Trailblazer, mother, entrepreneur gifted with the ability to recognize the significance of the unexpected. Born April 17, 1941, in Gaeta, Italy, died Oct. 14, 2012, in Toronto of cancer, aged 71.
Teresa Ciraco was like many other immigrants to Canada: She looked to her new country for inspiration and a better life, and Canada provided both.
She had a gift for math and pursued her studies in that male-dominated field, unusual for a woman in southern Italy at that time. She obtained a university degree in accounting at the University of Catania in Sicily.
In 1965, her family decided to visit relatives in Toronto. They were seduced by the prospects of the new world, and the visit resulted in a wonderful lifetime in Canada. Teresa quickly secured a position with CIBC.
Her brother played soccer in Toronto. One of his teammates, Raffaele, was fond of Teresa, but it was difficult for a boy to get close to a military marshal’s daughter. After games, Raffaele would return with her brother to “wash up,” and this gave him a great opportunity to chat with Teresa. Raffaele and Teresa married in 1968, despite the scandalous fact they were from different Italian regions. Vito was born in 1969 and Dan in 1974.
Teresa was very loving and generous with her boys. She thought it was important for them to pursue an education, and was delighted to see them become successful lawyers.
Teresa was truly entrepreneurial. She left CIBC and opened a travel agency with her husband. She also became a bookkeeper to small Italian businesses, and Raffaele became a notary public. Such services for non-English-speaking Canadians had been virtually non-existent, and played an important role helping newcomers navigate immigration matters, taxes and workers’ compensation.
One snowy night, an Italian gentleman was having car trouble outside the travel agency. He stepped in to ask to use the phone. The man was a ceramic tile and marble salesman from Italy. For fun, Teresa asked to see some samples. This chance encounter led to the couple’s second business venture as one of the first importers of Italian ceramic tiles and marble. Their hard work helped them establish a successful business.
Raffaele and Teresa missed Italy. The travel agency gave them opportunities to visit, but something was missing. So they bought land in southern Italy and developed a seaside family resort called Villaggio Costa Verde. It enabled the family to spend fun-filled summers on the beach in Italy.
Church was also important to Teresa. She and Raffaele were among the fundraisers for construction of St. Catherine’s Church on Danforth Avenue in Toronto, which meant Italian Mass was no longer relegated to the basements of existing churches.
Teresa was instrumental in uniting the Italian-Canadian community in Richmond Hill, Ont., and was the founder and president of two important social clubs there.
She led a joyous life filled with loving family and business accomplishments. And she taught her boys to embrace serendipity, because along with hard work it can lead to incredible things and a richer life.
Dan and Vito Ciraco are Teresa’s sons.
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