The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BUT MY HOUSE HAS NO HISTORY - 423 Prior Street and REVELSTOKE: A KISS IN THE WIND

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.

When I talk to people about my work as a house history researcher one of the responses I get from people who live in younger houses, like Vancouver Specials, is that their house was built in the 50s or 60s and therefore it really doesn't have any history...

In my experience though, a house's level of historical interest doesn't necessarily take a nose dive once I start researching the people who lived there during the latter half of the 20th century. I just have to think about houses in my immediate neighbourhood where such well-known people like photographer and installation artist Stan Douglas, artist, author and neighbourhood historian Carole Itter,    arts teacher, painter, poet, photographer, multi-media artist and Nikkei activist Roy Kiyooka, character actor John Qualen, world-renowned crooner k.d. lang, broadcaster, musician, filmmaker, and actress Sook Yin Lee, two-time welterweight world champion boxer and Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy McLarnin, poet, author and neighborhood historian Daphne Marlatt, author and CBC radio personality Bill Richardson, and historian, writer, and award-winning childrens author Paul Yee have lived.

Though the houses where Roy Kiyooka, k.d. lang, and Daphne Marlatt lived and live are relatively modern houses, they stand on lots where once stood much older houses. So for me, the response "But my house has no history" is frustrating to say the least. 

The house at 423 Prior Street, a "Vancouver Special" if there ever was one, is a case in point.

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.


Angelo Conte

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.


The plan had always been for Angelo to return to Valstagna for Anna and his baby daughter Gigetta and to bring them back with him to start a new life in Canada... 

October 20, 1915 Revelstoke News Herald article concerning the death of Angelo Conte

Angelo was killed just a week or so before he had planned to leave his job at Glacier and return to Italy. He was 28 years old when he died. Angelo's body was buried in Revelstoke.

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

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!


 

There is a Facebook Page for this documentary. If you are a Facebook user and "Like" the page, you can keep abreast of all the news relating to this documentary project. 

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.



GRAZIE

6 comments:

  1. Great sleuthing and a really terrific tale! Toby must have been thrilled too.
    Shirley Chan

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    1. Thanks Shirley... It is an amazing story with a connection to Strathcona... not only with the Barazzuol famil but to the Brancas as well. I wonder if there is anyone out there who has a picture of 922 Main Street or 423 Prior back in the day... It would be an amazing find.

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    2. My GGG Aunt Seka Vukich arrived to Vancouver from Croatia and lived at 423 Prior street with her brother in law Sime Troselj (Sam Trosell) and his wife Katica (Katie) Siaush Trosell thru 1929. Her husband Ivan (John) was working as a miner in Troy, Montana. She lists 423 Prior as her address on her border crossing cards. She lived with her husband John in Spokane, WA until her death at age 90. Sam died at age 48, leaving Katie and 3 children at 423 Prior. More house history for you! :)

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    3. My GGG Aunt Seka Vukich arrived to Vancouver from Croatia and lived at 423 Prior street with her brother in law Sime Troselj (Sam Trosell) and his wife Katica (Katie) Siaush Trosell thru 1929. Her husband Ivan (John) was working as a miner in Troy, Montana. She lists 423 Prior as her address on her border crossing cards. She lived with her husband John in Spokane, WA until her death at age 90. Sam died at age 48, leaving Katie and 3 children at 423 Prior. More house history for you! :)

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  2. Wow! I'm not sure how I found this page. I am the great granddaughter of Antonio and Antonia Barazzuol. I think it so interesting that my great grandfather died 32 years to the day of my birth. So cool.

    Jayna Bateman

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  3. I'm a spiritual and financial sponsor of 'Revelstoke: A Kiss in the Wind', and am delighted to find this support and writings for that documentary at this late date. Knowing the film will soon premiere in Vancouver (Spring 2016), I would like to make personal contact with you so to help promote it. How might we do so 'off-camera'? Excellent work, by the way.

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