In Italy or Canada, her father left a lasting impression

Fioravante Tenisci, the eldest of six children, was born in 1907 and raised in San Leonardo, a tiny farming village in Italy.


Fioravante Tenisci, the eldest of six children, was born in 1907 and raised in San Leonardo, a tiny farming village in Italy.At age 21 he and his father Antonio came to Canada to find work, so they could provide a better life for their family in Italy.  They found employment in the Fernie coal mines, keeping only enough of their wages to live on and sending the rest to their family.Four years later Antonio returned to Italy, as he missed his family and the farming lifestyle.  Fioravante moved to Trail, where an Italian community was beginning to establish, and was hired as a labourer  by  Cominco, a copper and zinc smelting operation.He continued to send part of his earnings to his family in Italy.  To earn extra money, he opened a gift shop where he sold religious articles.As Fioravante spoke fluent English and had some formal schooling, he quickly became a mentor to the rest of the Italians, and acted as a liaison between them and the local Canadians.For the next 10 years he was an active member of several local charitable organizations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, where he served as Choirmaster.   Fioravante’s life changed drastically when Benito Mussolini announced that Italy was entering the Second World War.The Canadian government decided to send troops to Italy to help the Allies. As Fioravante was still single, he was asked to join the Canadian troops.His response was, “I will not fight in Italy, because I could end up shooting my relatives.”As a result of his refusal, the Canadian government labelled Fioravante an enemy alien. He was arrested and sent by train to an internment camp in Petawawa, Ont. Meanwhile, his gift shop in Trail was padlocked, and the contents confiscated, never to be returned.                                Fioravante decided to make the most of his predicament. A natural leader, he became a spokesman for the men of the camp.  Also an entertainer, he managed to acquire a secondhand accordion, with which he provided hours of entertainment for his fellow inmates.He also formed a 150-voice choir of inmates, to help lift their spirits. The officials who ran the camp allowed the choir to sing The Mass of St. John the Baptist for then-Prime Minister Mackenzie King and other federal politicians at a picnic held at Petawawa.The mayor of Petawawa was so impressed with the choir that he got the camp guards to truck the choir around to several surrounding communities for concerts.Although the inmates were well fed and treated with respect at Petawawa, several prominent people from the Trail area wrote letters to the War Department in Ottawa asking for Fioravante’s release.Letters of character reference were written by mayors, medical doctors, clergy, Cominco supervisors and executives, government MP’s and various businessmen. The letters fell on deaf ears, and Fioravante wasn’t released until the war ended three years later.Upon being released, Fioravante returned to Trail, and was immediately rehired by Cominco as a supervisor.Now 38 years old, he was anxious to get married and start a family.  He proposed to 23-year-old Emilia Barazzuol, a Canadian-born Italian woman he had been courting before his internment. She accepted, and their union produced 10 children. Fioravante immediately re-established himself as one of the leading citizens in Trail. He continued his volunteer work, and opened a travel agency “for Italians only” who wanted to visit their relatives in Italy, now that the war was over.He also sponsored several people from his home town — including some of his own family — to come to Canada, securing jobs and housing for them before they arrived, and helping them settle in after they arrived.As a result of his efforts, the Italian Government granted him an honorary position as Italian Consular Representative, which gave him the authority to represent Italians in their legal dealings with the Italian government.For several years his tireless energy and compassionate nature kept him immersed in his passion to serve his family and community until, at the age of 63, a devastating stroke left him partially paralyzed.In a fitting tribute to a loyal friend, a steady stream of friends and co-workers visited his hospital room, and later on his home, offering encouragement and wishing him well.He fought long and hard to recover from his stroke, but five years later he suffered a heart attack and another stroke, which caused his health to rapidly decline. In 1980 at age 73, Fioravante passed away. Hundreds of people came to his funeral, among them both Canadian and Italian government officials.Fioravante had always been loyal to both his home country of Italy and his adopted country of Canada. He held no bitterness for the country that interned him for over three years.Loretta Semple is Fioravante Tenisci’s daughter. She lives in Comox.

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