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The story of Domenico De Mars”, first Italian emigrant from St. Catharines (CANADA)

The story of Domenico De Mars”, first Italian emigrant from St. Catharines (CANADA)

Domenico Di Maria was born in Gratteri, a small agricultural town on the Madonie, in February 1885, son of Antonino Di Maria and Antonina Ganci. The third child of four brothers (Giovanna, Giuseppe, Domenico, Maruzza), at the age of 16, given the modest conditions in which the family lived, he decided to leave for America with his cousin Joe Saletta who lived in Boston.

His parents reluctantly entrusted him to his fellow villager Giuliano Culotta, aged 44, who too, like many of his fellow villagers, sailed to reach the port of New York. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, when America overcame a period of economic depression and began to establish itself as a world power, rumors spread throughout Europe about the opportunities offered by the New World and thousands of Italians decided to leave their homeland to reach the United States.

Thanks to online information obtained from the American site of Ellis Island ( we know that the ship in which Domenico Di Maria and Giuliano Culotta embarked was called Neustria. It sailed from the port of Naples reaching Ellis Island – New York, on May 16, 1901. Arriving in New York, Domenico reached Boston (where he found hospitality with his cousins Joe Saletta and Rosario Di Maria), then Canada where he was employed for the construction of the new rail network.

He moved to Toronto, married Nettie Small and became the owner of a grocery store. Around the year 1913 he moved with his wife to Ontario, to St. Catharines, where he became the owner of a series of grocery stores. Meanwhile the family expanded with the birth of Antonette (1911), William (1913), Dorothy (1916), Leona (1918), Jennie (1920), Harry (1922).

However, in 1924 Nettie died suddenly in childbirth along with the twins she was carrying. The tragedy hit the Di Maria family hard and Domenico found himself raising six children alone. Meanwhile, in Gratteri, his parents were looking for him desperately, having no news of him since his departure.

The mother, every day waited for that letter that would give her information about her son, hoping to be able to embrace him again soon. News that unfortunately did not arrive causing her mother to cry daily. In 1920 a fellow countryman who had returned from America finally brought news. Domenico was well and invited his brother Giuseppe to join him soon in Canada.

In July 1920, his brother Peppino at the age of 28 also left the port of Palermo for New York (Belvedere ship), destination Toronto (838 Bloor street). After the untimely death of Maruzza and the departure of Domenico and Giuseppe, with the father Nino Di Maria and the mother Nina Ganci remained only the daughter Giovanna, who will take care of them and of her cousin Giuseppe (who later became the famous Giuseppe Ganci Battaglia, Poet of the Madonie) born in 1901 (exactly in the year of Domenico’s departure) by his uncle Giovanni Ganci and left alone due to the separation from his mother and little brother Salvatore, who also emigrated to America.

In the early 1900s, Giovanna married Giuseppe Cirincione with whom she had six children: Fedele (1911), Maria Antonina (1913), Antonino (1915), Giuseppe (1918), Giacomo (1921) and Lucia (1923). Unfortunately, the parents spent the last days of their lives in the hope of being able to see their children again, however they no longer had any news about Domenico and Giuseppe … But the story of Domenico Di Maria did not end like this, in fact, in 1948 having raised his own children alone, Domenico married Lilly Sebastian.

In 1968, Jennie, Domenico’s youngest daughter during a trip to Italy, visited Sicily and Gratteri. In February 1971, Domenico, accompanied by his eldest children Antonette and William, took the plane for the first time and finally returned to Sicily, where he appeared before the eyes of his ninety-year-old sister with a bouquet of 50 red carnations.

Brother and sister met again after 70 years, between tears and emotion. For Giovanna, that brother seemed to be returning from the cemetery. Domenico had never forgotten his older sister so much so that he had called one of his daughters Jennie. The event was celebrated by the grandchildren with a big party.

Before leaving for America then, thanks to his sister’s therapeutic massages, Domenico – who arrived in Sicily in a wheelchair – was able to walk again through the narrow streets of Gratteri. Unfortunately, there was no news of his brother Giuseppe.

Sister Giovanna died in 1975 at the ripe old age of 94 and loved all over the country for her gift of fixing sprains and dislocations. Domenico Di Maria, on the other hand, was considered the first Italian emigrant of St. Catharines and celebrated by the Club Roma of emigrants from all over Italy residing in Canada. He died in 1977.#iltempodelritorno

In the picture:

1. Domenico Di Maria, 16 years.

2. Nina Ganci, mother.

3. Domenico, Nettie Small and family in America.

4. 1939, grocery store of Domenico in St. Catharines (Canada).

5.Domenico and Lilly 7. Cirincione family – Di Maria, Gratteri 1930.

6. 1966, Jennie visits Gratteri 11. Giovanna Di Maria and sons.

7. 1971, Domenico, Giovanna and sons.

8. 1971,Domenico visits his sister Giovanna.

Full article:…/gratteri-the-story-of…

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