Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Tonino Silvestri
Tonino Silvestri

Tonino Silvestri Add to ...



Husband, father, nonno, bisnonno, steelworker, gardener and lover of simple things. Born Jan. 6, 1923, in Introdacqua, Italy, died Nov. 8, 2011, in Hamilton of dysphagia, aged 88.

Tonino left Italy for Canada in 1951 in search of a better life for his family, and eventually accepted a gruelling job inside a blast furnace at a Hamilton steel factory where temperatures ran so high that one of his former co-workers once described it as the “pit of hell.”

While it was far from anyone’s idea of a dream job, Tonino adapted to the rigorous work, knowing it would bring him closer to his goal of buying a house for his wife Maria and their children Lucia and Fernando, who had stayed behind in Italy. After four lonely years, they finally joined him in Canada.

Tonino grew up on a farm in the Abruzzo region of Italy during difficult times made worse by the death of his mother when he was just 11.

He served his compulsory military duty during the Second World War, but was never deployed.

After the war he married Maria, with whom he shared 66 years.

A first attempt at relocating his family brought Tonino to Venezuela in 1949, alone and in search of work, but he returned to Italy a year later. Refusing to give up hope, he left Italy a second time, in 1951, this time arriving in Halifax before ultimately settling in Hamilton.

There, he was a boarder in people’s basements and sent money back to his family while saving as much as he could to create a new life for them. His first bid to bring his family to Canada, in 1953, was thwarted when he lost his job. It took two more years for them to be reunited.

Tonino retired in 1984 after 31 years at Stelco. He was a tireless worker who did not seek out flashy material possessions. He found enjoyment in providing for his family, tending to his vegetable garden, canning tomatoes, making wine and sausages, and eating polenta served the traditional way, on a large board.

He was never late for a family function, liked eating meals on time and, no matter how much fun he was having, always preferred to drive home before sunset. A quiet man, Tonino often slipped out of family gatherings and would be found napping contentedly in the front seat of his car.

Health issues plagued Tonino in his later years, but his love for life – and his appetite – never wavered. Even near the end, you could often find him nibbling bread by the fireplace or wandering in his garden to check on his beloved tomatoes.

Tonino was a simple man whose life lessons were passed on by his actions rather than his words: Work hard, cherish family and enjoy a good homemade meal.

He leaves behind many happy memories.



Frank Pingue is Tonino’s grandson.

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories