|423 Prior Street|
One of the biggest disappointments I come across during my work as a house history researcher is to find that an original house at an address I have been researching has been demolished and replaced with something new. I can remember early on in my career as a house history researcher looking for the house on the 600 block of East Cordova where Nova Scotian-born contractor John L. McKenzie, the builder of my old house on the 1000-block of Odlum Drive, had once lived. I was trying to see if McKenzie's house at 662 looked anything like my house. Sadly, the house was gone, and up until a few years ago it has been an empty lot.
I pass by this house every time I escort a History Walk of Strathcona. (See schedule...) It is in a stretch of alleyway between Dunlevy and Jackson Avenues that I guide my guests down as we head away from the main part of Hogan's Alley back toward what was the largely Italian section of the old East End. I never gave this house or address much thought until I met these two visitors from Italy: Irene Vecchio and Nicola Moruzzi.
|Image courtesy of Nicola Moruzzi|
Nicola and Irene came into my life last autumn by chance through Dr. Angela Clarke who curates the museum and archives at Vancouver's Italian Cultural Centre and my friend and neighbour Karen Knights who at the time volunteered for the Centre. Nicola and Irene were here in Vancouver doing research for a documentary called Revelstoke: A Kiss In The Wind.
|Image courtesy of Nicola Moruzzi|
The documentary deals with the thirty months that Nicola's maternal great grandfather Angelo Conte spent here in British Columbia from 1913 to 1915.
From 1913, up until his tragic death on October 15, 1915, Angelo wrote fifty letters to his beloved wife Anna whom he had left behind pregnant in their home town of Valstagna in the Province of Vicenza in Veneto in northern Italy. Angelo had been working as part of a crew clearing out dynamite-blasted rubble from a side tunnel during the construction of the Connaught Tunnel near Glacier, BC.
|October 20, 1915 Revelstoke News Herald article concerning the death of Angelo Conte|
|Image of Anna and Gigetta courtesy of Nicola Moruzzi|
Angelo's letters were passed down through the generations of Nicola's family, unopened until recently. After discovering his great grandfather story, Nicola decided to follow Angelo's steps, back in time and space, in order to bring him and his story back to life.
The day I met Nicola and Irene we had arranged to get together so I could take them on a walking tour of Strathcona, Vancouver's old East End.
We met at 696 East Hastings in front of the Heatley Block, a combination commercial and residential building built in 1931 by another Italian, hotelier Samuel Plastino. I took them on my regular route but focussed mostly on the places that had a connection with Italian immigrant history.
It was an amazing experience for me for a number of reasons... first of all, as many of you know from my Sabina: Stunning Land - My Secret Italy blog, I am head over heals in love with Italy, the ancient Sabine region to the northeast of Rome in particular. So it was wonderful having two Italians on one of my East End walking tours. Nicola and Irene were delightful, and I did my best to speak as much Italian with them as possible...
But more than anything, hearing Nicola's bittersweet story of his great grandfather Angelo Conte's journey to Canada, so filled with hope and determination to make a better life here for Anna and little Gigetta, his willingness to work long and hard hours in very difficult and even dangerous situations to achieve that goal, the circumstance of Angelo's tragic death just weeks before his planned return trip to Italy, his burial in Revelstoke thousands of miles away from his remaining family in Italy... the story of the fifty love letters kept secret and unopened in the family for generations, and their impact on Angelo's descendants when their secrets were finally revealed fired my imagination and made me want to help in any way I could.
|Angelo always signed his letters, Tuo per sempre, "yours forever" Angelo|
I learned from Nicola that Angelo had lived as a boarder at two addresses in Strathcona in 1913 before moving on to Kamloops and then Glacier. One of the addresses was 922 Main Street and another was at 423 Prior Street. I set about to investigate these addresses and find out whatever I could.
In 1913, 922 Main Street was a two-storey wood framed building with a grocery store on the first floor, and rooms above. The 1913 directory shows this grocery's proprietor as Filippo "Philip" Branca. Philip, his wife Teresa, their 11 year-old daughter Annie, 10 year-old son Angelo, 7 year-old son Johnny and 1 year-old son Joseph lived above the store, probably sharing the space from time to time with a number of boarders.
