selfish motives, the Mancini children managed to forge ahead into adulthood, reconnecting as siblings and creating their own paths to leading successful lives.

In the later part of the 1920s, Marietta eventually made her way to the luxury mountain resort of Lake Louise, working as an ‘elevator girl’ and using the chosen name of Donna. The spirit and decadence of the era must have been exhilarating as she encountered wealthy international travelers and even rubbed elbows with United Artists film crews as they shot the 1928 movie “Eternal Love” (starring John Barrymore) on site.”

Amongst the memorabilia Jillian was able to access was a picture taken on set up in the mountains at Lake Louise with some of the prop, cast and camera men posing. Eternal Love was a silent era romantic drama film about two lovers living in the Swiss Alps who struggle to be together and escape their loveless marriages.

Jillian goes on to write: “During her time there, she met a young Brewster’s tour bus driver named Russell Lawrence who hailed from Granum, and they fell in love. Donna and Russell married and happily raised three daughters in Milk River, creating a loving environment with lots of laughter and song. While her childhood back in Blairmore was anything but stable, Donna managed to successfully provide her own version of a sturdy family identity for her children and she nurtured the type of family she had likely always longed for.” According to Uloth, Donna's ashes along with her husband Russell's were scattered near their favourite bridge in the place they met (Lake Louise, Alberta).
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Jillian shared more of the family story with me than was in the heritage newsletter. She wrote in an email that: “After 'aging out' of care at 14, Vince was given train money and sent on his way, so he went east to Windsor and called his father in Detroit who refused to pick him up (probably because he (Peter) had crossed the border illegally years before and didn't want to take a chance). A taxi driver eventually took pity on Vince and took him across where he lived with his Father's second family for a while before being hired on with a Detroit newspaper. He married an American woman and enlisted in the US Navy during the Second World War and spent some time as a Japanese POW when his ship was sunk. He worked for the newspaper in Detroit for 50 years until he retired and died in Michigan.

Vic (Rocco) made his way to Michigan as well and connected with his father Peter's new family. He enlisted with the US Army and married later in life to an American woman named Jean and they eventually moved to Florida, where he died. They had no children. Vic was a very good at drawing/sketching and was likely a hoarder, possibly thanks to his childhood situation. Tony eventually moved to Montreal and married a French woman named Georgette and raised a family there. Jillian said he kept in touch with Donna.

Bob and Ralph were sent to a Jesuit Home for Boys when the kids were taken as wards of the Province supposedly. Ralph 'stayed in the area' which makes me think the home they were sent to was actually the Lacombe Home in St. Albert. Ralph went on to school and worked as a lab tech for the Royal Alexandra Hospital for many years. He happily had nothing to do with his father Peter ever again and started his own family. Bob made his way to California and then onto New York State and married a woman named Florence. He worked for a General Electric plant and then moved to Florida where he died.
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“Walter, who was taken in by the nurse Mrs. Holloway when Filomena died, lived for many years in Calgary with his adopted family and enlisted at an early age with the Canadian Army. He served in Italy, France, Holland and Germany. He never married and had no children. He spent many years afterwards as a member of the grounds keeping staff at the Calgary Golf and Country Club. He was funny, loved to laugh and gave to the needy freely. He died in Drumheller at the age of 94. He stayed in contact with all of his siblings, especially Ralph and Ralph's son Gerry.” Jillian believes he never did have any contact with his biological father Peter.

Jillian also shared some comments about Peter Mancini’s legacy of abuse with his second family in the States. “Josephine, the granddaughter of Pietro and his second wife who lives in Michigan, has lots of stories about how awful he was to her grandmother and mother in the States. He actually made them walk behind him while they were out in the community and he was very verbally abusive, likely physical as well. Josephine's mother Bella would cry and cry, remembering how he treated her as a child. Just like Donna, his first daughter from first marriage, she was so emotionally abused by him; she had a hard time talking about it.”
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Great granddaughter Jillian was able to piece this story together using family oral histories and photos and sites like ancestry.ca, peelsprairieprovinces.ca, and scotlandspeople.gov.uk. It helped connect her in a very deep way to Marietta and her siblings and to come to understand all that they went through after losing their mother Filomena. Josephine Canestrelli the granddaughter of Peter’s second wife was an important contributor to Jillian’s research of the early years. She is in fact Dr. Canestrelli from Columbus, Michigan. I guess for Jillian and I, and perhaps for all of us, this story demonstrates that despite our sometimes rugged and painful upbringings we can all persevere and push on to lead good and productive lives. In spite of the Pietro’s of this world.

I think it is a wonderful thing that we have the resources nowadays to gather in all our family background, however far back we may want to go with it. It can be life changing and reaffirming to retrace our past. It helps define who we are and why we are here.

Author’s Note: So be sure to check out the on-line version of Part Two for more pictures on the Mancini story. Do you have a Crowsnest Pass story to tell? Then why not drop the Crowsnest Heritage Initiative a line at cnhnewsletter@shaw.ca.
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June 19th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 25
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