My Dad and The City of Ottawa

by Lina Gerebizza (née Rosati)

My father’s name is Mario Rosati. He was a simple, hardworking man. He died when he was only 68 years old on June 18, 1994 (one day shy of Father’s Day). His was a typical Italian immigrant story similar to scores of others who arrived on the shores of this country via Halifax’s Pier 21 in mid-twentieth century.

What one should know about my father is that he loved his adopted country immensely, and even more importantly, he was passionate about Ottawa. After a couple of years of living in the small northern Ontario town, Chapleau, and working for CP Rail, Dad and the family (me, sister, mom, grandfather and uncle) made our way to the big city. My mother was delighted with the move and thought this was finally the “America” she had dreamed of back in the old country.

What followed were hard earned baby-steps towards middle class affluence. For our family it was the progression from clapboard house; second-story, one bedroom apartment in a tri-level house in Little Italy; two semi-detached houses, one with a much desired garage; and finally the dream home in the suburbs that seemed to have it all. Along the way, sundry second-hand cars were acquired until the latter years when at least two were purchased brand new. My parents danced around the house when they were finally mortgage-free and life was now truly wonderful. All this cornucopia of goodness bestowed upon us because of living in this land and this city which were considered neither boring nor sordid places to be.

My father would get all puffed up when relatives visited from out of town or abroad and he would regale them with stories of working for the City of Ottawa. Over the years of his employment with the City he held a number of positions: landscaper on the Hill, street cleaner on and about Sparks Street, worker doing road repair in summer and snow removal in winter. All of these jobs he carried out with enthusiasm and dignity each day, never contemplating calling in sick on pretext, until he actually did become ill. As mentioned, he would drive visitors around downtown and state proudly “See, I made those curbs on that boulevard!”, or “After that big snowfall last night, my sidewalks are spic and span, no one’s going to slip on them!”.

I think about all the untapped potential my father had. My mother often told me that he was the smartest pupil at school but he only graduated from what would be the equivalent of a grade eight education. I never saw him read a book although sometimes that intelligence would shine through when he would come up with obscure but seemingly correct knowledge about geography or opera. He had beautiful bold handwriting and the walls of the furnace room at home still have his permanent reminder notes regarding filter changes and other important household tasks and dates.

When cleaning out that furnace room with my mother one day she said, “Now, this is something your father used all the time.” From the neatly hung pegboard of tools, she removed and held out what she called his “little touch-up brush” with which he repaired paint chips in the house wherever it was required. I thought what a lovely metaphor this was for one’s life; my father touched and improved not only the lives of those he loved but he did so for a multitude of citizens who knew him naught. That little red brush comes out every year and hangs lovingly from my Christmas tree.

Canada gave my father much and he was indeed happy with his lot in life. He accepted that often one can’t dwell on what might have been, or could have had. Daddy savoured quietly the joy and contentment of being near the people, things and places that made up his perfect corner of the universe. That was here in Ottawa and no place else.