Howdy Neighbour

An interview with Cosmo Fiorillo.

Written by Sarah Faerman.

November 2001

How long have you been at Winona?
Two years. In 1971 had a heart attack and had to change my life style. Taking care of my house and cleaning snow in the winter was no longer feasible. I began to volunteer at St. Clair West Senior Centre and was delivering meals. That is how I learned about Winona Co-op.


Where were you bom?
In a small town in Calabria, Italy. It was actually a farming village of approximately 1,000 people.


Tell me about your family.
There were 3 of us children in the family. I was the youngest and I had an older brother and sister. I had no grandparents but there were many uncles, aunts and cousins.


What was important in your family?
Togetherness. We were always visiting family members. My mother was the youngest of 13 so there were many relatives and we were always in and out of each others homes.


What was school like?
School was in a house - usually the teacher’s home. There were 25 kids in my class and I finished grade 5 when I was only 8 years old. School was very different than here. There was strict discipline - no answering back or you’d get the strap or a kick in the butt, even from women teachers. Pupils had to totally obey the teachers. There was no recess. We attended school from 9-12 and then went home to help the family.

This was during World War 2. How did the war affect you?
These were very hard times. Dad was away at war. My mother was always looking for ways to feed us. She would go by foot to another town to buy flour. She would take olives, grind them for oil and then trade these for something else. We had eggs, but we never ate them as they would be sold. At the end of the war, when my dad came back, as a four year old, I resented him because I had to give up my place sleeping next to mom.

When did you come to Canada?
We came in 1949 on the ship Vulcania. It was a wonderful experience because there was enough food for us to eat. We landed in Halifax and it was the first time I saw snow. It was so cold as we travelled by train to Toronto.


How was the adjustment to Canada?
It was very difficult. I didn’t know English and the other kids in school made fun of me. They didn’t like Italians and called us ‘Wops’. They would gang up on me and beat me. Once, a man who owned a boxing club on Dundas and Clinton, saw me crying and took me into his club where I learned how to box. That made a big difference and I had my revenge on my tormentors.


How was the adjustment for the rest of the family?
Everyone had their problems but nobody talked about it. In the beginning my father worked in construction and that was very difficult especially since there weren’t unions at that time.

What schooling did you have?
I always wanted to be a mechanic, so first of all I studied for my mechanic’s license. At a later time, I went back to University to study mechanical engineering. I always liked education and went back to study whenever there were new technological advances - like fuel injection, diesel fueled engines, computerized car components,etc.


Where did you work?
I had many jobs. I sold insurance and I was a Private Investigator for 5 years. After I had my license, I worked as a mechanic for 10 years and had my own service station. After further education, I worked for General Motors and the Ford Co.


What did you like best of all?
I always enjoyed working with people and helping them. I learned from each job. In insurance, I enjoyed talking to people and helping them to plan properly for their future. When construction became too difficult for my father, I arranged for him to open up a little store and took it over for a while after he died. From being a Private Investigator, it made me more cautious. For example, I learned to watch my back: If I saw a car following me too closely, I would change direction to see if it was still tailing me. Because of my mechanical and engineering training, I have been able to see that the work done here at Winona by contractors and tradespeople is done properly and that we are paying fair prices.