Tony Scarcella’s talk about his experience immigrating to Revelstoke was the highlight of the evening.

Multicultural society shares Italian immigration experience in Revelstoke

“On Sunday nobody worked,” he said. “Everybody played bocce – and drink beer.”

Revelstoke resident Tony Scarcella was a guest speaker at the Revelstoke Multicultural Society’s monthly film night series at Okanagan College last week.

Scarcella followed his extended family to Revelstoke in 1952 when he was 16, leaving his farming community of Spezzano Piccolo in Calabria behind.

He was part of the last wave of Italian immigrants to the community and Canada. The first was in the late 1800s. John Colotto, the first recorded Italian immigrant, is noted in the Kootenay Star newspaper in 1894. By 1911, there were 491 Italians living here, many coming for work as labourers with the CPR. By the early 20th century the immigrants were integrated into all facets of community life — shopkeepers, contractors, farmers, merchants and more. Mayor Anselmo served as Revelstoke’s first mayor of Italian descent from 1934–1936.

Scarcella came with his father Frank and the original plan was to stay for a few years to earn some money. “We heard that Canada was a great place for young people,” he said. Scarcella had to give up a potential professional soccer career to come to Revelstoke. “I played soccer in Italy, and I was good at it,” he said. He was on the local all-star team and had eyes on becoming pro. “I asked the coach. ‘Tell me the truth.’” His coach told him he could go pro, but would probably languish in a mid-level pro league. “If I can’t make the big league, I’m going to Canada,” he decided.

He remembers a different Revelstoke. Friends helped each other build their first homes. “On Sunday nobody worked,” he said. “Everybody played bocce – and drink beer.” They’d walk the neighbourhood and drop in unannounced. “It’s not like now, you’ve got to have a reservation to go visit someone.”

One hallmark of these Italian-built homes was the focus on the garden. “In the front and the back we had a garden,” Scarcella says of the family home in Revelstoke. “There was no lawn.” Many homes were placed to maximize garden space – sometimes placed very close to the road to maximize the size of the backyard garden.

Scarcella worked a few jobs before landing a job with the federal government. He tested concrete being used for bridges and other structures being built during the construction of the Rogers Pass highway.

He was always good at math and studied English hard to help him advance at his work. “My English was not great yet and it is not great yet either,” Scarcella jokes.

“I never looked at a watch,” he said. “I just loved my job.” He moved on and up, working on projects around Banff and Jasper before transferring to Vancouver and eventually Victoria.

But at the age of 27 he’d gone as far as he could with the government without more education.

He decided to move back to open a restaurant — Tony’s Roma (which came before the chain Tony Roma’s, who actually called him once about infringement but backed off when they found out he opened before them.)

He hired Italian chefs and worked his location next to city hall before expanding to the current home of the Village Idiot.

He struggled and drew no wages for years. “16 hours a day, everyday was nothing,” Scarcella said. Over the years, the business improved. Then the Revelstoke Dam construction came and  it took off. He eventually sold the restaurant in 2004.

Tony Scarcella is known to readers of the Revelstoke Times Review as Coun. Tony Scarcella. He’s served many terms on council and is known for efforts to trim the city budget and mind debt. He first ran in the early 1990s at his friend Carmen Saporito’s urging. Initially reluctant, he was eventually convinced. “I’m not going to sit home and let the vote come to me,” Scarcella told Saporito. “I’m a businessman. Everything I had I worked for.”

He went door to door and topped the polls in his first effort. “I was so surprised – I couldn’t believe it,” he says. He also noted he once again topped the polls in the 2011 election. The most recent result was likely due to his hard line on budget issues – he continually challenges council to find cuts and reduce taxes, although his appeals don’t often gain council support.

Scarcella’s family has spread out through the region, taking careers in education and business.

Revelstoke Multicultural Society

New immigrants to Canada Miriam Manley and Amaiur Unzueta of the Revelstoke Multicultural Society organize the new film series. Last week, the film following Scarcella’s presentation highlighted Italian immigration to Schreiber, Ontario, a small rail town with similar immigration patterns to Revelstoke.

PHOTO: Revelstoke Multicultural Society organizers (l-r) Amaiur Unzueta, BR Whalen and Miriam Manley

The Revelstoke Multicultural Society will host monthly film screenings highlighting the immigrant experience. The April event will highlight women’s experiences. Time TBD. Check for community event listings.

Tomo Fujimura is big in Japan

I got a call from a Vancouver-based scout a couple of weeks ago looking for avalanche survivors for the TV Tokyo program Sekai de Ganbaru Nihonjin, a national program that documents the lives of Japanese working overseas at jobs they’re passionate about. Later that week, a friend of a friend had a Japanese film crew taping as Revelstoke Mountain Resort patroller Tomo Fujimura helped with first aid after he blew out his shoulder in a skiing crash.




PHOTO: Tomo Fujimura with son Taiki at the Multicultural film night

I got a chance to speak with Fujimura at the multicultural event. He’s been featured on the show before and it’s paying off by putting Revelstoke on the map in Japan. He’s started his own tour company called Canadian Alps Tours and is seeing an uptick in interest from Japanese tourists and tour companies as a result of the show. Fujimura is also focused on bridging the gap between avalanche education and regulation between the two countries as he furthers his career in the direction of avalanche forecasting.

The episode aired across Japan this past Sunday.


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