Angelo Branca, Filippo and Teresa's eldest son, would go on to become not only the Canadian amateur middleweight boxing champion but also one of Vancouver's most celebrated lawyers and eventually sit as a provincial supreme court judge. Think of it... Angelo must have known Angelo...
Sadly no trace of their two story building exists any more. A small section of it can be seen here to the left of the Clarendon Hotel in this 1908 Philip Timms photo.
|VPL Photo 7440|
The original 423 Prior Street, seen below in this 1913 fire insurance map of Vancouver, did not survive either.
|423 Prior in 1912|
The original house was enlarged or replaced sometime before the next fire insurance map was published in 1930. You can see that the 1912 era house was set back farther from the road than both of its neighbours while the house that stood on the lot by 1930 stood much closer to the street.
|423 Prior in January 1930|
In the case of 423 Prior, the current house may be the third to stand on that lot. The 1913 Vancouver directory lists laborer Antonio Barasola as living at the house.
I did a search of the BC Archives Vital Events webpage but no listing for anyone with that surname turns up. I wasn't completely surprised. In my years working as a house history researcher I have found many instances in which the city directories misspelled non-British names. There was something about the name though that sounded familiar... Then it hit me... It might be that the real name was Barazzuol, a surname that I came to know reading Ray Culos' books on Vancouver's early Italian community. I knew that a Toby Barazzuol served as president of the Strathcona Business Improvement Association...
So I did a search for an Antonio Barazzuol on the BC Archives Vital Events page and Bingo! I found a May 10, 1920 death record for an Antonio Barazzuol who died in Vancouver at the age of 45.
Transcribing errors in the 1911 census made it challenging to find Antonio and his wife Antonia, but when I finally was able to track them down, they were indeed at 423 Prior Street living with nine boarders in their small house. All of the men worked as labourers digging ditches for the city sewer system. Did Angelo try his hand at this when he first came to Vancouver?
Curious, I contacted Toby Barazzuol via Facebook and asked him about his family's history in Vancouver... if he had a great grandfather named Antonio who had lived at 423 Prior.
|Photo courtesy of Toby Barazzuol|
The interesting thing is that Antonio was indeed Toby's great grandfather and that the family, like Angelo's, came from the Veneto, but that the Barazzuols did not have a memory of the family living in the 400 block of Prior.
So here in one fell swoop I was able to not only shed some light on Toby's family history but arrange for the two great grandsons of Angelo and Antonio to meet each other 100 years after they shared a roof together on the 400 block of Prior Street!
A short while after Nicola and Irene met with Toby Barazzuol, Toby's father Frank Barazzuol and his uncle Bill Barazzuol, and their friend Vancouver Italian-Canadian historian and author Ray Culos for Dim Sum at the Pink Pearl on Hastings Street.
|Toby Barazzuol and Nicola Moruzzi chat while Irene Vecchio documents the conversation at the table|
|Bill Barazzuol, Nicola Moruzzi, Irene Vecchio, Ray Culos, and Frank Barazzuol|
There is so much more to this ongoing story... Nicola came back to Vancouver this May with his producer Leonardo Baraldi to do more research and work on Crowdfunding for the documentary.
This September Nicola and Irene will return to Vancouver with a film crew to complete the filming of the documentary here in Vancouver, as well as in Kamloops and in Revelstoke where Angelo's grave is. If all goes well, Revelstoke: A Kiss In The Wind should be ready for release at a film festival near you sometime around the 100th anniversary of Angelo's death.
I can't wait to see the film when it is completed... In the meantime, click here on the words SHORT TEASER to see the video that Nicola put together to promote the documentary... And if you ever think that your house has no history... think again!
The documentary's director Nicola Moruzzi was recently interviewed by CBC West. Click here to listen to the interview.
Most importantly, you can help fuel a time machine by donating to this documentary. Click on this link to reach the crowdfunding page for REVELSTOKE: A KISS IN THE WIND.